An insight into the publishing world…

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Introducing Publishing Company Readership

I really enjoyed conducting this interview and was very pleased when Readership agreed to interview with me, because it’s such a unique take on publishing, and an example for me of how people are reacting to the ever-changing landscape of the publishing industry. Here Sam of Readership explains the concept and successes of the company…

Sam Rennie, Founder of Readership

Sam Rennie, Founder of Readership

Please introduce us to Readership! How does it work?

Readership is a publishing company controlled by readers. We let them decide what we publish. But, more than that, our goal is to build a community that effectively becomes a company by the people and for the people. We want to be a publishing company that the reading world wants. We also want to let them have more control than the typical user may have with a company. Any changes to our website, what features to prioritise, what services should be added to the company, and so on. It seems like something that would sit naturally in the digital age, because modern technology lets users tell the world what they want, and even lets them help create it, which is obviously vastly different to the age before, where industries basically told their audiences “These are your choices.” etc.

We want to be a publishing company that the reading world wants.

Your company obviously embraces all things digital. Do you see this as the end of the print book or rather an extension of it?

I don’t think the physical book is going anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went the way of the vinyl record. Quite a few people, if they’re really into their music, will collect records of their favourite albums, and just have mp3s of the ones they’re not as in love with. The benefits are obviously that physical records make for a nicer, more aesthetically-pleasing collection. So I can see that happening with books. Because of the endless digitisation of content now, people may be more aware of what books they buy physically, knowing that it’s going to take up space on their shelf. (Similarly, I am perfectly content having film and TV content on my Netflix library, but if I watch a film or TV show I like then I’d be inclined to buy a DVD/boxset of it to add to my physical collection.) Neil Gaiman said years ago, at the Digital Minds conference I believe, that there needs to be a re-emergence of the fetishization of the physical book – to make it something noteworthy to hold – which I think publishers have done well with. But I’m not sure it’s something that’s applicable to every book that’s published. Maybe our approach (digital first, but with the open-mindedness to embrace physical copies when we can do something noteworthy with them) is the way for most new publications.

Your site states: “To compete with the multi-faceted nature of the entertainment industry – particularly with online content – Readership also provides authors with the space to upload any audio or video content they’ve created which they feel complements their writing.” To what extent do you agree with the view that publishing is now a multi-channel function? Why is it important for you as a publisher to offer these additional services as well as traditional publishing?

I think if you want to appeal to people who don’t read as often as the industry would like, then you need to extend your content into different channels and mediums. That’s why we’re excited about the Minecraft world of writing we’re creating:

http://readershipbooks.com/Announcement/Details/18?page=1

 

We need the startups with more of a risk-taking approach to also exist.

 

Your company is a digital publisher ‘controlled by the readers’. Seems an obvious concept that should have been done a long time ago! Why do you feel the publishing industry has lost touch with its readers over the years and why do you feel there was the market demand for a business model such as yours?

I think many companies are happy to sit behind a barrier that distinguishes them as the ‘company’ and anyone on the other side of the barrier as their ‘customer’. Which makes sense, and obviously works. But for people like me who grew up involved in these great online communities on forums, etc, I liked the idea that a collective from around the world could share their passion and their creations with people who love writing and reading, and ultimately take the shape of a publishing company. There are obviously many ways in which publishers do well to engage with their audience, but it often seems like it happens in a vacuum, and that what’s being done is a very safe use of the online tools available to us. Again, it makes sense. Particularly for the big four houses. Why would you dive in if it’s something you’re not completely used to? So I think the major publishers are doing what any sensible and cautious business would do, but we need the startups with more of a risk-taking approach to also exist.

The benefit that your company provides to the authors is clear. Why does Readership appeal so much to potential readers?

I think it can be hard to find new things to read, particularly with just how many books are published every year, so at Readership we’ve tried to streamline the process of finding your next read. People seem to like our ‘Pick something for me’ feature above the rest. Industries like publishing are also obviously looking for certain commercial aspects to a book, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t talented authors out there writing great stuff – it’s just that they might not be published by a traditional press if their work doesn’t have a commercial angle. So for any reader looking for something a bit different than what’s out there at the moment, our site will have it. There’s also the benefit of being able to help a book exist that wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the reader’s feedback and donation. We’re also currently working out a reward system that gives our users points for the feedback they give, and that can be redeemed in many book-related ways. Right now the most active users receive free books when they’re published too which is a nice bonus.

 

For any reader looking for something a bit different than what’s out there at the moment, our site will have it.

 

Has Readership Books been successful so far? What challenges have you faced?

I’m really happy with how the userbase has grown. The biggest challenge is obviously getting the word out there. You can’t hone a community if people don’t know about you, but it’s growing every day and we’ve gotten a great reaction to the online activities we’ve been doing with our following so far.

Where do you see your company in the next few years? What are your goals?

Our goals for Readership are to have a list of books we’re proud of, that have been approved by a community of readers, and for the userbase to be active every day – new comments, new submissions, new donations, perhaps a forum-element to facilitate further discussion and to also let users get to know each other more. I’d also love an app to appease the mobile readers.

Has any kind of genre stood out as the most popular so far?

YA, Romance, Fantasy and Sci-Fi are the most popular genres at the moment, but I’m impressed with how well-balanced the submissions have been. There’s a lot of content for fans of each genre. The only thing I’d be more keen for is non-fiction.

And finally – what are the staff reading at the moment?

Well I’ve broken my one rule for reading, which is to never read more than one book at a time!

So currently I’m reading:

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

– There are some truly breathtaking lines in that book!

A Death in the Family, by Karl Ove Knausgaard
– I’ve come to realise you can’t rush a book like this, and I’m enjoying it greatly – though I, like many others, can’t really explain why I like it so much!

A Dance with Dragons: Part 1, by George R. R. Martin
– This will not be finished in time for the new season of Game of Thrones, but I’m enjoying it anyway.

The Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth

– I love how much I’m learning from this book (and how quickly I’m forgetting it!)

You can find out more about Readership at www.readershipbooks.com
They’re also very active on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReadershipBooks

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