digital publishing 2016

Scott Pack

A talk by Scott Pack at the Word Festival in Christchurch, 2016.

Two months ago Pack received an invite from Rachel King, managed to convince his family (primarily his children) that he was a worthy world-travelling speaker, and finally had a brainwave for the theme of his talk. “How I became a publisher accidentally.” He used various books as his prompts throughout the talk.

Last Shop Standing by Graham Jones
The 90s were an amazing time to be working in record shops, and there was some amazing music to enjoy. There was a real community of discovery and acceptance of various genres. But at the end of the 90s the digital music era arrived.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young
Scott then became an upstart from the music industry thrust into the book industry. “I was a spy.” His brief was to examine the differences between the two industries. “Quantities were completely different and often the book answers were purely based on status quo – based on what had ‘always’ been done.” And then the net book agreement was trashed, which opened up the market. Meanwhile the Waterstones book chain required staff to be graduates. So although elitist, things went well.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth
The industry was effectively driven by the publishers, who would define the way books were published and sold. Seth demanded offers of at least a million before publishers could see his manuscript for Two Lives. Little Brown came to Waterstones and asked them to buy 15,000 copies. Scott explained this was a time when the big book chains decided the publishers no longer had all the power. “We took 1,000 because we didn’t want to stock our shelves unnecessarily.” He believes the book has sold less than the 15,000 since release. His opposition to the requested sale was vindicated.

Blood, Sweat and Tea by Tom Reynolds
Scott left Waterstones and joined the Friday Project. They tipped the model upside down, at a time when blogs were powerful. Reynolds, for example, allowed the print book to be sold, but the eBook had to be free. And the print book sold well. The success of the book led to TV series in UK and USA. HarperCollins then bought FP which they wanted as an experimental imprint.

Confessions of a G.P.  by Dr Benjamin Daniels
Initially, e-books and print books were sold at the same price. So Scott said he wanted to publish the e-book at a low price. Once the price went down to $2.99 it went from dozens to thousands of copies being sold. It became a bestseller on Apple and Kindle etc, even though it never appeared on conventional bestseller lists. Publishers hover around the lowest-common denominator – they slavishly follow a trend. Hence the many imitations of Dan Brown and 50 Shades, for example.

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr
The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman
Scott started to suffer from tinnitus and eventually discovered a palliative, courtesy of living in England and listening to NZ radio! “I loved the books that I heard about on the radio review. So NZ radio introduced me to fabulous NZ writers.”

Unbound Scott PackThe Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
Scott explained that Unbound is Kickstarter for books. It was created by three authors who had sold thousands of books, but had no idea who their readers were. At the time, even publishers didn’t know who the readers were. So Unbound provides a mechanism for authors to offer rewards for various price points. “It also allows us to take risks and to offer to publish what would be marginal books in any other sales channel.” Scott added that crowdfunding works really well for people with huge mailing lists.

The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton
“I have a passion for books out of print,” Scott explained. He set up Abandoned Bookshop to make out of print titles available purely as eBooks. “We can do a couple a month. We have a Rudyard Kipling book.” Crime writer Clifton Robbins is also in their sights. The plan is for two books a month to be published. And Iron Chariot was voted the second best Norwegian crime novel of all time, which most people have probably never heard of.

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