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business models, strategies and technologies

Publishing platform for activist intervention

OR Books – a  publishing company keen to rethink the mix of technology, intention, business model and reader role

There’s rarely much that is really new in the world of book publishing – except for the cannon fodder of authors and titles ground through the machine. Lots of marginal change and bumpy adjustments to digital realities – not so many big rethinks.

Launched in 2009, New York-based independent publisher OR Books declares that it’s a new type of publishing company that embraces and supports progressive change in politics, culture and the way they do business. They reckon their approach jettisons the inefficiencies of conventional publishing to better serve readers, writers and the environment. All good stuff.

A business model for involvement

OR books claim to have a revolutionary approach to business.One of the two founders, Colin Robinson, was also the author of the 2012 “Ten Ways to save the publishing industry” manifesto – to which the OR Books model adheres closely. To avoid the waste and huge admin burdens associated with unsold stock and returns, the company only produce the books when they are ordered, delivering either through print-on-demand or as platform-agnostic e-books. The money saved on passive stock is to be spent on marketing instead, in order to “affirm the partnership between publishers and authors,” according to one of the founders.

There seems to be another big difference, too. In the conventional book publishing model, books are sold to readers – to be passively consumed (however many intellectual or emotional fireworks might be set off in the process). By contrast, the OR system makes for a rapid publishing turnaround specifically so that relevant books can intervene quickly in issues of the day. It’s not just a business model about book publishing, but also about what the books are about! The business model is designed to help the OR-published book serve as a tool for activism, intervention and involvement. That’s a big leap in terms of commercial objectives, but helps bridge the gap between a changing–by-the-minute news media and a publishing industry whose lethargic – almost glacial – pace can mean analysis is out-of-date and irrelevant by time of publication.

It may sound lofty, but here’s a long article by Patrick Cockburn, author of The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution about how he was able to update key details in his attention-grabbing book while actually “under attack” (journo-speak) in Baghdad.

A radical, exciting response to Amazonian hegemony. 

Butting heads with the bookseller’s world

All this might be a great idea, and indeed have aims to put a dent in the Amazonian domination of the book market that for so many of us is a profoundly mixed blessing of wonderful, low-price, quick-delivery availability and a parallel poisoning of so much of what we love about books, bookshops and book buying.

It’s kinda’ difficult to see how OR Books is going to rack up the volume to challenge the big A on online sales. And in the bricks and mortar world, I could fear for their encounter with old-school restrictive practices, product placement requirements, etc. in the bookseller’s world. Their website has a whole section about this, but to my ignorant eye a lot of the exciting gas seeps out of the ballon here.

I hope my concerns prove unfounded.