Crowdfunding as a Democratizing and Viable Model for Authors in the 21st Century

By: Aninditha Kamaruddin for PUB 401, Simon Fraser University

The so-called digital revolution brought upon a multitude of changes, affecting individuals, institutions and industries alike. Along with these technological changes came the hope that the digital revolution will make the way we do things more collaborative, convenient, and effective. Technological determinists will wholeheartedly agree that indeed, technology has fulfilled that hope, but though that may be true in one way or another, these changes have caused great upheaval and distress, especially to those belonging in long-standing industries such as the publishing industry. The overarching feeling of distress is caused by the eventual demise of the “way things have always been,” as new models and modes of publishing— specifically in the realm of digital publishing, either replace traditional models or earns its right to become viable alternatives. There are tremendous affordances to the proliferation of digital publishing, which yields to more opportunities for authors, as the most vital figure in the publishing process, to make a living out of writing. With the advent of new digital technologies, there has been an increase in book publishing paths, the most intriguing being DIY or self-publishing. An article in the Guardian noted how “self-published authors have surged to 31% of ebook sales on, and are now earning more ebook royalties than writers published by the “Big five” traditional publishers” (Lea, 2014). These findings were surprising since an earlier article reported research stating professional authors’ plunging incomes “below minimum standards” (Lea, 2014). Nonetheless, these seemingly contradictory reports capture the volatility and excitement surrounding the development of new viable modes of publishing, especially in the digital realm.

Speaking of business models in the digital age, crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular one. When used strategically, the interactive quality that is the driver for this alternative form of funding, can greatly benefit creators, innovators and people with bright ideas. Publishing aficionados have taken notice and applied this novel model to provide more alternative ways to get authors and books published. The popularity of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Pozible have peaked the interest of platform creators to launch crowdfunding publishing sites like Inkshares, Pubslush, and Unbound (Biggs, 2015). For instance, in Kickstarter alone, $70m has been pledged in the site’s publishing category, and as a result, book-related projects increased from 735 in 2011 to 2064 in 2014 (Baussels, 2015). More and more authors and publishing presses utilize the crowdfunding model, which has helped projects like the 400th anniversary illustrated edition of Don Quixote, and an anthology of prose and songs written by fishermen and women come to fruition. The proven feasibility of this model indicates that crowdfunding can indeed be a reliable way for authors to make a living and how, as a result, the publishing industry has flourished as the publishing process becomes more democratic, encouraging creativity and interactivity.

Being an Author Today

The proliferation of self-publishing, hybrid publishing and social media has given the means for almost anyone to be an author. This just means that budding authors now have to work harder and smarter to get noticed in a saturated market of writers wanting to get published and receive remuneration for their work. It’s important to understand the current publishing landscape in which authors have to operate to illuminate why crowdfunding could be a legitimate model.

Traditionally, authors make money through the following ways: the advance, royalties off book sales, and reselling the book themselves (Hart, 2015). In the last 50 years, “the system of publishers’ advances has supported writers such as Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie, and Philp Roth” (Morisson, 2011). However, as Morrisson states, publishers have focused on the short term and “cut advances by as much as 80% in the UK” (Morisson, 2011), indicating that one of the most viable ways for an author to invest time to research and write their book with a stable income is slowly dissipating. An award winning authors have also stated that her royalty income has fallen dramatically over the last decade (Morisson, 2011).  Surveys show that in 2014, “11.5% of professional authors – those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing – earned their incomes solely from writing,” which is a steep decline from the 40% in 2005 (Flood, 2014).

Perhaps, the plethora of publishing paths unearthed realizations that “that too many middle-men (distributors, booksellers) have been living off their work” (Morisson, 2011). More than ever, authors have the option to choose from a wide array of publishing business models to cope with the problems caused by the changes in technology, the publishing industry, and ultimately, the gradual disappearance of traditional income making methods.

Crowdfunding as a viable model

Before delving into why crowdfunding has become viable, a commenter in a Guardian article has nicely outlined why a significant number of authors have chosen to crowdfund. Believing that she raised very interesting points, I decided to expand on a number of them. Traditional publishers have the expertise, experience and funds to get a book published and in the hands of the right readers. However, as a business, traditional publishing houses will only invest in the ideas that are commercially viable. Crowdfunding changes that. The people who get a say in whether a book is viable are now the readers themselves. If they are interested in the author’s idea or proposal, they can “vote with their dollars” to get it published. The authors have little to lose by starting a crowdfunding campaign. The notion of crowdfunding is simple, but takes a lot of hard work to execute. Budding authors have to realize that writing is a business, especially when seeking funding in unconventional ways.

There are an abundance of crowdsourcing platforms, but for the purposes of this paper, I will be focusing on two: Kickstarter and Pubslush. The nature of each platform is different, by way of how they operate, for example, in terms of they distribute costs and the size of their cut.  Kickstarter has become the best-known crowdfunding platform that is simple to set up and use. It is important for authors in this day and age to have solid online profile or platform, which includes, having a website, a blog, a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page (to name a few social media pages), and an extensive email list (Bearman, 2013). On a side note, authors who have blogs with an active following can also earn additional income through affiliate marketing. One of the reasons it has become important for authors to have an online presence is so potential crowdfunders can know more about the author’s persona, which could be an additional factor that helps them decide whether or not to fund the author’s idea.

After selecting a platform, authors pitch their idea (having it in a video format also apparently helps) and craft a business plan to plot the campaign’s goal, and other projections and expenses, since campaigners “don’t see a dime from their backers unless they make their goal” (Bearman, 2013). Under this model, self-published writers can test the waters for an idea and mobilize a fan base (Friedman, 2015). It’s important to note that not everyone asks for the entire cost of producing the book; “for example, some authors ask for money for a copy editor or a cover designer (Friedman, 2015). Pubslush, deemed the Kickstarter for books, “helps authors build book campaigns by allowing them to submit their book summaries and samples of their work, followed by a promotion to readers who financially support their favorite submissions, in exchange for a reward like a first edition or digital preview” (Leimkuehler, 2013). Pubslush even goes on to offer personalized service, campaign assistance in the form of a coordinator, and interestingly, reader data and market analytics to “gauge the buzz surrounding the book release… and focus ongoing marketing in order to maximize fundraising” (Lamoreaux, 2014). Evidently, authors now have the means to publish their work and find readers for their books using the varying crowdfunding models.

Benefits of Crowdfunding

While Kickstarter is renowned as the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects, sites like Unbound or Pubslush (now PubLaunch) are paving the way to ensure authors are nurtured throughout the publishing process. It is important to acknowledge that what’s most interesting about the crowdfunding model is how self-publishing is no longer an isolating venture. There are new ways for creators to connect directly with their fans in real time, eliminating the vast distance that existed between authors and readers. As Streitfeld of the New York Times stated, “the writer was an imperial figure, an artist who dwelt on Mount Olympus. The reader was nowhere” (Streitfeld, 2014). This is no longer true.

Under this crowdfunding model, authors have to find a way to connect with their readers, and build a community around the author’s publishing venture as a way to involve them throughout the process they helped fund. Knowing this, authors can get creative in ways they can go about doing this. For example, Eric Ries ensured that the backers that raised $500,000 to publish “The Leader’s Guide,” the most-funded book project on Kickstarter, were the only ones who can read the book (Baussels, 2015).

As a result, he established a backer-only community around his book that probably made the readers more involved with the author and the message of the book. Amy Goldwasser reached the funding goal for her self-published illustrated book about black cats by involving the audience through letting them choose 48 out of the 50 cats in the book (Baussels, 2015).

The move toward greater interactivity is also embedded in PubLaunch’s upcoming venture to “connect trusted industry professionals with writers while providing crowdfunding services” (“Pubslush Closes, Colborne Communications Founds PubLaunch,” 2015). Again, this highlights the need for authors, creators and industry professionals to collaborate and support each other to nurture new talents and combine the expertise and experience of seasoned professionals outside the confines of rigid traditional publishing houses.

More power to authors (and their readers as backers)

An author used the analogy of a hulking security guard, standing outside a performance space to let a limited number of people through to describe the traditional modes of publishing. To characterize the opportunities authors have in the digital publishing realm, he says, “ the door has been left open, the guard is taking a break. You have an opportunity to sneak onto the stage and draw a crowd, but you still need to be able to perform once you get there” (Goins, 2011). This goes to show that there are boundless opportunities for authors to make a living under the crowdfunding model, but it is in no way easy. Authors can now take matters into their own hands to get published, by being more actively involved in seeking funding, connecting with their audience and marketing their book (or raise funds to hire someone to do all that). Through the aforementioned examples, those authors who reach their funding goals came up with strategies to create win-win situations for themselves and their loyal audiences, by involving them in the book creation process.

This has led many authors to rethink the way they can release their work to benefit their readers as well, and this includes thinking beyond books as mere monolithic projects. Serialization has become a perfect way to engage and keep their backers involved. For audiences, the wait for the author to finish his or her book can be frustrating, since their return on investment has yet to be tangible. For authors who’s work, by its very nature, requires more time or research, they can release their work in a series, which e-books are great for. Authors get the funds they need, and they keep their backers happy.

Parting Words

Through the examples above, I am convinced that crowdfunding can be a great, viable, way for authors to earn a living. The proliferation of digital publishing and crowdfunding platforms makes 2015 an exciting time to be an author, as there are are many alternative ways to ensure that your writing gets recognized by the right audience– be it your readers, a niche community or other industry professionals.


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Comparing Technology’s Impact on the Publishing and Fashion Industry

By: Aninditha Kamaruddin – for PUB 401, SFU Fall 2015

It is apparent that technology has altered the way we live our lives. These incremental changes, when compounded, have shown to quite significantly affect and disrupt the usual ways of going about our day-to-day affairs. Consequently, various institutions, industries, businesses, and governing bodies have had to adapt to the changes brought upon by technological advancement. Those in the publishing industry have especially been privy to these changes, as technology has profoundly impacted this industry in its entirety. This is not unlike other industries, like the fashion industry, which has also had to adapt to thrive and meet the demands of a technological society. Technology’s impact is entrenched throughout the publishing process, playing a role in how books are written, published, distributed, discovered and read. Similarly, technology has also altered how designers create, manufacture, distribute and clothing. This paper will delve into the similarities and differences between the impacts of technology on both industries. It is first and foremost important to recognize the aberrance in the way we think about the publishing and apparel manufacturing processes due to the rapid technological advancements. Therefore, in the examination of technology’s role in transforming both the publishing and the fashion industries, each step of the process cannot be analyzed chronologically.

For the purposes of this assignment, this paper will look into the processes subsequent to the creation of the products, or in other words, after the authors write their books and after the fashion designers produce their garments, to make sense of the shift in dynamics caused by technology. This paper will focus primarily on how books and apparel are distributed and discovered, and lastly, how these two major processes affect the ways creators create. Throughout this analysis, it will become apparent that technology has positively impacted and strengthened the fashion industry, whereas the digital platforms brought upon by the proliferation of new technologies have caused great upheaval to publishers and booksellers of the publishing industry. However, more importantly, in the case of both industries, embracing the technological era have provided many independent creators opportunities to showcase their work and product.

The most palpable and literal affect of technological innovation is the proliferation of screens, encouraging the move from offline-based activities online. For example, it used to be the norm that whenever we wanted to shop for goods like books or boots, we would go to a shopping centre. Now, with the ubiquity of computers, tablets and smartphones, the purchase of goods online from websites like Amazon has become a norm. This shift in shopping habits has had major implications on physical book retailers, forcing book megastore business pioneers like Borders to liquidate in 2011, and Barnes & Noble “ to restructure under bankruptcy protection in the February [of the same year], when it began closing a third of its then 659 stores (Sanburn, 2011). This has caused many to anticipate the demise of brick and mortar bookstores, specifically major book retailers like Barnes and Noble.

However, the effects of online shopping haven’t been as dire for the fashion industry. In fact, the ease of online shopping can be attributed to making the global fashion industry as prosperous as it is today, a $1.2 trillion industry composed of major international retailers to wholesalers to large design houses to one-person design shops (Maloney, 2015). It is important to note that Gap’s plan to close 175 stores in North America (“Gap to close 175 stores in North America,” 2015) and American Apparel’s file for bankruptcy, has more to do with their failure to rebrand and compete in the crowded fashion marketplace, than with the rise in customers preferring to shop online, such as in the case of the book industry.

To contrast, the $103 billion global publishing industry evidently isn’t as big as the fashion industry (“Global Book Publishing: Market Research Report,” 2015). In its own right, the publishing industry has experienced “a slight revenue increase of 4.6% from 2013… [due to the] depth and range of titles and formats produced by publishers” (Bluestone, 2015). E-books sales also “experienced 3.8% revenue growth to an estimated $3.37 billion” (Bluestone, 2015). This is an interesting fact to note, since the popularity of e-books and e-readers has been an attributing factor to the supposed demise of bookstores, especially when e-book sales soared “up 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010, alarming booksellers that watched consumers use their stores to find titles they would later buy online” (Alter, 2015). I say “supposed” because recent reports have shown that there has been a resurgence of independent bookstores (Alter, 2015) after several years of dwindling sales and having to compete with companies like Amazon and Apple who, not only could offer more competitive prices for both physical and electronic books, but have customers read them on their respective e-readers for an exclusive price. The rise in independent bookstore sales have a lot to do with the recent increase of e-book prices (Alter, 2015), but nonetheless, publishers have had to adapt and embrace the public’s desire for e-books. Booksellers such as Barnes and Noble did just that by contracting their shelf space and instead devoted the space for other merchandise, such as the NOOK e-reader (“More thoughts about the future of bookstores, triggered by Barnes & Noble’s own predictions for itself – The Shatzkin Files,” 2013).

Embracing technology is key to survive, and fashion retailers easily understood that, though not having e-commerce powerhouses such as Amazon, eBay and others of the like disrupting the industry, is definitely an advantage. Despite the fact that clothing, by its very nature, is “considered to be a high involvement product category, related to personal ego… that needs to be seen, felt, touched and tried on,” (Blazquez, 2014), the dominance of brick and mortar stores have waned, with data showing that the average length of time consumers spend shopping in stores has decreased (Blazquez, 2014). Books arguably don’t have the same need for physical inspection before purchase, or the urgency of instant gratification, which is why brick-and-mortar apparel stores are still an integral part of the fashion industry.

Understanding that the online environment is a lot more competitive, etailers are opening physical locations. Case in point, online etailers like Bonobos are reversing the dynamics by pioneering the online-to-offline, no-inventory model through the expansion of their brick-and-mortar operations by opening a flagship store on Fifth Avenue (“E-tailer Bonobos to open first flagship store in New York City,” 2015). The literal shrinking of shelves is used to manifest the concept of a showroom, or in Bonobos’ terms, a “guideshop,” where only one of each clothing item is displayed. This model fulfils customer’s desire to feel the fit before buying online and utilizes the Internet as a backroom. This is similar to the concept of having a considerable portion of physical bookstores dedicated to e-reader stations.

However, it seems as if apparel retailers are a step ahead of book retailers when it comes to taking advantage of technological integration into the purchase and discovery of goods. The decision for readers to choose to buy books online or in-person is highly influenced by the price point, whereas in the fashion industry, an enjoyable shopping experience can be argued to be a more influential factor. For example, the clothing brand Free People have made technology part of the in-store experience, embracing the fact that customers will always have their smart phones on them. Free People created an application where customers can have the detailed product information and easily navigate the store with a built-in scanner on their phones. It seems as though many fashion retailers aren’t seeing online and offline shopping as mutually exclusive as it is in the case for the publishing industry. “Omnichannel” is becoming an exciting idea for fashion retailers, with websites like Farfetch developing technology that will allow the user to buy online from a far-away store and pick it up in person and a nearby retailer (Sherman, 2013).

This integration of technology into the shopping experience has opened many doors to novel ways to discover goods. Other forces brought upon by influencers, bloggers, digital platforms and social media play a huge part in the discovery stage. This is impactful in that smaller, lesser-known brands and authors have a chance to get noticed. Authors can self-publish their works with the availability of single channel-distribution services such as Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Press and multiple-channel distributors like Smashwords. In the same vein, independent designers can take advantage of the e-commerce marketplaces provided by sites like Etsy and ASOS. The proliferation of these services and digital platforms not only fulfills niche interests, but also gives producers direct contact with their customers. This gives small fashion retailers timely feedback and profitability that isn’t possible through traditional reseller channels (Hagel & Brown, 2015). The opportunities provided by these digital channels have made small designers realize that there is an alternative to old dreams of getting their products to big department stores. These smaller designers don’t have to comply with tough terms from big retailers and can cut out the middleman altogether by using the abundance of online platforms available to them (Westervelt, 2014).

As a first-hand personal testament to the success of direct to consumer apparel sales, a lot of small designers in Jakarta have found the promise of social media and online platforms encouraging. Designers can sell clothing at affordable prices through sites like Berrybenka (which is comparable to ASOS marketplace) or on social media through endorsements, since they find that taking on all the risk of having to preorder inventory and fulfill orders is still more profitable than going through traditional resellers. This model is so successful that the arrival of multinational retailer mammoths like Forever 21, Uniqlo and H&M in Jakarta has not affected the sales of small designers (Mariani, 2013). In this competitive marketplace, like self-publishers, independent designers have to be smart about marketing their products. For example, in the case of designers, finding the right hashtags to use on social media sites like Instagram is already a viable strategy. Fashion bloggers have driven sales by adding the hashtag “#shopmycloset.” Vintage retailer Fox and Fawn have even reported that 25 percent of their sales are made via Instagram (Sherman, 2013).

As for the publishing industry, self-publishers have found similar success with the advent of print-on-demand technology and e-readers. However unlike the fashion industry as explicated in the Jakarta case study, “the commercial concentration will continue to be in a small number of big English-language [publishing] houses for many years to come even if the number of self-publishers appears to grow” (Shatzkin, 2014). Although big publishers will still dominate the industry, independent authors still have more opportunities to put their work out there– it is just a matter of putting in the effort and hard work to attempt to match the services and expertise publishers usually offer.

From this exploration into the ways technology has impacted the publishing and fashion industry, it is apparent that both industries are not the same as it were a decade ago. With these changes the publishing industry has seen major bookstores close down and downsize, the increased use of e-readers, the popularity of the e-book format, and recently, the resurgence of independent bookstores and physical book sales (Alter, 2015). The industry has had to undergo a lot of negotiating with the likes of Amazon and Apple and restructuring the publishing process to ensure relevant stakeholders are compensated and customers are happy.

With this in mind, it is fair to say that technology has brought upon more dire and drastic changes to the publishing industry than the fashion industry. As for the fashion industry, the changes brought upon by technology have evidently provided exciting opportunities for big and small retailers alike to give customers novel ways to discover and shop for apparel. Brick-and-mortar stores got smarter, apps can be downloaded to help you shop for your needs and social media sites like Instagram can easily drive sales without trying (Sherman, 2013). It is important to note that if 3D printing becomes a viable production method for clothing, the ramifications may be akin to the closures of bookstores due to the popularity of Amazon, e-books and e-readers. However, for now, 3D printing is still expensive and in the hands of very few people.

It seems that both the publishing and fashion industry will continue to flourish, at least in the near future. This discussion have shown that throughout the process of creating a book or an item of clothing, it is important to for designers, authors and publishers to put themselves in the shoes of the restless, increasingly tech-savvy consumers who crave novelty and convenience in order to thrive in a already crowded marketplace.


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