|From Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the|
English Language (1755) Internet Archive
"Justin Pollard, one of the founders of Unbound, first got the idea for a radical new model for book publishing while sitting in the pub with his friend and fellow author Dan Kieran. 'In the way that writers do, we were having a good old moan about publishers and how they don't get any publicity for their books, and how advances are getting ever smaller,' he recalls. 'I mean, friends of ours, established authors, were getting advances of £4,000. That's a nice amount for a hobby, but not for a proper job.'
Yet at the same time, Pollard and Kieran observed that book sales were hardly in freefall. More books were being published than ever. People were still reading. 'And so we decided to ask: where is the money going? And what we realised is that the problem isn't to do with middle men taking it all. It's to do with the traditional model of publishing, where you have to pay advances that are non-returnable. Because most books don't earn out their advances, publishers have a huge exposure up front. That's where an awful lot of the money goes.'
Pollard and Kieran (by now working with the company's third co-founder, John Mitchinson) decided that there had to be another way of doing things. For inspiration, they looked partly to the music industry, and bands like Marillion who, after they were dropped by their record label, asked their fans directly to put up enough money for a recording session and printing. At the same time, they looked back to a much older model of book publishing. 'Subscription publishing is extremely old when it comes to books, Pollard says. 'It's how Johnson's dictionary was published, as well as a large number of 18th- and 19th-century novels.' [...]
Hybrid books take the best of both formats by giving each printed book a body of extra digital material, known as 'Illuminations.' These are accessed via smartphone or iPad by scanning a QR code (a bit like a barcode) printed within its pages, although the smartphone-less or QR-shy can access the same material via an emailed PDF. Marketing manager Paul Oliver describes the Illuminations as 'an anthology of readings and illustrations that explain the cultural milieu and legacy of the particular novella.' And they've been scrupulously curated, says Johnson, to 'resonate with a real honest reading experience.' "
— William Skidelsky, Guardian