Crowdfunding: How Community Backing Is Making a Splash in Publishing

The ambition to write a book is shared among many people. Though the process of getting a manuscript accepted and ultimately published is challenging, there are alternatives to sending your manuscript to New York. As the publishing industry continues to grow and change, new forms of publishing begin to take place. Crowdfunding is taking the publishing industry by storm, proving to be the next big shift in the way we think about publishing books.

Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter started gaining prominence in the early 2010’s. These websites are community based and allow people to pledge money to projects. Crowdfunding is particularly popular in publishing because it allows authors and publishers alike to propose projects to be funded. It works like this: A project is announced on the website with an initial monetary goal to be funded. Project creators will create pitches, videos, or explanations and plans for their project. Project creators create incentives or “perks” to encourage higher levels of donation and provide updates on the project. Some sites, like Kickstarter, are all-or-nothing and only allow the creator to collect money if their goal has been reached. Projects from community art to clothing design to movies can be found on crowdfunding sites.

From a publishing perspective, crowdfunding has a lot of benefits. For indie authors, it allows them to self-publish books. For publishers, it mitigates the risk involved with publishing a book that they’re not sure will sell. It allows publishers to gauge interest in a particular project and anticipate demand, and it creates its own word-of-mouth publicity. Projects are easily shared to potential backers over social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Once a project is fully funded, publishers receive money up front, making it easy to cover the cost of publishing a book. As crowdfunding continues to permeate publishing, industry-specific competitors to sites like Kickstarter have begun to gain prominence. Sites like Publaunch and Unbound allow allow authors to turn an idea into reality.

In 2016, publishing made its mark on crowdfunding. A children’s book called Rebel Girls made history when backers pledged over a million dollars. As backers began to pledge much more than authors Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s initial goal of forty thousand dollars, they began to offer more perks with the book, like posters and stickers. Rebel Girls exemplifies how community interest in a particular project can yield great results. In this case, a children’s book for middle grade girls with stories about one hundred famous women found a great deal of success after its intended audience enthusiastically backed it.

Crowdfunding poses an interesting dynamic. Instead of letting the traditional gatekeepers of large publishing houses decide what gets published, why not let the people decide what they want to read? As crowdfunding gains more traction in publishing, it makes way for more creativity, diversity, and risk-taking in the books we publish.

Doing It Differently: The Pros & Pitfalls of Operating a Nonprofit

Last term, I found myself sitting in the boardroom of the PSU Foundation and discussing how to get a crowdfunding campaign up and running for one of our upcoming titles. After getting through all the technical mumbo jumbo, I inquired about the part of the campaign when donors receive gifts, and therein lay a problem. I was informed that because Ooligan Press operates as a nonprofit organization, we’re extremely limited in how we’re allowed to reward our donors—so limited, in fact, that it could mean serious trouble if we were to reward a donation with any object with a monetary value over $10. And when I say “trouble,” I’m talking IRS-knocking-at-the-door, full-out-audit trouble. This means our idea of rewarding donors with music-related prizes like concert tickets, music lessons, vinyl records, and CDs was a big fat no-can-do. Even giving out our own books as prizes was off limits.

This revelation made me realize that we’re operating under a different set of rules here at Ooligan, and it begged a question: what exactly does “nonprofit” mean for what the press can and cannot do? Because my first experience with these nonprofit regulations was one that severely limited our plans, I naturally assumed that the nonprofit tag was nothing but a pain in the neck—a necessary evil that we had to deal with. After doing more research, I realized my assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Except for a few legal hindrances, the nonprofit tag allows Ooligan to exist in a way that really sets us apart from other publishers. Sure, the generally small profit margins and the necessary dependence on grants and fundraising aren’t ideal, but when you counter those issues with the many great opportunities that being a nonprofit makes available to us, it quickly becomes more than worth it.

Because we don’t have to constantly dwell on finances here at Ooligan, we have the freedom to truly stick to our mission statement and publish the books that we want to publish. Whereas most publishers strive to find a happy medium between the books they want to produce and the books that will sell, we’re lucky to be able to gamble on the titles that really speak to us. All of this freedom is quintessential to what we represent and strive to achieve as Oolies when, if we’re being perfectly honest, it wouldn’t be possible for us to do what we do under any different set of circumstances.

Rather than working as a quasi-intern at a press where the decisions are made above our heads and we’re left to simply follow orders, at Ooligan, we’re in charge of the process from beginning to end. This situation works great for students as well as the press—which employs students as staffers for virtually no out-of-pocket cost—and we get to participate in almost every aspect of the book production process. This symbiotic relationship continues into the partnership between the press and the university itself. As our publisher, Abbey Gaterud, explained it to me, Ooligan is “a business working within a place that is not a business.” This means that while we need to focus on putting out quality materials that we can be proud of, the more logistical worries faced by typical for-profit publishers—like electricity, computers, and rent—fall into the larger operations of Portland State. This is an understandable load off our shoulders, and one that simply wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t a nonprofit press.

Many things make Ooligan Press stand out from other publishing houses around the country. Being this unique sometimes comes at a price, but one that we’re gladly willing to pay in order to keep doing things our own different and very special way.

The Beginning of Fall.

Hello all,

We are starting a new term and, with that in mind, I have plans to accomplish many things over the next ten weeks.

The Indiegogo project will begin to take more shape as we work on developing the pitch video for the site. The development of the web application will be underway now that we have a detailed chapter outline to work from. The tour for Know Your City will begin development, which is another completely new addition to the scope of Ooligan. The team will also begin to draft a marketing plan that will change and update as time goes forward.

One of the best things about Mastersounds is the unique dimensions that allow us students to stretch our imaginations and publishing skills. This term is going to be filled with fun projects, as well as some developmental work on the manuscript.

Look in soon for updates on the progress on these mini projects within Mastersounds!