What if putting together a book could be a collaborative project in which no one - not even the editor or publisher or contributors - intends to profit financially from the book's proceeds? Even though the book might sell a million copies? And over 80% of the proceeds go to save lives? Welcome to a new way of thinking about editing and publishing a book. And about altruism.
That's the audacious concept behind Michael Bungay Stanier's new book End Malaria: Bold Innovation, Limitless Generosity, and the Opportunity to Save a Life published by marketing guru Seth Godin's latest publishing venture with Amazon, The Domino Project.
Most people think of writing or editing a book as a solitary endeavor. Once you craft and cull the book, and if you're fortunate enough to find a publisher who pays you a penance for an advance, then you sit and fret about sales. You feel lonely, scarce, and proprietary.
The formula for End Malaria's concept is simple:
Gather great content from big names in related fields +
re-direct most of the profits to an NPO +
market the hell out of the concept and rally the contributors to become evangelizers for the book project.
You feel large, abundant, and generous. (Assuming the project flies!)
Maybe your inner cynic says, "Yeah, but these business guys must be profiting somehow." Of course. They're counting on getting some publicity, some traffic, some notoriety perhaps. But they are not profiting directly from book sales. Although the project might raise some interesting issues regarding motives for altruism and altruistic ends' ultimate aims, those are topics for a different blog altogether. On this blog, I'm curious about the innovation, the way this concept alters the way we think of what publishing a book can be "about."
And, really, after talking to Bungay Stanier I think the creative consultant from Oxford and his notorious shiny-headed publisher are genuinely thinking of innovative ways both "to do a book" and "to do good in the world." Make that "to do great in the world" - because one of Bungay Stanier's key contributions to the world of business has been to focus less on doing just "good work" and do more great work (the name of his last book).
Why do I say that?
Well, look at their "profit model":
* The 62 contributors such as Dan Pink, Jonah Lehrer, and Sir Ken Robinson receive zero profit.
* 80% of proceeds from hard cover copies and 100% of Kindle copies go directly to the NPO Malaria No More, devoted to providing mosquito nets, education, and medicine to communities blighted by the disease that takes a life every 45 seconds.
* The other 20% of hardcover copies goes to The Domino Project to cover printing costs.
Most conventional publishing profit models run something like this:
* Gamble on paying a writer an advance (or not).
* Publish x # of copies of book.
* Pay 5-7% of the cover cost to author (after author has earned back said advance).
* The remaining 93-95% plus other deals made with online bookstores goes directly back to the publisher.
You can read or listen to my interview with Bungay Stanier here or visit endmalariaday.com and make your own call. He admits that he makes a comfortable life by serving the globe's top one million people and felt a conflict in not doing the great work beyond himself he had been imploring others to do.
And while you're at it, do consider buying two mosquito nets by buying this book. A mosquito net sounds like a luxury for someone who vacations in Mexico. But for children and adults in Africa, that $10 net really could save a life.
Call it book altruism.
What do you think? Is this venture worthy? Truly bold and innovative? And what about you and your own great work project? I'd love to hear about your views and your work.
See you in the woods,
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