In early 2013, Thad Woodman, a manager at an economics consulting firm, reached out to Larry Levitsky, previously the publisher and general manager of the computer book publishing division of McGraw-Hill, about developing a startup that would combine the services of a legacy publisher—editing, marketing, design, and distribution—with the ever-growing model of crowdfunding. That company, Inkshares, was incorporated in April 2013, with Levitsky as CEO and Woodman as chief product officer.
“It occurred to Thad that there had to be a better model [than traditional publishing],” said Adam Gomolin, who joined Inkshares shortly after Levitsky, as chief legal officer, “one that is more remunerative for authors, more sensibly disperses risk, and does not diminish quality in an age of already abundant digital content.” In October 2013, the team hired Jeremy Thomas, formerly CTO at the educational video marketplace PopExpert, as CEO, bringing the employee count to four.
Inkshares functions on an “all or nothing” model—a project doesn’t move into publication until it has raised the critical mass of funding, determined by Inkshares, required to cover the costs of editorial, design, and an initial 1,000-copy print run. If a book isn’t funded successfully, contributors are fully reimbursed. The process is also open to bookstores— in April, Inkshares built a feature that allows shops to order titles still in the fund-raising stage in bulk and at a discount, which, like the contributions of one individual, works toward the title reaching its funding goal.
Gomolin described the Inkshares concept as an amalgamation of two popular platforms for independent authors. “If we can’t help you crowdfund, we’re CreateSpace,” said Gomolin. “If we can’t edit, market, or design, we’re Kickstarter.”
This month, Inkshares announced that it raised $1.2 million in funding, with investors including Ingram Ventures, Indicator Ventures, Chronicle Books CEO Nion McEvoy, and Anthony Saleh and Nasir Jones (better known as the rapper Nas) at QueensBridge Venture Partners.
The capital will keep the lights on at the startup for its first 18 months, said Gomolin, after which time, according to projections, Inkshares should be a “profitable company” and will able to “grow on [its] own.” All of the money raised by authors on the platform goes to editorial, design, production, and marketing. “We don’t make money unless a book sells,” said Gomolin. “Just like a traditional publishing house.”
Inkshares sets the price of the book, and, once it’s published, writers receive 70% of net receipts, for both physical and digital titles. Inkshares will release titles in print and digital, and writers can opt to publish in digital only, which has a lower funding floor. The company is currently negotiating with Ingram Publisher Services on a distribution agreement.
Inkshares is heading to press on its first title, The Cat’s Pajamas, an illustrated children’s book from Daniel Wallace, author of the novel Big Fish (adapted into a 2003 film and 2013 Broadway musical, both of the same name). Wallace, who raised 108% of the funds needed in order to publish the book, first heard about the startup from Elizabeth Woodman, a veteran publishing executive at Eno Publishers and Thad’s mother, and said he was “into it from the start.”
One factor that interested Wallace was that contributors to the project would be likely book buyers. “In traditional publishing, a very few people decide whether a book is going to get published, and then they try to get the rest of the world interested in it,” said Wallace. “With The Cat’s Pajamas, it comes into the world with a ready-made fan base.”
Though Gomolin said that Inkshares will inevitably hire more editorial staffers, at present, the startup utilizes a team of freelance editors, many with experience at traditional publishing companies. For Cat’s Pajamas, Inkshares turned to Carol Goldenberg for the design and Kim Keller for the editorial work.
“It’s similar to traditional publishing in that there are some very smart editors and designers who are making the book much better than it ever could have been if I had been left to my own devices,” said Wallace.
Goldenberg worked on children’s lists at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Clarion Books, and designed and directed art for five Caldecott Medal–winning titles. “I am a dyed-in-the-wool printed book devotee and once vowed never to get involved with anything that lived online,” said Goldenberg.“But working with Inkshares has been exciting.”
Keller also worked at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for nearly 10 years, as both a children’s editor and managing editor. Speaking to Inkshare’s different acquisitions model, Keller said that she “liked the challenge of making a book the best that it can be, knowing that it already has readers behind it.”
With a traditionally published author penning its first title, editorial and support teams made up of industry veterans, and the potential for a major distributor to handle its list, the aim of Inkshares, according to Gomolin, isn’t to abandon all that has been built by the existing model, but rather to integrate new ideas into what works in legacy publishing. “We’re not going to boil the ocean," predicted Gomolin. "And we’re not out to overthrow publishing. Everyone [at Inkshares] has a very romantic conception of reading that was incubated by the great writers and the great editors of legacy publishing. But there is a clear need that has been validated by crowdfunding.”