Billing WEbook as a digital “slush pile,” Ardy Khazaei, its former president, told PW in 2009 that the Web site aimed to match agents with the kinds of manuscripts they were looking to represent. Now, under new ownership, the company aims to be a publishing platform championing content that draws approval from its online community.
WEbook was sold to Vantage Press, after failing to get the necessary traction, in late 2011, and when Vantage went bankrupt in December 2012, current WEbook head Simon Rosenheim bought the name. Rosenheim lives in the U.K. and has run a number of publishing companies, including Meadowside Books (which he ultimately sold to Osprey Group). With a staff of six, he has rebuilt and relaunched the site.
The new WEbook went live, quietly, in April 2013, and it currently has over 140,000 registered users. (Since the site was offline for some time, Rosenstein’s team had to rebuild the original database, and some content was lost in the process.) All users can now access the site for free. It hosts a variety of content—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays are its four categories—with over 66,000 “projects” available for reading.
Users can rate the projects posted, and the most highly rated titles are published by WEbook. Thus far, the company has published seven titles, and Rosenheim confirmed that 10 more will be released in “the next few months.” The published titles are all available for purchase directly from the site, and through Amazon. The WEbook contract offers authors 85% royalty rates, and the ability to price their own content (the only proviso being that print titles cannot be priced below manufacturing costs). The company covers everything from cover design to POD and marketing. (Most published WEbook authors have priced their hardcovers at $20, paperbacks at $10, and e-books at $5.) Explaining the process by which titles rise to the top, Rosenheim said that users vote (there are staffers who ensure that “no voting conspiracies” unfairly launch titles to the top) and then the site’s Page to Fame algorithm takes over. The algorithm, Rosenheim added, “is several pages long, as there are potentially hundreds of elevating factors involved in the various rounds.”
WEbook claims that, thus far, its reader community has cast over 830,000 votes. When asked about the kind of marketing support that the company provides for its authors, Rosenheim said it is “still early days” and gave few specifics, aside from noting that WEbook will provide support for digital and social marketing “specifically” through Twitter and Facebook. He added that the company is also pairing its authors with Authoright, which provides public relations services to self-published and traditionally published authors. (Authoright is behind the February London Author Fair, which is billed as a three-day event geared toward indie authors, featuring seminars and panels with established literary agents; the company plans to launch a New York City event in the fall.)
Since WEbook’s titles (all of which are novels) have just been published—the first became available in December—no traditional deals have been signed by any of the authors. The site is planning a consumer-facing PR campaign in the coming months to attract more users; currently, 70% of users live in the U.S., 20% live in the U.K., and 10% live elsewhere. Rosenheim estimated that half of WEbook users are active writers; all, he said, are active readers.