A startup launching in August is hoping to leverage the power of social media by turning influencers into publishers.
Founded by Matt Kaye and Meg Harvey, Bindery will publish original titles under an assortment of “tastemaker-led micro-imprints.” Each imprint will be helmed by a social media influencer, who will select titles for publication. Bindery will launch with nine inaugural imprints, and plans to publish one book per year per imprint, though Kaye added that it is possible that number could rise in certain cases.
Under the Bindery process, once a title is acquired, editorial and design are handled by the publishing services company Girl Friday Productions, where Harvey previously served as chief strategy officer. Bindery's titles will be published in print and digital formats and will be distributed by Ingram’s Two Rivers Distribution to all trade channels.
To find titles, Bindery will deal directly with literary agencies, approaching them with its catalog of imprints to solicit manuscripts that fit the interests of individual tastemakers. From there, Bindery will hand over submissions to tastemakers for consideration. Tastemakers' evaluation process may be "in dialogue with their paywalled community members," said Harvey, in which case "author anonymity" would be granted. She added, "Once tastemakers identify a book they're excited about and want to greenlight, Bindery offers a contract to the agency—between the author and Bindery—and manages the author relationship directly." Bindery offers a standard $10,000 advance.
Along with its publishing arm is Bindery's web-hosted “membership platform,” which complements and helps fund the publishing process. Through the platform, tastemakers establish “curation communities” with users paying a monthly subscription fee (tiered at $5, $12, and $25 per month) for access to various benefits, including author livestreams, branded merch, participation in certain creative decisions, early copies of books, and appearing in a book's acknowledgements section.
Tastemakers who work with Bindery take home 50% of their monthly subscription revenue. The other 50% goes to Bindery, which uses the revenue to underwrite book production. Generating some revenue up front is Bindery's way of taking some risk out of the endeavor by shielding Bindery from getting overextended on creative and printing costs, Harvey explained.
When books hit the market, authors earn 50% of the net earnings, tastemakers take home 25%, and Bindery takes the other 25%. "Since our margin relies on books selling well," Harvey added, "we are committed to making sure they do, for the benefit of all parties involved."
In recent years, social media influencers have amassed inordinate sway over which books become popular. Influencer recommendations, particularly on BookTok, regularly turn backlist titles into bestsellers. As influencers establish themselves as arbiters of taste, likeminded followers increasingly heed their endorsements.
Much of influencers’ power comes from the authenticity of their endorsements, which are rarely, if ever, paid and influencers generally do not share in the proceeds of the books that their endorsements help make popular. Bindery's model, which gives them 25% of net earnings, is a way to address that imbalance.
Bindery seems to be a natural progression of the trend of celebrity-helmed imprints. In 2020, former Crown publisher Molly Stern launched Zando, an independent publisher that has teamed on imprints with many high-profile figures, called “publishing partners,” including John Legend, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lena Waithe. In 2022, Amazon Publishing launched Mindy’s Book Studio, an imprint helmed by Mindy Kaling, and earlier this year, MCD launched the Questlove-led imprint AUWA.
What distinguishes Bindery’s “tastemaker-led imprints” from, say, Zando’s “publishing partners” is the startup’s membership platform. “Having an audience and taste that resonates with that audience is critical for breaking out new authors in the current publishing environment,” Kaye said. And Bindery aims to “monetize taste” even further via its membership model and platform, which allows tastemakers to harness their followings and engage followers in the publishing process, which in turn “seeds a feeling of investment in the books’ success and fuels buzz at launch," Kaye added.
Bindery's inaugural tastemakers include Jaysen Headley, a TikTok influencer with more then 650,000 followers, who will helm Ezekat Press; Jananie K. Velu, a YouTuber with more than 95,000 subscribers, who will lead Boundless Press; and Zoranne Host, a social media influencer will oversee an imprint under the same name as her 8,400-member Fable book club, Fantasy & Frens.
Kaye started out in marketing at Avalon, Wiley, and FSG. He then served as senior product manager for Amazon Books, later joined the publishing startup Inkshares, then Trulia, and most recently was head of product at Patreon. Harvey began her career as an editor at Becker & Meyer and spent the last decade as chief of strategy at Girl Friday. Rounding out the Bindery team are founding engineer Zack Jordan and founding designer Justin Kropp. Bindery’s six-person advisory board includes former HarperCollins CEO and Open Road cofounder Jane Friedman.
Bindery’s business model partly assumes that an influencer’s following will amount to a built-in readership for the original titles published by the influencer’s imprint, but not all social media stars have been able to turn their popularity into paying customers.
Moreover, Bindery’s vision of publishing books backed by scores of micro-imprints sounds like a recipe for an oversaturated market, but Kaye sees it as an antidote to the consolidation of the industry. “Consolidation in publishing and bookselling has led to homogeneity in the types of authors published and scarcity in who gets the resources to be successful,” said Kaye. “We view a world containing thousands of micro-imprints as a return to the days of independent publishers leading the industry: taking risks, uncovering new voices, and igniting a passion among readers who want to see more creativity and diversity in the publishing ecosystem.”
Indeed the question at the heart of the endeavor—what if, instead of putting their seal of approval on existing books, influencers acquired new books?—is a timely one. With publishing increasingly dependent on the opinions of social media influencers—and those influencers increasingly looking to monetize their clout, amid recent failed initiatives and setbacks—Bindery arrives at watershed moment in both publishing and social media.