I recently stumbled across an interesting new publishing venture called Fractal Press. The headline on their website says "We Publish Blog Anthologies", which sparked my curiosity. I was fortunate enough to catch up with co-founder Navanit Arakeri for the following interview:
JW: At Fractal Press you're planning to produce a print book on personal finance using the best of the blogosphere. Where did this idea come from and how has it evolved?
NA: The general idea is to build multi-author books based on valuable existing content in the blogging community. Our approach is heavily inspired by Art de Vany and Nassim Taleb. The idea first came up when we approached the question: "What can we do if we don't know anything?" So it was essentially a risk-management issue and the problem of acting under uncertainty. Fractal Press is one instantiation of the general framework that emerges from studying this question.
Positive-skew (low-downside, potentially high-upside), massive diversification, and power-law (long-tail) environments were what we were looking for. I initially pitched the idea as "Fallible Publishing" that involved diversification across as many dimensions as possible (multi-author books) and benefiting from the massive bottom-up tinkering going on in the blogosphere.
As we worked with the idea we realized that there are plenty of other benefits that emerge when we work with content in the blogosphere. For instance, it has been shown that artists who worked on their pieces without any monetary incentives show more "flow" and enjoyment of the process when compared to artists who worked on similar pieces but with monetary incentives. Bloggers write on topics that they care about, while we play a minimal role in terms of editorial direction, heavy-handed changes, or monetary incentives during the creating process -- we believe this vastly improves the author-publisher relationship and makes it much less adversarial than is usually the case.
We also realized that we offer a pretty unique way for bloggers to monetize their content without compromising the design and aesthetics of the blog. I've written about our fallible approach in general in a post on our philosophy and another on editorial control.
JW: How can personal finance bloggers get involved in the project and how will they be compensated?
NA: Personal Finance bloggers can simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can install our button to help us find them.
We have been fortunate in that we already have some of the top Personal Finance bloggers appearing in our anthology. These are folks who have been featured in The New York Times and write regularly for major online financial channels in addition to blogging. We are currently moving forward based on recommendations from them. We also use rankings from del.icio.us, technorati, and other blog tracking tools to help us make decisions on which blogs to follow up with.
Bloggers will be compensated like regular authors based on a percentage of the proceeds from the sales of the book. Given our approach to risk management, we can afford to be particularly generous with our authors. A traditional publisher has to pay the bills while they wait for an author to finish the book in a year or so, we don't have that problem since we use existing content and can get a book out much more quickly.
We donate the proceeds from the first 100 sales to charity.
JW: Are you planning to leverage the blogosphere for PR and general visibility in the market? Can you share any of your marketing plans with us at this point?
NA: I think this is where our understanding of uncertainty, particularly the mathematics of information cascades will come into play. One of the best features of having so many contributors in an anthology is the large number of "seeding" points that can trigger an information cascade. Our approach will resemble a "starburst" release akin to releases in the movie industry.
We are also experimenting with other ideas such as the new Kindle and ebook platforms that are being introduced. Essentially, we hope to leverage the digital medium to drive sales in the real world.
JW: Is it safe to assume you're running this project through a print-on-demand vendor? If so, which one and when do you expect to have books available?
NA: Yes, print-on-demand is the best way to manage the uncertainty in this business. We're working with Lightning Source, a print-on-demand provider based in Tennessee. We are also looking into other providers and keeping an eye on the competitive landscape.
We expect to launch the Personal Finance anthology by the end of April. It should get easier and quicker after the first book is out when we'll be able to streamline our processes and focus on building momentum.
JW: Are you planning follow-up books to the personal finance one? If so, are you sticking with the financial area or venturing into other sectors?
NA: We have many other topics in mind including productivity, fitness, and entrepreneurship. There are some fantastic bloggers in these areas. We're also looking into working with particularly prolific individual bloggers who have great content that can be molded into a book.
Based on our focus on diversification, we will venture into as many sectors as possible . In the future our decision-making around this will be influenced by the success of our past books and our ability to leverage existing information cascades.