Co-Publishing: The Third Way between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing ?

Co-Publishing: The Third Way between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing ?

INTRO Thanks to the digital revolution new opportunities have arisen for both the traditional publishing and the self-publishing industries. The two businesses so far have been developing on two orthogonal paths without any relevant crossing.

Since self-publishing by definition does not include the role of mainstream Publishers (in the strict sense of Publishers, not as something else such as platform owners, investors, etc.), it seems nearly impossible to bridge the two worlds. Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing appear to be somehow antagonist, and each Party has got its reasons to oppose the other, not that all reasons are equally and/or mutually strong of course (and traditional publishing is bound to stay as main book publishing business for the foreseeable future).

The European history has taught to us that any dispute or conflict doesn't have to be solved by “brute force” or “wars” only, it can also be solved through “marriages”, as it had always happened at the time of kingdoms and empires. 

So why not breed traditional publishing and self-publishing together?

The fruits of this union could be Co-Publishing, a Third Way between traditional publishing and self-publishing. A brand-new path that might complement,  not substitute, the other two. A world with 3 business models might be a better one than a World with 2 business models only. Or not?


This is all theory, though, there aren't concrete examples thereof. Well, there weren't until very recently. Until RCS Libri in Italy pioneered the first known Co-Publishing experiment over the just past Summer.

As a matter of fact, in July 2013, RCS Libri launched YOU CRIME, the first digital Co-Publishing contest that offers to self-published authors and new authors the opportunity to get digitally published by a strong traditional brand such as Rizzoli (owned by RCS Libri). It's a brand new form of relationship between the online self-published author community  and the mainstream traditional publishing, the first ever Co-Publishing experiment.

RCS Libri set up Rizzoli LAB, a new imprint and team of Rizzoli's publishers that is dedicated to unconventional digital  Publishing. New and self-published authors are given the opportunity

  • to publish in a professionally curated ebook collection together with strong brand authors and
  • to participate to a digital contest, that rewards the winner with a publication of her/his next unpublished novel with Rizzoli First.

YOU CRIME is a form of Co-Publishing, because both Publisher and Authors co-publish the books. What does Co-Publishing really mean here?

Authors are expected to self-promote and self-sell their own books on the usual e-retail channels, as if they were self-publishing. The publisher selects and curates the content, produces, distributes and commercializes the eBooks. Moreover the publisher makes sure enough communication, publicity and advertising at national level and on the e-retail channels are warranted to the entire initiative (YOU CRIME) without promoting the single works. It’s a win-win situation where new authors enjoy an unprecedented support and visibility, global advertising, training, coaching and help of brand authors (see more in the following section) and the publisher allocate more efficiently and effectively its scarce key resources on new authors.


YOU CRIME has a one-of-a-kind format, that has been developed on purpose. The digital contest features 12 selected unknown authors from the web and their 12  unpublished short stories of mystery, thrillers and noir.

YOU CRIME is a talent show, a bit like X-Factor, where the 12 authors, chosen by Rizzoli LAB, will compete to become an official Rizzoli First's author in 2014. The 12 participants are presented by 4 famous Italian mystery-thrillers-noir authors, who contribute with an unpublished short story, explicitly written for this contest, and will help the participants with tips and endorsements.

The 12 competing short stories and the 4 short stories by brand authors are grouped into 4 eBooks, each containing 1 crime story by a brand Author and 3 Crime stories written by the new authors participating to the contest. The 4 eBook are published by Rizzoli LAB.

The contest is not a literary competition only based on narrative talent, but rather a publishing one where the ability of selling and gathering the readers' preference are being measured too. There is only one judge: online readers. They buy the eBooks they prefer and give preferences on the social media to the authors they support.

The media partner of YOU CRIME is Corriere della Sera, the main daily newspaper in Italy (owned by RCS Mediagroup that also owns RCS Libri). Corriere della Sera hosted the YOU CRIME website and cooperated on marketing activities.


The contest finished at the end of September and the winner (Gabriele Santoni) was announced 4 days ago in a public event in Milan, hosted by Rizzoli e Corriere della Sera. RCS Libri shared some results: all 4 Books, during the competition, were in the top 50 of most sold eBooks by RCS Libri (over 4000 eBooks available) and still 20 days after the competition finished there are topping the Kindle charts: the bestselling YOUCRIME ebook is no. 4 most popular Italian Thriller on Kindle.


Warning: It's just a first experiment and it's a long way distant from becoming a scalable and viable paradigm. Of course, Co-Publishing doesn’t have to be identified with YOU CRIME and digital talent shows. They are just examples thereof.

The book publishing industry still has nowadays only 2 alternative models: traditional and self-publishing. The first pioneers just started working for a hopefully richer publishing world, where Co-Publishing might become a third alternative. The more players join the pioneering force, all over the world, the higher the changes are that Co-Publishing might become a viable paradigm, rather than an exception.


Everyone knows that something is impossible to achieve until you get a naive that does not know it and invents it... So far in Italy we have been "naive" (or open minded if you like better) enough to give it a try.

This is how radical (not incremental) innovation works. It reminds us of a famous quote by Steve Jobs: "Stay hungry, Stay foolish".

However there  is another quote, less famous but perhaps even truer for radical Innovation, by the same man. It says "Don't care about being right. Care about succeeding".

This is what matters at the end.