A #FutureChat sidebar: Lightning Books' strikes with 'co-publishing'

A #FutureChat sidebar: Lightning Books' strikes with 'co-publishing'

Editor's Note: In our walkup to today's #FutureChat, The old model is dead, long limp the new model, we're putting before The FutureBook digital publishing community a question of just how viable is this idea of a "new model" to replace what many say is a broken "old model" of publishing. Dan Hiscocks, who is behind one self-styled "new model," Lightning Books, provides us with this commentary on its development, and we thank him for this. While his piece here doesn't specify how Lighting Books works, my Bookseller colleague Lisa Campbell reported last week from London Book Fair that it is a 50-50 cost-split arrangement. After 3,000 copies have sold, an author and Lightning Books are to split any revenue, again 50-50. 

Bookseller editor Philip Jones, in his FutureBook column this week, The businesses of books, refers to Hiscocks' stated desire to "shake up the publishing industry." And we learn from the video on the site (embedded for you below) that Hiscocks' version of the term "partner publishing" is "co-publishing." Hiscocks' video calls this "a new sustainable business model for authors and publishers." Join us in #FutureChat or in comments here, and let us know what you think. - Porter Anderson

In 1996 when I set up TravellersEye (now Eye Books), I had no publishing experience. But I was passionate about telling stories from ordinary people who had done extraordinary things, and books seemed the best way to do this. The stories showed something I firmly believe: the more you put into life the more you get out of it.

When my naïve enthusiasm was both embraced and supported, I knew I’d been right to leave the world of property and come into the bosom of publishing. It was inspiring, creative and exciting, and to top it off, we got to make things of value to society because they bring new ideas to the world.

I met head office retailers. I put together marketing plans. WH. Smith said they would take my first book if I got a feature in a national paper, and I got the Independent Review to do a 6-page piece. I met people working on bookshop floors, passionate and full of knowledge about books. Going to book fairs to sort out distribution and rights deals, being invited to tea with The Queen, being the youngest director of the Independent Publishers Guild fed my need to feel I was doing something worthwhile. And it was fun!

Given my naïveté and limited understanding the world of books, for many years I chose (and latterly have been forced) to cut corners. Limited budgets often forced us to do design, editing, copy editing, typesetting and proofing in-house or on the cheap. As I spent more time meeting and sharing stories within the industry, I came to realise just how vital each of these roles was. While there was never a guarantee of selling, there was a way to ensure you didn’t: not producing the right product. But, many publishers are feeling forced into cutting corners, which inevitably compromises the quality of the books we make.

While small independents rarely made big money, we could make a living. But recently many of us: agents, authors, the various skilled engineers, publishers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers are all struggling. And in those circumstances, how can we pay authors a decent royalty?


I am recently back from five years’ living in the United States, on a sabbatical from publishing. I’ve returned wanting to shake up my industry and to find a way to restore the love and respect it inspired in me nearly 20 years ago. I am sure that authors need more money.  I think that books need to be valued more than they are. I believe that all the key players need respect – through fair remuneration. And I want to give all my books the best chance of selling by making them the best they can be.

It seems to me that the best way to do this is to share both the risks and rewards. An author has invested time and energy in a manuscript. These days they need to put a lot of time and energy into marketing their work. We should share the investment in getting it to market to ensure that we publish it to the best of our ability and get global distribution. But if authors and publishers are sharing the risks, then it seems obvious that they should share equally in the rewards. That’s why we have come up with what we call "co-publishing," a deal for publishers and authors.

We also want to increase the value of books to the reader, and we will be rolling that out through Lightning Books later this year.

British authors and publishers have been through lean times. But I hope that this new model, will restore excitement and commercial success in the years to come.

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