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Bookkus Publishing 2012 – 2018 RIP

Well, my publisher just called it a day, announcing a couple of weeks ago that Bookkus was closing.  I thought I’d write about it because I know some of you would just like to know (Mimi was very active on the site for quite some time), and also because I think there are some lessons to be learned.

Bookkus was trying to be a publisher for the internet age.  I think the feeling was that one of the major changes in consumerism brought on by the internet was the massive growth in importance of reviews posted by individual reader/consumers.  So the basic selling point was that all books published by Bookkus would be chosen by the reading community.  This was a unique idea.  Members could sign-up to be reviewers and read any book posted to the site.  They would then post their review (plus a star rating), and if a book passed a certain threshold it would move on to final consideration.  That would consist of all the reviewers joining a discussion as to whether the book (like it or not) was worthy of publication.  The management team would take part, but as equal members. As the logo stated: “Community Powered, Community Approved.”

Sounds like a great idea.  Well, so was communism, I guess.

The first and major problem was human nature.  Some (but not all) of the most active members were the writers who had books posted on the site (that obviously includes me).  That generally lasted as long as the writer’s book was getting strong reviews and showed potential for getting published.  If a book got few and/or poor reviews, the author stopped showing up.  Not much of a surprise there.  (Actually some of those whose books were published barely ever made an appearance.)

Unfortunately, the biggest problem was with the general reading population.  I tend to think of the internet as a huge amusement park which just emphasizes our cultural ADD symptoms.  When Bookkus first started, only the first three of so chapters of any wanna-be book were posted, with the caveat that if the reviews were good then the entire book would be posted.  That lasted about 6 months, if I remember correctly.  Internet users want instant responses, and there were books that languished with 2 or 3 good reviews for months.  Unable to read the rest of the book, people moved on.  The solution offered was to change the rules and post the entire book from the get-go.  That worked a little bit better because it did result in five or six books (including mine) getting published, although none reached the initially listed requirement of 20 reviews (mine only had 10).  Even then, the assembled reviewers were only a subset of all who had reviewed the book.  Some may have become gun shy about discussing whether a book should be published, but, again, I think most had just moved on, having gotten tired of waiting (I read that book 6 months ago, I don’t remember that much about it!), while others just lost interest in the site. So the decisions came down to a small group of hardcore members.

[As an aside I should say that I could understand the angst felt by some people.  One book I read was an old style fantasy, not Tolkienesque, more Count of Monte Cristo style.  I enjoyed the book which was very well written, but wondered how marketable it was in this day and age. It actually ended up being approved for publication but never saw the light of day.]

I think the disinterest really showed up when the publisher arranged for a couple of Google Hangouts with me and Mike Hagan (both our books had been published).  Despite advertising it on the site, and I assume e-mailing members about it, the total turnout consisted of myself, Mike Hagan, Mimi, and William, the publisher.  The most notable aspect of these events occurred during the first, when my Hercules videocam’s audio failed and I spent the entire session responding by writing on a pad and holding it up to a camera.

The biggest problem was the marketing, or apparent lack thereof.  William, the publisher, had started a companion Web site called Bookaholic which was an on-line magazine for book lovers.  I think Bookkus and Bookaholic were envisioned as a kind of one-two punch.  As far as I can tell, Bookaholic (now also departed) never took off.  Other than that there were the free book giveaways on Amazon and Goodreads.  The deal on Goodreads was a free e-book in return for an honest review.  I got some intial very good reviews (and a couple of poor ones), but never very many.  On top of that some have still trickled in over the past two years.  The free giveaway on Amazon got me into the top 100, but never produced any sales.

I think William had a few contacts, but professional reviewers wouldn’t touch a book that had less than 100 on-line reviews.  I know he hit all the free giveaway sites, but that didn’t help.  Book signings were discussed but all fell through as did a reading event in Toronto.  All this occurred early in 2015, and I admit there was a lot of excitement and expectations, but nothing went as expected.

Anyway, long story short, by late 2015 I think the writing was on the wall and Bookkus and Bookaholic went static.  Members made comments and still reviewed books, but nothing happened and nothing new was posted.  Personally, I suspect that zero cash flow had ground things to a halt for Bookkus (I don’t think he had that much to start off with).  It held on for about two years (hoping for a miracle?), and then at the beginning of this year went out of business.

I don’t blame William, maybe as the saying goes, “His reach exceeded his grasp.”  On the plus side it did allow me to get my book published, and maybe offers a cautionary tale about start-ups.

-DocTom

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12 thoughts on “Bookkus Publishing 2012 – 2018 RIP

  1. mimispeike says:

    I am sorry to hear this, but I rather expected it. I knew that Bookkus, like most publishers (can’t fault them for it) was doing next to no promotion.

    I’ve wondered what percentage they took for paying for editing and a cover, stuff we should be able to swing on our own.

    I dropped out of there because I was so out of step. One book that I despised (The Life She Left Behind) got glowing reviews. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The thing was, all those books were well written, it was the shortcuts in the plots that disturbed me.

    There were a few books that I loved. No one else did. I can’t give you titles, I have long since deleted all those pdfs.

    I know that William had high hopes. I feel bad for him. We’re on our own, folks.

    This brings me to our anthology. Anything that gets your work seen is a good deal. That’s the reward right there. Screw the bucks, until you have a sizable fanbase.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Mimi,
    Yes, like I said, I don’t blame William, he tried. He was the one who designed my book cover. We looked at a number of cover art designers on-line, but none came up with anything as good as William’s. So he supplied the cover and the editing. The profits from the book were split 50/50.
    Mike Hagan and I did what we could, but most of the other authors were AWOL as far as I can tell. The was a discussion page just for Bookkus authors, but it never went anywhere either.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. atthysgage says:

    I remember hanging out on Bookus for a while, though I don’t think I ever put a book up for consideration. I never entirely understood the business model, but I don’t fault anybody for that. I appreciated the idea that Wiliam was trying ANYTHING to get outside the conventional publishing model. Crowd sourching the process was a good idea, on paper anyway. I’m sorry, though not surprised, that it didn’t work.

    It’s just a damn tough gig trying to get a book in front of the public. I’ve been published three times by small presses, and they, in all honesty, don’t have any more reach than the average self-published author. Even the major publishers can’t guarantee anything, and they tend to be focused on the fast buck stuff. (I remember Samuel Delany talking about how hard it was trying to convince his publisher that it was worth their while keeping his backlist titles in print. Samuel Delany for crying out loud!!)

    As long as books are regarded as just another commodity and marketed as such, I don’t think the situation is likely to improve. Do I have an alternative? Not really. Maybe — starting with communities such as this one — some different way of looking at the relationship between writer, reader, and book producer can emerge. But as long as profit is the ultimate arbiter of success, the way out of this hole may just be too steep and too slippery.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. GD Deckard says:

    That is a very insightful post mortem, Tom. You show that Bookkus thought of about everything we can think of to market books, but like us, failed. I have to agree with Atthys. “As long as books are regarded as just another commodity and marketed as such, I don’t think the situation is likely to improve.”

    As a commodity, books are lousy as a commodity. If I advertise candy bars, people who like them will buy more. Nobody buys a book twice.

    That could be the problem in a nutshell: Marketing is expensive, books are cheap and nobody buys a book twice.

    Hopefully, someone will find a way to market books *not* as a commodity. Perry Palin, for example, seems to market events (in which books happen to be sold). I belong to a FB group whose members attend book conventions where they sell books to people who love book conventions. My town is dotted on the weekends with “Produce Markets” which include local authors selling their books to people who stop to talk with them.
    There is an answer, I sense it sometimes. Now, if I could just make sense of it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • DocTom says:

      I should add that one other problem I saw was that Bookkus tried to do too many things from the start. Any book, fiction on any genre or non-fiction was eligible. Maybe that was in the hope of maximizing submissions, but it prevented the development of any sort of identity. Remember, Amazon started out as an on-line bookstore!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    All right, I have to tell you. William’s heart was in the right place, but he isn’t a book person, that I could see. And because I hadn’t much faith in the reviewers on the site, I felt it was the blind leading the blind.

    That may not have made a bit of difference, but it worried me. At the very start, just after the site was up, I read his ‘This Is Who We Are’ opening statement, and it was so poorly written that I rewrote it for him. I did not have a good feeling from the start. But I hoped. I hoped that all his work would not be for naught.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mimispeike says:

      By the way, William told me at the very beginning that he had started the site with the goal of promoting his father’s writing. His father was among the best on there. He’d been published, by one or two of those small independents, and was hoping to break out.

      Liked by 2 people

      • DocTom says:

        That’s kind of odd. I remember his book because I reviewed it. It was typical of thrillers in that it had a totally absurd premise and struck me as kind of paint by the numbers, but it struck me as a reasonable summer read. It got very little play and even when published almost no marketing that I could see. William hardly ever mentioned it on the site.

        Liked by 2 people

        • mimispeike says:

          Yes, it was a fantasy-thriller, not my thing, but for what it was, I thought it was very well written and had marketing potential. Something about the end threw me (can’t recall just what) but other than that, I liked it.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. I remember Bookkus making a bit of a buzz at one point – I certainly looked at it as a potential outlet. And the idea itself isn’t without merit – a discerning community validates a book for publication, thus providing a guarantee of quality. But as always it appears to have lacked the marketing clout, which us understandable – very few small publishers have that.
    And to emerge from obscurity books need a reputation, which they can’t get precisely because they’re not visible. Like you, GD, I sometimes sense there must be an answer, but it keeps slipping out of my grasp…

    Liked by 3 people

  7. GD Deckard says:

    Odd thought, but I recall Marshall McLuhan once saying that any media becomes environmental. Meaning, we become numb to it after awhile except to use it, like a wrist watch that we feel when we first put it on and then forget until we want to look at it. He quoted John M. Culkin saying, “One thing of which we can be certain is that it was not a fish who discovered water.”

    Perhaps another thing of which we can be certain is that it is not a bookseller who will discover the new way to sell books. And, we do need a new way.
    Example of a new way:
    “Blockchain, Bitcoin, Ebooks And Self-Publishing”
    by Derek Haines, January 24, 2018
    https://justpublishingadvice.com/blockchain-bitcoin-ebooks-and-self-publishing/

    Liked by 2 people

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