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It takes a village: Community and crowdsourcing in the creative industries

A new online publishing initiative called Pubslush is following in the footsteps of popular platform Kickstarter and applying a crowdfunding model to each of its submissions. Sidestepping the traditionally enormous overheads of the publishing industry, Pubslush guarantees a built-in audience for each of its titles by having people pledge to buy the book before it is released. Originally, one thousand pledges were required to secure publication – now, with the revamped Pubslush model, prospective readers are invited to donate à la Kickstarter to a target of the author’s choosing. Unlike Kickstarter however, Pubslush offer flexible funding and authors will receive the money even if their target is not met.

Self-publishing has become something of a cottage industry in recent years thanks to the ease and accessibility of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Pubslush aims to give direction and guidance to some of these DIY writers who might otherwise be flying blind, in addition to those seeking a traditional publishing deal; they provide “author education” resources on their website, in addition to analytics for authors’ supporters, enabling them to see which demographics and locations are responding to their material – an absolute boon when it comes to marketing their book.

Pubslush is also essentially a worldwide focus group, giving writers not only a chance to gage the viability and potential popularity of a specific book idea, but also the opportunity to tweak their concept. What’s more, authors also receive the full range of editorial, distribution and marketing services that would be offered by a conventional publisher.

Founder Jesse Potash describes it as “a global book club with a cause”, and “the publishing lovechild of American Idol and TOMS Shoes”. Once a book has reached its pledge target, Pubslush will publish it, and for every copy sold, a copy will be donated to one of the 100 million children worldwide without access to books. Potash acknowledges that illiteracy is one of the driving forces behind poverty today, and his ultimate aim is for Pubslush to become both a known book lover’s brand and a popular movement.

Much like American Idol, however, giving the public all the power essentially turns the funding process into a popularity contest. Authors are advised not to make their bios too formal, as conventional third person paragraphs are easily overlooked or forgotten. The same goes for author pitch videos – the best way to inspire enthusiasm in other people about your project, Potash recommends, is to make them see how much you care about it.

Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are fast becoming the go-to method for financing projects and finding new talent in the creative industries, and the beauty of this model is that it can be applied to a diverse range of concepts. Talenthouse has an encouraging record of supporting striving artists by giving them a platform on which to showcase their gifts, with regular “Creative Invites” to compete for the chance to collaborate with high profile artists including Florence + The Machine, Paul McCartney, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna and Marvel legend Stan Lee. This year, Lance Thackeray’s winning design for DJ and producer deadmau5 made history when it became the first piece of crowdsourced artwork to ever make the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Perhaps one of the most novel examples of a group-funded project is Tweets In Space, which was originated by conceptual artists Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, who appealed for financing via RocketHub. Their goal was to beam a stream of real time tweets via a high speed laser to GJ667Cc, an exo-planet twenty light years from Earth that has the potential to be inhabited by humanoid life forms.

Kildall and Stern’s timing couldn’t be better; Tweets In Space goes live on 21st September 2012, soon enough to still ride on the coat-tails of the global excitement caused by the landing of the Curiosity on Mars in August. And what’s more, anybody can participate. Simply compose and post a tweet including the hashtag #tweetsinspace between 8:30 and 9:00pm MST on 21st September, and your message will be included in the stream. This is the secondary aim of Tweets In Space, beyond potentially making first contact with another world; to hand the reins of interstellar communication over to the people. As Kildall proudly states in the project’s pitch video; “We want to democratise the universe.”

The community aspect of crowdfunding is an important factor in examining its popularity. Supporters not only feel a sense of pride and inclusion in helping “labour of love” projects reach fruition, but can very often play an active role in the process; comic artist and writer Christopher Lackey is one of many individuals on Kickstarter who offers to include the name and even the likeness of high-end contributors in his proposed work.

And while some creative types may cling to their singular vision, a great many more seem to be realising that collaboration gives you the best possible chance of making your dream a reality. Hollywood actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the founder of hitRECord, an online community for writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians, which tenders the unique stipulation that any content posted to the site instantly become public property, to be embellished and remixed by other users as they see fit. This collective authorial voice has already garnered an anthology book deal with HarperCollins – proof, if needed, that there really is strength in numbers.

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