Models in Motion: Brett Sandusky on Innovation Through Experimentation

April 26th, 2010 · 8 Comments
by Brett Sandusky

Today, we welcome the genius Brett Sandusky, chief provocateur behind Publishr, a site focused on exploring the issues behind new publishing business models and challenges. A few weeks ago, Brett announced plans for a new publishing, er, Publishng project. Today, he expands upon his vision:

Let’s start at the beginning: what is Publishr?

Publishr is many things, but first and foremost it is a blog containing a collection of essays about the future of the publishing industry as we forge ahead into what many see as uncharted territory.

Right now our industry is going through a transition from a primarily print business into an integrated business with both print and digital businesses. Yet, I saw a lot of houses entering the digital market with business plans based solely on their print business, or something eerily similar to business models that were predicated on producing a print product to sell in a bricks and mortar retail location. While this worked (more or less) for print books, I found it ludicrous that only a few were speaking out about creating purely digital business models or, at the very least, models that allowed for a digital focus which make sense for moving into the future of our industry.

In the transition that our industry is going through, there are a few steps I see happening:

  1. Production of a large amount of eBooks with little regard for product quality or user experience in order to be represented in the marketplace.
  2. Learning from and about the production process, eBooks in the market as well as industry “best practices”.
  3. Production of second wave eBooks, with more attention paid to user-experience and quality of conversion. Addition of more devices, market expansion.
  4. Learning from second wave of products in market.
  5. Production of third wave eBooks, refined further, device functionality starting to be taken into account, metadata and technical strategy begins to show up on radars.
  6. Learning from third wave of products in market.

Publishr strives to be at the 7th position in this (very crude) spectrum: anticipating what we’ll learn from the latest technology and then attempting to venture yet another step beyond what we perceive as the realm of current possibility.

Though they’ll likely change over time, what are your goals?

Right now, I’m focusing on establishing a foundation of quality writing about the publishing industry that covers as many topics as possible, offers solutions to future problems, and essentially, sets out a path for successful transition from a print to an integrated digital business. While I do think there is more than one way to do this, I am providing one such roadmap that I feel is entirely feasibly while still forward-thinking and adaptable.

In addition, there is the newly announced Publishng project through which we will be publishing an eBook and discussing the process throughout in a completely transparent way. The focus of this project is on learning through hands-on experimentation.

Ultimately, I would like to create a dialog about the transition in our industry as well as anticipate the challenges which will be facing as we move forward. Overall, Publishr is decidedly utopian in tone and aims to provide a positive, yet serious, look at the future of our industry from within.

What kind of business model are you envisioning?

While there are many business models that could function in the digital publishing space, I have personally advocated for one based on agility and modularity. I like to call it the XML business model because it would mirror our content, our workflow and our entire overarching structure.

Let’s say, for example, a publisher purchases or commissions a piece of content. It is then decided that this content will be divided, purposed and repurposed, chunked into several products, which may or may not include eBook, smartphone app, print book, audiobook. It may have transmedia integration with audio or video components. Each of these, as well as any bundles of these, requires a separate ISBN. Right now, regardless of what the content becomes, we have one way of treating that content, which is a model based on the content-to-print paradigm. The XML business model would allow for all of these separate products, and any iterations thereof, to have an exact model that fits to each particular situation.

“Print book”, being one of many iterations of what content could become, would have a module. This module would contain information pertaining to the royalty structure associated with a print product, pricing information for a print product, delivery and distribution models for print products, and most importantly how it interlocks with or relates to other modules. The same would exist for eBook products with separate royalty information, separate pricing information, separate distribution models. And apps. And audiobooks. And transmedia components. And those things that don’t yet exist, they would get modules in the future, as well.

Then, going back to the decision of how to chunk content, by simply interlocking, say, a print book module with an eBook module and a video component module, you have a working business plan customized to this multi-faceted products. While similar, it would not be the exact same as, say, content that was destined to become an eBook, audiobook, and app, with no print component. And, since the modules will work independently of and in tandem with each other, any combination is possible.

Right now, I feel there is a disconnect between agile workflow with movable content and rigid business structures that worked better for a p-only world. The digital landscape of today would have been, in many regards, completely unrecognizable to us just one year ago. Why wouldn’t we think this would be the case a year from today? In other words, there will be new devices, new products, new methods of delivery and production which will need to be integrated into a business model which is, currently, rigid. Instead of having to rewrite the rules of engagement every year, I believe a modular business that allows for adaptation and integration of new items is the way to go.

What kind of author are you looking for?

Ideally, I would love to find someone with the chops to stand up to the New York Times Bestseller list, for example. It is a high standard, but I feel it’s important to aim for the top and hold out for quality.

Beyond that, it is incredibly important that we work with an author who understands the digital landscape, who is willing to experiment, and who is also eager to promote and dig in to help with marketing and publicity both online and off. I don’t want to jinx it, but I may have had the right project fall into my lap just last night.

Is there a particular genre/style of book you are seeking?

We are focusing on serious literary fiction and narrative non-fiction.

What is the timeline for publishing (publishng?) your first book? How books per year do you envision publishing?

Right now, I am still working on establishing the best team of contributors so we can hash out a workflow and timeline together. So far, I have had tremendous response and am very excited about working with a veritable dream team of people in digital publishing.

At the moment, we have no plans on publishing more than one title. In fact, I don’t know if what we are going to do can be recreated, nor would I necessarily want to be responsible for the infamous sophomoric effort.

As it is conceived, this is an exercise in building the future by moving things forward. Too many still think we can simply adapt our print models for a digital world. And, too few seem to fully embrace the opportunities that a digital-first mindset can allow. Publishng is that opportunity, to go beyond current best practices and to make a difference in this industry. To show that money is not the solution to complex problems, and to explore new business modes that may be impossible in the stricter confines of a big publishing house.

In addition, we are committed to building this future in a completely transparent way so we can all learn about the process together and move on to a better place regardless of what house we work for or where our allegiances lay.

Finally, Publishng is an opportunity to stop talking about digital publishing in a vacuum and to apply the principles of what is discussed in the essays we publish on a weekly basis. It’s putting our proverbial money where our mouth is … except that very little real money is involved.

Is there a Publishr team? Who, what, why, how?

A group of people have been approached to write posts for Publishr. So far, Jane Litte and Laura Dawson have written wonderfully thoughtful pieces. I am both incredibly grateful for and proud of these contributions. I am also excited about upcoming posts from people with all different points of view. We are open to essay submissions, as well, by simply emailing publishr [dot] mag [at] gmail [dot] com.

As for the Publishng team, there will be an announcement very soon, but I am not ready to spill the beans just yet.

You can follow Brett on Twitter: @bsandusky. Keep up with the progress of Publishr’s first book at

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing

8 responses so far ↓

  • Publishing Links – Bookstores, Reviews, Adventures, and Misadventures « Leith Literary // Apr 27, 2010 at 3:55 am

    […] ? Publishr’s Brett Sandusky is interviewed at BookSquare on the future of publishing, while Eric at Pimp My Novel discusses ? the “middle way” of indie publishing […]

  • Theresa M. Moore // Apr 27, 2010 at 10:48 am

    You say that each product “requires” an ISBN? Au contraire. There is no LEGAL requirement to issue any book or ebook with an ISBN. You have bought into the typical propoganda issued by Bowker that you must buy them, and I for one do not think it is in your interest to perpetuate the myth. Just once I would like to see someone besides me step back and say “hey, wait a minute!” because I don’t know how many really well-written books are left behind by this segregation, by really dedicated authors who cannot afford to keep paying exhorbitant rates to get noticed. In other countries the numbers are issued absolutely free. This is an injustice to those who live in the U.S. and U.K. So don’t buy into the standard model and think about the future of epublishing as a way to break out of the mold.

  • Laura Dawson // Apr 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Theresa makes a good point that it is not a legal requirement to purchase an ISBN. But the supply chain – built, as Brett so ably points out, on the print model – currently requires one ISBN per format. Booksellers, e-commerce sites, distributors, publishers all rely heavily on the ISBN as the primary key in their databases.

    Amazon does not, and if a publisher wants to limit her sales to just Amazon, there’s no requirement to purchase an ISBN, certainly.

    It is also true that in other countries besides the US and UK, ISBNs are “free”. I use the term in quotes because, in fact, bibliographic services are part of the function of national libraries in these countries…and those libraries are funded by taxes. So people ARE paying for the ISBNs – and the data management around those ISBNs – but in the US, we cannot even get everyone on board for funding something as critical as health care…funding ISBN assignment and metadata management via taxes is probably never going to happen.

  • fritz blog » Link dump // Apr 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    […] Models in Motion: Brett Sandusky on Innovation Through Experimentation | Booksquare (Publishing, Int… […]

  • fritz blog » Link dump // Apr 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    […] Models in Motion: Brett Sandusky on Innovation Through Experimentation | Booksquare (Publishing, Int… […]

  • Mick Rooney // May 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    In many ways large publishers will find it harder to adapt than smaller independent publishers or publishers starting from scratch. Right now, no-one can say what the perfect or effective model required to take on these challenges is, but one innovative way of finding out is by following closely a publishing project being launched on Publishr. Publishr is a blog for essays and discussion on the future of publishing. The publishing project itself is the brainchild of Brett Sandusky, Digital Marketing Manager with Kaplan Publishing.[…]

  • divertente messaggio // Jul 1, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Marvelous, what a website it is! This website provides helpful data to
    us, keep it up.

  • see this website // Jul 18, 2013 at 4:10 am

    Paragraph writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with after that you can write if
    not it is complex to write.