Scribd Author Joe Quirk Exults in His Choice of Publisher

The Revolution Will Not Be Printed
by Joe Quirk
Author of Exult (Scribd)

I’ve fantasized about since 1996, well before its founders reached puberty, when I wrote an essay about the coming “Revolution in Publishing” that no publisher would publish. I had to wait to publish my first novel, which gave me the opportunity to provoke an argument with my publisher during my first book tour. I held up my hardcover book and declared to my horrorstruck editor, publicist, and assistants that soon we won’t need this hunk of tree pulp any more. I announced that the substance of a novel is not in the book but the words, which were easily digitized, and the next generation will be about about as sentimental about the smells and textures of books as we were about the smells and textures of LPs.

My entourage ganged up on me. Nobody wants to read on a screen, they said. I prophesied that eventually a screen would look better than a paper book. Once computers are cheap and portable, and “digital books” (a term I thought I made up) cost two bucks, young people will buy it. Only sentimental old fogies will buy this expensive, tree-hating, cumbersome brick of paper. I threw my newly published hardcover on the table with a satisfying bang!

They made me promise not to mention this during any media appearances they’d scheduled. I folded my arms and said fine. But I declared in my best Nostradamus voice that the infrastructure that gave them jobs would be threatened by “digital books” within fifteen years, reminding them that geniuses are never recognized in their own time.

Ten years later, the economy crashed. This was great news for me. The Paperback Revolution occurred during the Great Depression. Time to get the Digital Revolution started.

I told every writer I knew I wanted to start our own author-owned digital publishing company. I wanted to call it I talked to my author friend Tamim Ansary about it. He asked me if I stole this idea from Kemble Scott, a third author friend. I said no. He said I better talk to Kemble Scott.

Kemble and I got together at his house for lunch and we hashed out the business plan in a half hour. I still have the piece of paper where I scribbled it out:

“Digital books. $2 each. 80/20 split. Author 80%. Luvlit 20%. First chapters available free on-line. No agents. No advances. No paper used– green publishing! No professional reviewers. Only customer reviews. Create Independent Author’s Youtube channel: call it YourBook. Launch with bestselling and award-winning authors from mainstream publishing. Then anybody can upload. Writers retain all rights.”

At the bottom of the piece of paper, I wrote a spontaneous manifesto that was only slightly less embarrassing than the one I wrote in 1996:

“We are smashing the great bottleneck between our art and our audience that takes 90% of the reader’s payment. We’re establishing a true meritocracy … ”

Manifestos are embarrassing to read but invigorating to write. As soon as I finished scribbling and smiling, I was hit in the face with the obstacles ahead. The software engineering! The credit card payments! The lawyers! The logo! How long would it take to get this started? Who would invest in it?

As I dejectedly ate dessert, Kemble Scott let me know he was meeting tomorrow with some recent graduates from Harvard and Stanford business schools who started some kind of document-sharing site. Great, I said. Maybe these whippersnappers would contribute their wisdom and experience to the venture.

Kemble called me the next day.

“It was like they had an electronic bug in my kitchen,” he said. “They recited everything we had in our business plan, right down to the 80/20 split. All the engineering is done. They already have at least 50 million unique viewers, several millions in start-up money. They want to sell original novels.”

Kemble and I realized all they needed was clout. They wanted bestselling mainstream authors to publish their first editions with them.

“How many writers do they want?”
Kemble, Tamim, and me. Done.
“Can we call it luvlit?”
“It already has a name. Scribd.”
“How do you spell that?”

Since then, half the writers I know have ganged up on me with the same arguments I got eleven years ago. These purists want to pay an extra twenty bucks for smells and textures, and nobody wants to read literature on a—yuck!– screen.

Oh yeah? Go to my novel on Scribd, click the little box on the upper right corner of the document to make it big. Then, if you have a PC, go to View on your browser and click Full Screen.

Tell me that’s not a pleasant way to read a novel. Personally, I prefer to read ebooks with my laptop on my lap and both hands free. I’m too lazy to hold four ounces of paperback up to my face and laboriously heft that page. I just want to look at my lap and click.

Two bucks. Welcome to the Revolution.
Author photo by Craig Merrill


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