(originally posted to the Writers Co-op, January 2018)
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.