Why Newspapers Should Enter the Book Business (It works for us!)

On our ad-free platform The Correspondent, we embrace constructive journalism. We don’t just relay what’s going wrong in the world. Together with our 47,000 paying members, we also work to come up with possible solutions.

We even have a Progress Correspondent.

His name is Rutger Bregman, and until recently, he published exclusively in Dutch. But you may have heard of him all the same because his new book Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek has garnered attention from thinkers worldwide.

Steven Pinker writes, “If you’re bored with hackneyed debates, decades-old right-wing and left-wing clichés, you may enjoy the bold thinking, fresh ideas, lively prose, and evidence-based arguments in Utopia for Realists,” and social theorist Zygmunt Bauman considers the book “obligatory reading for everyone worried about the wrongs of present-day society and wishing to contribute to their cure.”

Gawker, The Guardian, Fortune, and The Independent have already published about Utopia for Realists, the latter calls it “a boisterously good read.”

And no, Rutger doesn’t write for one of the Big Five. We published the U.S. edition of his book ourselves, from right here in the Netherlands.

We chose this publication path because we see things going wrong at newspapers and magazines worldwide. And after running a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign — which brought in $1.7 million in 30 days — and building a community of 47,000 paying members (at €60 or $65 a year), The Correspondent wanted to address the next big issue:

Journalism sees little return on its successes

I’m sure you all know what I mean. A journalist makes a name for herself with a fantastic series in a paper that has given her everything she needs to ply her craft. More and more people read her work, she’s invited to appear on television news and talk shows, and before you know it, she’s written a book that soars to the top of the best-seller list. The author embarks on a book tour, giving talks and readings across the land, records a TED Talk of course, and settles into her new life with a readership of millions.

In the Netherlands we saw this happen with a historian who, after writing countless articles for the newspaper, penned the definitive book on Europe; a comedienne with a newspaper column on language whose book made the entire country laugh at her stock phrases; and a young philosopher who used his understanding of the Ancient Greeks to try and make some sense of national politics. All three have enjoyed fame and fortune thanks to the publication where they got their start.

But the newspaper the three worked for saw little financial return on its investment in the writers. Revenues flowed to outside publishers and agents. The newspapers saw none of the money, even though they laid the very foundations for success.

Of course the writers themselves benefitted — and rightly so — but the proceeds did not go toward making new journalism possible.

At The Correspondent we’ve decided to change all that. That’s why in addition to the online journalism platform where our journalists create stories every day, we have now set up our own publishing house and speakers agency. Our statutes include a 5% cap on the distribution of earnings because we want to ensure as much as possible is put back into journalism.

That includes money from book sales and the lecture circuit.

A book is the logical next step in the journalism process

That publishing house, if you look at it from a business perspective, is a logical branch of a journalism organization. Most journalists dream of writing a book someday. Why make them pursue their dreams with an outside publisher? Publishing your authors’ books yourself is a win-win situation: writers can publish with the people they work with on a daily basis — sometimes for years already — and the journalism enterprise can take the book proceeds and put them back into journalism.

But we didn’t start publishing books solely to earn more money for journalism.

A book is also the logical next step in the journalism process we envision: namely, that a correspondent discusses ideas with members and then works them out in depth in articles. Once an idea or set of ideas has been formulated in this way, it can be introduced to a wider audience in a book.

And the same is true of speaking engagements. After all, the public discussion that is journalism need not be limited to online. Meeting readers in our towns and cities, anchoring this new online community offline, is invaluable for a journalist. That’s why we also have a speakers’ agency at The Correspondent, which coordinates all talks, debates, and public readings by our Correspondents. Not only is this an additional source of income for our organization, it also brings authors in contact with their public, with readers interested in their work.

What we want to do differently in the book world

We published the original Dutch version of Utopia for Realists in the fall of 2014. We decided to drastically lower the price of the ebook (something not yet done in the Netherlands), offer it without digital rights management, and sell directly to members from our own online store.

We’ve since published two other books by our Correspondents, one of which landed a spot in the top three on the best-sellers list. And two more books are in the works.

Time for an international edition

In the meantime, Rutger Bregman’s ideas started to be picked up abroad. The day after The Washington Post ran an article he wrote on universal basic income, Rutger and I were taking our usual ferry from our then-newsroom to Amsterdam Central Station. As we went, he explained that he intentionally limited the specifically Dutch examples in his book, to allow for a wider readership in translation.

So we decided to translate it ourselves, too.

Our translators Erica Moore and Elizabeth Manton got to work, together with publisher Milou Klein Lankhorst. And if Rutger Bregman is to be believed, the result is “better than the original.”

Detail from the cover.

Our creative partner Momkai designed a fantastic cover that’s striking even in thumbnail format. Good thing, too, because our international sales strategy is primarily focused on Amazon. After all, we don’t have a loyal community of members or a strong brand presence abroad — yet. So we decided to go with Amazon as our sales partner, reliable and familiar to potential readers.

Plus…

  • You can lend the ebook to others;
  • You may copy excerpts from it;
  • And if you’d rather bury your nose in a paperback, you can have one printed on demand. This way, we can distribute the book worldwide in an environmentally friendly way.

What’s stopping other news organizations?

We hope that other news media will start publishing their authors’ books.

Certainly now production costs have dropped dramatically and books can easily be tested by readers in ebook form, and now outstanding individuals from the book world are offering their services on a freelance basis, nothing’s stopping us.

Just think — if Rolling Stone had published Matt Taibbi, they could have put the proceeds toward hiring a couple of future Taibbis.

What’s stopping them?

Interested in Utopia for Realists? Read more about the book on Amazon.

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