People have been asking why I took the 'pledging' route for my new book. There's a simple answer - having had three successful books published about the music business, I decided to write a fourth, a history of the music business from start to finish. After a couple of years writing, but before it was fully finished, I spoke to my agent who told me that while I hadn't been looking the bottom had fallen out of the book publishing world.
The major book companies, like the major record companies, now only want supersize hits - best-selling novels and biographies of footballers or TV stars. When I insisted we send out the proposal anyway, the publishers proved him right.
I was then guided to Unbound books where they post the best proposals they receive on their website and let the public decide which ones they want to read by buying advance copies. Unbound use the word 'pledge', but really it's no more than buying now rather than waiting till later. And the prices are pretty much normal - a digital copy for ten pounds or an exceptionally well produced hardback for twenty.
The company is headed by John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard who are both experienced publishers and authors, and the originators of QI. So they know a fair bit about the business and were very persuasive about going this route.
It sounded all too easy. And since I'm still active in the music business and have often told new artists to consider crowdfunding, I thought, "what better than to try it myself?"
In reality, there were few other options. I could throw away the book and get on with being a businessman; pay to publish it myself (which really goes against the grain because I've always believed, at least in record terms, if the major distributors don't want something there's no point wasting your money throwing it at them); or put it on Amazon where it would get a digital sale and no one would really know if it was a success or not - in other words I could avoid losing face. But all three sounded cowardly.
I've always been someone who likes to dive into the cesspool, then struggle to find a way out - it's uplifting (I mean, once you manage to get out it is). Besides, books are still sold as books to half the people who read them, and the critical infrastructure of the book business is still based on being published in hardback. If you want the top reviewers at the Sunday Times and Telegraph to take your book seriously, you'd better go the conventional route. And having had extraordinarily good reviews in all the broadsheets for my previous book, Black Vinyl White Powder, my pride decided the matter for me. That's the way I would go.
So I plunged in. But in no time I felt like Chris Hitchens when he volunteered to be water-boarded. It's not fun. People either think it's a charity to keep poor old SNB in funds for a year, or that it's some sort of rip-off. In fact, the upfront money is used to pay for everything needed to produce a printed book and deliver it to the public - editing, legal, proof-reading, type-setting, cost of paper (which is almost half the cost of producing a book, not at all like the 2p needed to press a CD), artwork, promotion, and distribution.
It's no push-over. Unbound insisted I start a Facebook page, which I have. And should Tweet, which I'm doing. In both places I see a fair number of people blogging about what a wonderful idea it is and how good my previous books have been, yet not actually going to the website and coughing up ten quid to buy one, which is frustrating.
But I'm patient. I write emails to them; I help new artists with problems in getting a deal, or new writers with their songs, or banter with old friends who've turned up on Facebook after a hundred years in obscurity. And bit by bit they get the idea, go to the website and pledge.
On reflection, I don't think many people in my position in the music business would have thrown themselves into something like this. But I think it's good to come down from my high perch and join the fray in the same way a new artist might have to. No good snooting around as a top manager when the truth is, in this instance I'm just an author in search of an audience.
The end result is, it's going along steadily. "Well on target", say Justin and John, which means funding complete by the end of October, with publication in March 2014.
I'm now less convinced than before that it's the way forward for new music artists. It's fine for pushy old managers who know how to badger people, but young artists probably need more of a helping hand.
Or perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe young artists fly easily through things like this and it's only old goats like me who find them such an awkward grind.
Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay, a history of the music business. Published by advance sales, buy here: www.unbound.co.uk/books/ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay