All good problems have more than one angle. Let’s examine the problem of niche underground authors from two such angles!
First, imagine this: You’re an author. That is to say, writing is your passion. Never mind the fact that you’re effectively a professional barista, 3 years of experience and counting, that’s far from the point. You are an *author*, and a great one!
You’ve written 5 manuscripts in the last 3 years, 2 stirring novels about love and loss, and 3 philosophical short stories about finding meaning. Sometimes you show your work to the customers. They love it. Your manager doesn’t.
You’ve sent your work to countless publishers. In the beginning you had hope, just like J.K. Rowling, that you’d prove them wrong, all the agents who dismissed you carelessly. You’re starting to lose that hope. But you remain an author. It is who you are.
Next, imagine this: You are an avid reader. You have torn through all the classics in fiction and non-fiction alike, and you eat up the best-seller lists and critics’ recommendations faster than they can be produced.
You are starting to feel a level of same-ness. There is a comfortable homogenous mix of topics and methods that never stray very far from the norm. You want more.
You want rare pieces, new perspectives, amazing thinkers, something that’s not on the main stream. But it is non-existent. Anything that makes it into a bookstore is mainstream, otherwise the publisher would have waved it lazily away as too risky to print.
It is somewhat obvious when you lay it out like this, that if you could supply these hungry readers with the special books they so crave, and at the same time could publish these author/baristas and make dreams come true, you are on to something. So, the solution is elegant.
Publish and print niche books in tiny batches, and send to readers who are hungry for unique and personal content for their collections.
Because of your own burning passion for making people’s dreams come true, for expanding people’s horizons, and for exposing the world to more opinions that the mainstream ones that end up on the bestseller lists.
Thoughts on Method:
Concept for authors: Get your work out there and appreciated.
Concept for readers: Get access to new and unique material, sign up for a new book each month, guaranteed small print volume and unknown gem authors.
Make sure to keep total print volume per piece low. Maximally one book per club member, and no 2nd editions in most cases. Keep it special, keep it high end.
Plenty of print shops exist that will print tiny batches of books. Any author could do this on their own. If you build an audience large enough, you will be able to do it a little cheaper, but this is not where you win. You win because you connect people, you provide authors with an outlet, and you provide avantgarde readers with a way to breathe new ideas and perspectives.
The age of mass advertising is dead. You must not find an author, print 500 books, and try to find readers. Instead you must find the hungry readers, and ask them what they want. In that endeavour it’s a powerful asset for you if you’re already in the underground literature arena, so you know who to start talking to. If you’re a stock MBA you’ll have trouble empathising fully with the target market. Although perhaps some authors could help uncover their potential readers to some degree too.
Technically, you have two markets here, and it’s up to you where the primary cashflow should derive. However, if you adopt a free model for authors and premium model for book club members, you are adapting best to where the real money is at.