Bellevue-based Booktrope seeks to normalize prices

Booktrope has expanded rapidly since its 2011 launch. The Bellevue-based book publisher graduated from Silicon Valley-based business incubator Y Combinator in May, and since has secured $1 million in funding. By the end of the year, Booktrope expects to have a catalog of 1,000 books.

“The goals of the business are to open up publishing, make it easier for editors and writers to work together, and to keep overhead costs down,” said CEO Ken Shear. “Book prices are really different than they used to be, and what we wanted to do was make great books for fair prices. So our goal is to price books lower for the reader and give a much higher share of the revenue to the creative team.”

Since 2011, Booktrope has delivered more than 3.3 million books through e-book sales, print book sales, and strategic giveaways.

Booktrope lies in the space between self-publishing and traditional publishing. There are a handful of companies that help independent authors edit and print books, and fewer still that have editorial guidelines for the manuscripts they take on, called curated independent publishing. Booktrope falls within the category of curated independent publishing, but differs from its main competitors, including SheWrites Press and Inkshares, with its compensation structure.

The process of creating books has remained the same for decades, starting with the author presenting a manuscript. The potential book is reviewed by an editor and proofreader before heading to design, where it receives art and a cover. Each book is championed by a marketer, who will present it to bookstores and media for exposure to hopefully drum up sales.

DisruptBooktropeRevenueIn traditional publishing, each of those steps, outside of the authoring, is completed by an employee — or contractor — working for the publishing house. In self-publishing, it’s up to the author to either handle the task, have friends and family help, or hire each of those roles individually. Oftentimes, self-published authors skip steps in order to save money, and the final product suffers because of it.

Once a submitted manuscript is accepted by Booktrope, independent contractors express interest in working on various stages of the project, including editing, proofreading, design, and marketing, by getting in contact with individual authors through Booktrope’s platform, Teamtrope. A project team is formed through Teamtrope, and the team negotiates rates of compensation with the author.

For each book, sales are split 70/30 between the creative team and Booktrope, respectively. Booktrope offers a compensation framework as a starting point for creative teams based on book prices ranging from $9.95 to $19.95 for paperback books and $34.95 for hardcover editions. E-books range in price from 99 cents to $2.99. Typically, authors receive the largest percentage at 33 percent. Book managers receive 24 percent; editors are slated for 7 percent. The rest is divided between the proofreader, 2 percent, and designer, 4 percent.

“In a sense, each book is a startup and each team is the founding team of that startup and they’re all investing their time and effort,” said Katherine Sears, Booktrope’s chief marketing officer. “All of those people work for a percentage of the profit instead of an upfront paycheck.”

The idea of Booktrope sprouted in 2010 when Shear, who had been kicking around the idea of team publishing for a few years, met Sears, who loved the idea. The pair began building a minimum viable product using spreadsheets and email to test the concept.

“Then we met Andy (Roberts), who became the third cofounder,” Sears said. “He got immediately what we were talking about and had deep experience in the type of thing we wanted to build.”

Sears said one of the key differences in the way Booktrope operates is in marketing books. In traditional publishing, authors typically receive biannual sales statements. Booktrope, on the other hand, can provide daily and weekly reports, which better help to identify the effects of marketing and allow for course corrections.

“Any modern marketer would be appalled to know that. How are you supposed to adjust your strategy if you don’t know if it’s working?” Sears said. “So they get daily sales numbers in our system. They get information so they know if (the marketing) is working.”

Booktrope has been able to cultivate positive relationships with local bookstores, such as Elliott Bay in Capitol Hill, Amazon, and various newsletters to help market books. These relationships can be a huge help to self-published authors.

“Most authors have day jobs, so running a publishing business and holding a day job and authoring that next book starts to be a lot,” Sears said. “On top of which, you’re looking at somewhere between $4,000 and $10,000 for a high-quality book. You have to sell a lot of books before you earn back your investment.” Booktrope has approximately 1,000 people in its Teamtrope platform. The company itself has nine full-time and six part-time employees. Shear said the recent round of funding will be used to help expand the company’s technology platforms.

“We’re kind of running as fast as we can to keep our feet under us and growing explosively. What our round allowed us to do is invest in more engineering,” Sears said. “We think that the vast majority of overhead issues can be solved by building better technology, not by throwing bodies at the problem.”

Sears said Teamtrope experienced about 10 percent growth while the executive team was engaged at Y Combinator, and the growth has held steady since. “The larger we get, the more reach we have as a community,” she said. “We’re trying to grow our efficiencies to the point where we can do more with less.”

In addition to creating a new Teamtrope platform, the company has been working on new marketing tools to help book managers. “No one, including Booktrope, makes any money until there’s a sale,” Sears said.