Other Disruptors: New Ways of Distribution, VR and Royalty Share

This is the third, final part of our series focused on industry disruptors. The first part analysed how AI will automatize much of the marketing, and the second was interested in whether blockchain is here to decentralize distribution and pose a threat to Amazon and Google.

In the third part of the series, we are focusing on disruptors once again: how they change distribution and book production processes.

There is only a certain number of regular readers, and it seems like traditional publishers and self-publishers are fighting againsteach other to see who is able to get the biggest slice of the pie instead of simply focusing on providing better solutions to the readers.

As Richard Nash points out: there are two contrasting tendencies working against each other, both extremely low prices set by Amazon and extremely high prices set by traditional publishers. And this is the point where industry disruptors can come into picture.

Can you enter the price competition without compromising on quality? Will you present yourself as a premium service? Today’s biggest question is how to keep your professional integrity and stay on your feet.

Virtual Reality

Richard Nash sees the solution in better customer experience: while shopping on Amazon is very intuitive (especially with the one-click shopping being switched on), it is not very engaging. He envisages companies like Barnes & Noble to build virtual reality bookstores to enhance customer experience.

While Joanna Penn was already writing about VR bookstores two years ago, we are still waiting for these plans to become reality. There are some companies already experimenting with the idea and technology, but the big breakthrough is still to come. One of you maybe?


Inkflash is a VR bookstore – without a VR interface. You wander room to room, take a book off the shelf, turn it around to read the back… Just like in a real bookshop! The only backside is that the whole experience is somewhat clumsy and has an odd nineties video game feel to it. They don’t even have an app!


Well, it would be great to use actual VR instead of just browsing around oddly with my mouse, wouldn’t it? The company Voxtor is working on a VR bookstore where you have to use your hand to take books off the shelf or to read them. While it is unlikely that I would use this method to buy my next read during my daily commute, it certainly has a great feel to it. However, Voxtor is still only an early stage project with virtually no documentation available in English.


It wouldn’t be surprising if the first working virtual reality bookstore came from the direction of comics. While we still have to wait for this to happen, you can already read comics in VR. Using Madefire, you can read enhanced comics in 3D – what is this if not all our dreams come true?


While reading comics on VR makes an awfully lot sense (and I’m still waiting for Pottermore to finally come up with a magical VR Harry Potter reading experience), the idea behind Chimera is kind of perplexing. It lets you browse your private ebook library visually (this is the part I like), then you can read an epub in the virtual world by sitting in a virtual armchair. It is supposed to make you forget about your environment and concentrate only on reading your book – but I just can’t imagine how comfortable would it be to read War and Peace with the screen right at the front of my eyes.


While we are waiting for virtual reality bookstores to become a reality, there are other concerns to take into account. Barnes & Noble may not be working on cutting edge technology, but they can’t avoid changing altogether. In the course of the last couple of years, brick and mortar (and online) bookstores have become to be about more than books only.

It is no wonder that the biggest disruptors of distribution come from the higher education sector, where the high prices resulted in plagiarism and reprinting of content, students preferring second-hand textbooks and piracy. This has really made publishers reconsider how to do things: reach readers and share their message, but also monetize their content.

McGraw-Hill was simply rebranded as an ‘education content creator’, but is doing the same thing as it did before. Others have also decided to go almost completely digital: this is not only cheaper (saving on printing and distribution costs) but will prompt students to pay for the digital media instead of acquiring a second-hand textbook. Educational content is often either hidden behind an institutional subscription model or open access but hardly discoverable.

With educators trying to distribute different kinds of materials: not only text but multimedia, preferably interactive, many of them resort to using their own platforms (especially for primary and secondary school content). The epub 3 standard, however, is already able to take in and consistently display this type of content – will educators be the first ones to finally utilise it to its full power?

Distribution models

Coming to subscription: what are the current distribution models? The scene is already much more complicated than the simple paid – free dichotomy, and it is expected to become even more fragmented as the blockchain technology becomes mainstream. So, what are the most prominent distribution models today and who uses them? The Digital Intelligence Today lists ten of them of which at least five is visibly present in publishing.

The Subscription Model: This is the model used by Netflix and Apple Music. All content is hidden behind a paywall, but the customer gets unlimited usage in return of the subscription fee. In order to be the one, subscription services try to provide original content that is not available anywhere else. Whether traditional publishers would like to accept it or not, Kindle Unlimited has started a new era of ebook distribution. It is successfully bringing back the experience of long-lost childhood summers, walking home from the library with the maximum allowed 10 books piled up or shared by siblings, but without the actual need to carry books or let alone go anywhere. In the book industry, Kindle Unlimited and Bookmate work with a pure subscription model, with KU trying to provide unique and exclusive content. For university students, Perlego offers a subscription to access academic books and articles.

The Freemium Model: Providers using this model have a ‘free’ and a paid ‘premium’ service – just as seen at Spotify or Hulu. Very often upgrading to the premium means no ads and truly unlimited usage, while ‘free’ users pay with their time and data. In the publishing industry, 24symbols is using a freemium model.

The Free Model: No such thing as truly free, but companies like Facebook don’t offer a premium service, everyone has to pay with their data and share of watching advertising. It is no wonder that free sells well. In addition to non-profit organizations, many self-publishers offer books permanently for free in order to build an email list or strengthen their brand.

The Marketplace Model: Imagine a place that brings together buyers and sellers, just like at a market. eBay works just like that – and, at least for the self-publishing industry, Amazon. Publishers pay a high price (30-70 percent of their royalties) just for being discoverable at the market. Currently this is the most common model of ebook distribution.

The Access-over-Ownership Model: With Zipcar and AirBnB the sharing economy is known to everyone, but surprisingly this is something that has been done in the publishing industry before it was cool. Yes: libraries! Everyone has access to a book but only the library owns it. Yes, even in this model somebody has to buy the book – the library can’t provide access to it until they have paid for it, eventually offering a much more limited catalogue than they potentially could.

All of these models place an intermediary between the creator or the reader. What are the disruptors of ebook distribution? Will ‘the Netflix of ebooks’, or – even better – ‘the Spotify of ebooks’ finally come – and will it be good if it does?

Crowdfunding or royalty-share

In order to have something to distribute, you’ll have to have a book. But publishing a book can be expensive if you do it well. Even if you decide to go for a POD service instead of printing the first couple of thousands and wait for what happens, many people can’t afford an editor, a proofreader, a professional ebook conversion or a cover designer. Your book could be the best of its genre: it will still need others’ work to turn it into a bestseller.

But you are broke.

If you start selling it as it is, you might make some money, but you reinforce the stereotype of mass produced, poor quality self-published books (as opposed to traditionally published books created by a group of professionals). Imagine you could ask people who would like to read your book to pay you in advance.

This is what crowd publishing does. Companies like Inkshares let people pre-order your book before it is ready: there is no upfront cost, and you still get to keep some of the royalties in the end. Publishizer is another cool way to find some sponsors for your book before it is published: this method is very similar to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but for the publishing industry only.

Another new way to publish a book is by a royalty share model. Outsourcing the translation or the audiobook creation to a freelancer and paying them from the royalties has been around for a few years now. The blockchain technology takes this to a new level: we mentioned Publica last time, trying to provide an all-round publishing service based purely on royalty share.

It will be interesting to see how crowdfunding and royalty share models will play out with the new era of distribution: what do you think future will bring? Virtual bookshops or peer-to-peer distribution?

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