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Pubslush: Crowdfunding with a social conscience

Download the July issue of the Frankfurt Academy Quarterly (FAQ)!

How can you make money from the “slush pile”? And, at the same time, keep readers and authors happy, while contributing to a great cause? Pubslush tries to make the seemingly impossible a reality – on a global scale.

By Siobhan O’Leary

Jesse Potash, founder and CEO of Pubslush

Jesse Potash is the founder and CEO of Pubslush, a crowdsourced publishing platform exclusively for authors to raise funds and build an audience for new book ideas. Jesse hails from a financial services background but has also worked across a wide array of industries, including publishing, fashion and advertising. He was recently named by mediabistro as one of its “5 eBook Publishing Experts to Watch”. He also serves on the board of directors for the Pubslush Foundation, which is committed to supporting children’s literacy initiatives worldwide. He is a native New Yorker, a yogi, a boxer and an avid traveller.

Pubslush is still in its beta phase, having started in 2011. It operates an independent publishing imprint, Pubslush Press, that acquires books from the online platform, and for every book sold it donates a book to a child in need. There’s certainly no shortage of crowdfunding platforms out there, but the Pubslush model evolved from the team’s discussions with authors, when they realised there wasn’t a platform available that actually catered for their specific needs. Kickstarter, perhaps the best known crowdfunding platform, recently revealed that less than 32% of its publishing projects actually get funded.

The firm’s philanthropic focus started when Jesse and his partner Hellen visited an orphanage in Kenya, at around the time the company was launched. The orphanage became the company’s first charity partner. “There’s no question that the main motivation behind Pubslush is the children we work with in our literacy programmes,” says Potash. The objective, he adds, is to harness the power of digital reading technology to reach some of the nearly one billion people in the world who are illiterate and the more than a hundred million children who don’t have access to books.

Pubslush works as a hybrid, for-profit and non-profit enterprise. “Our goal in operating in this fashion is to create a sustainable brand of non-profit that purposefully involves the consumer,” Potash added. In fact, Potash doesn’t think of Pubslush users (“slushers”, as they’re called) as customers. “They are part of our team,” he says. “They are the ones who are actually making the industry more democratic and philanthropic.” The Pubslush model also guarantees a certain level of transparency in terms of what readers want and what they are willing to pay for it.

The role of technology and social media

Pubslush is powered by technology. “While we strive to keep the books on our site to high standards, those standards are primarily technical (formatting, grammar, spelling, etc.). We’ve passed on the job of judging content directly to the readers,” explains Potash. Digital publishing has certainly led to an explosion of content, but it also opens the door for readers to choose what they actually want to read.

“Our concept is based on social networking,” he adds. “Authors submit their book to our site, and while we have established a core constituency, successful authors always harness social media to their own advantage.” Authors work to raise funds and build momentum for their books, usually starting with their own social network. As a book gains traction, it trends higher and becomes more visible to slushers. Social media has already enabled readers and authors to communicate directly with each other. But Potash notes that Pubslush is taking this a step further, “by enhancing that connection with the ability to raise funds and actually understand the analytics of social media interactions in an actionable way.”

Global reach for crowdsourced authors

Pubslush plans to launch in several additional languages in the coming months. “My dream for five years is that we will have books from literally every country in the world on our site,” says Potash. In addition, the company handles rights and licensing for titles published by its imprint, Pubslush Press. “Our publishing imprint operates uniquely, in that we actually build a freelance, project-based team around each book… One of the members of this team is a rights specialist who looks after these transactions.” One of the most interesting changes he’s seen in rights and licensing is that authors are now taking an increasingly proactive role – a sign that traditional publishers often fail to meet the changing expectations of their authors. “When we acquire books,” he says, “we don’t just think of them as books, but as content that must translate across entertainment mediums and languages.” Although the company performs almost all its operations in house, it is about to announce a new “trusted partner network” – a group of affiliate companies that provide services that can greatly benefit their authors.

Potash’s greatest wish is to take Pubslush’s literacy programmes to the next level. “It is my personal goal that the phrase ‘children without access to literature’ will be a phrase of the past, and that every child will have access to an e-reader (and ideally have their own), essentially giving them not only a library’s worth of books, but also the tools (text-to-speech, dictionary, built-in light, etc.) to learn and empower themselves to build a fantastic life.”

 

Meet Jesse Potash
You can meet Jesse as a speaker at the CONTEC conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 7 – 8 August
Or contact Jesse on twitter @pubslush

Join in the conversation on the Frankfurt Academy Blog.

CONTEC Brazil
On 7 and 8 August 2012, the Frankfurt Academy will host the international CONTEC conference in São Paulo, Brazil. Contec is an international conference on literacy, education & children’s media content and technology. Topics at the two-day event will include children’s and young adult media, literacy, education and technology. The conference will take place immediately before the national consumer fair Bienal do Livro de Sao Paulo (9-19 August 2012).

Contact: Marifé Boix García, Tel.: +49 ( – 2570) 69 21 02, E-Mail:boix@book-fair.com

You can download the whole Frankfurt Academy Quarterly (FAQ) issue as a PDF here or join in the conversation on the Frankfurt Academy Blog.