Izzard Ink Reinvents the Publishing Industry
In the publishing industry there are five large publishing houses often called the “big five:” Penguin Random House (PRH), Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. In 2020, PRH announced that it would buy Simon & Schuster for more than $2 billion, causing unease among the book and publishing industry. Then, on October 31, 2022, the court blocked the merger, concluding that the merger would have lessened competition in the market and led to a monopoly.
While this specific threat to publishing has been blocked, the big five are still in control of approximately 80% of the US book market. On top of that, in a traditional publishing house only 1-2% of manuscripts get published.
Tim McConnehey noticed the issues of the publishing industry when his friend got a deal at PRH. “He got a six figure advance, but part of his contract was he had to pay for editing,” explains McConnehey. “That set him back eighty grand, and then he had to pay for all the PR. Then, if he didn't hit a certain threshold of books, he had to pay his money back. You might get a nice advance, but the authors end up doing a lot of the work for just 8-12% of a royalty.”
Besides monetization, large publishers can’t always focus on the author’s wants and needs. McConnehey explains that when an editor and an author get in a dispute about editorial changes, the editor of the publishing company almost always wins, taking away the author’s voice and sometimes disregarding the author’s opinions.
“That's when I started thinking, how can you hire the same people that work for Random House, pay them a flat rate, and let authors own more of their project?” McConnehey launched Izzard Ink in 2013 in South Jordan to reinvent the traditional publishing company model.
Before founding Izzard Ink, McConnehey started his professional career in the fintech space, but found himself jobless in the 2008 recession. After applying to over 2,000 jobs, McConnehey got into the ebook industry, helping an author’s family monetize ebook sales after the author had passed away.
With a fintech background, McConnehey looks at publishing from a technology viewpoint. Izzard Ink takes a different approach to publishing, focusing on the author’s skill sets and automating or "gigifying" the book publishing process.
What sets Izzard Ink apart?
First, Izzard Ink offers a manuscript assessment for authors for around $600. During this assessment two independent editors look over the manuscript and write down their thoughts. Then, an in-house editor takes their ideas and puts them into an Action Plan for the author. The in-house editor and author meet and talk about what the author needs to do to make their book marketable.
“We put together an Action Plan for the author and this does a couple of things,” explains McConnehey. “First of all, it lets the clients try us on for size, and we try the clients on for size. If we don't gel, if it doesn't work together, we're not going to force it.”
This also gives the author an idea of what they need to change to become published, a tough-love service that most publishing houses don’t offer. “Nothing's worse than getting your first crushing review from Publishers Weekly, or somebody like that saying, ‘Hey, we really don’t like it.’ That hurts more than from one of our editors,” says McConnehey.
“Our publishing process is great for first time authors because the company focuses on helping the author grow and progress in their writing first, before they move on to publication and marketing.”
Salt Lake City-based Izzard Ink also works with its authors by letting them choose their own teams to work with. “We've noticed that if authors get to build their team, they are more invested,” explains McConnehey.
An author can then choose to stay with Izzard Ink or take their edited manuscript on to a different publishing house. “We've had multiple authors go through this process and get picked up by traditional publishers,” says McConnehey. “We're fine with that. We just want to see all authors be successful in this realm.”
What’s next for Izzard Ink authors?
Publishing at Izzard Ink costs about $5,000 or $6,000 for editing, after the initial manuscript assessment. The company offers a variety of publishing packages with basic marketing support, cover designs, and a distribution network.
An author can also choose full service distribution where the company brings on a publicist to help the author market in their genre. Izzard Ink offers access to book reviews, print and online media opportunities, radio opportunities, media training, TV opportunities, guest blogs, and regular status reports. For this option, Izzard ink takes a dollar per print book and 10% of the MSRP of an ebook.
Authors can take things at their own pace. “Each book is a little bit different,” says McConnehey. “Some will need developmental editing, others will need a line edit, and very few just go down to proofreading and they’re done.” Sometimes a book takes a few months to publish and sometimes it takes up to a year, depending on the author, their manuscript, and their timing.
One author, who published a middle grade novel through Izzard Ink, says that instead of focusing on printing and the press run, she could focus on creating a quality book. She chose her team carefully, working with one of the editors who worked on the popular Hunger Games series and a cover designer who worked with Coco Chanel and U2.
The model resonates well with authors and over half of Izzard Ink authors come back for another project.
How does Izzard Ink stay lean?
The company stays lean and has access to the best in the business through gig work. They have 40 editors, cover designers, and interior designers as gig workers and then have small teams in Romania and India for backend services. Izzard Ink has only two full time employees and automates everything else.
“We've created an all digital publisher, so everything's online,” says McConnehey. “We automate as much as we possibly can to focus on personalized service. We're not stuck in the back end. We talk directly with our authors and really put our focus on them. And if it's not something that we're talking to authors about, well, then it's almost always automated.”
Another way Izzard Ink stays lean is through on-demand printing. McConnehey explains that ten years ago people said digital books would be the “next big thing,” but instead, ebooks have plateaued. And the industry has seen a rise in demand for audio books and print books. But, the downside of printing books is the leftover inventory. To combat this, Izzard Ink contracts with on-demand printing shops around the US and the world. These shops print a book once it’s ordered to save resources and expenses.
“We have less than a 2% return rate for all of our books that go into stores, but a lot of traditional presses usually run around a 26%-50% return rate,” explains McConnehey. “We cut down on a lot of environmental waste too. According to Ace Disposal, you can't recycle a hardback book because of the glues and everything that's used inside a book. So if 26% of all books are returned to the store and they are just hitting the landfill–that’s incredibly wasteful.”
On-demand printing can also handle large volumes of demand. Often a book will be mentioned on a news channel and interest will skyrocket, selling 10,000 books over the span of a few days. Regular print shops cannot handle this kind of inventory rush, but when you have multiple on-demand print shops, the orders can be split between shops and be fulfilled within a day or two.
What’s in the future for Izzard Ink?
Izzard Ink has helped publish over 100 different books. They have sold over 1.3 million books for clients and work with both nonfiction and fiction books.
The company has been bootstrapped from the beginning. In fact, McConnehey learned how to do each individual function himself until they could afford to hire an expert for the different jobs in publishing. In the future, McConnehey says he could see Izzard Ink raising money in order to offer this kind of publishing solution to more authors.
McConnehey has worked with AI and machine learning and is really excited about the space. “It's still a few years out, but that's what we're going to hopefully focus on for the next few,” he says. “We're going to be able to use AI to assist editors and authors. I'm really excited about how that's going to play out and help us sell books better.”