A politicised industry has opened up a space for Internet self-starters
Earlier this week James Poulos, executive editor at The American Mind, sold 30 copies of his new book Human Forever. That is, in and of itself, nothing special — until you realise how much each copy was going for: $600.
Who, exactly, would be willing to spend $600 on a book? Quite a few people apparently: in less than 20 minutes, 30 copies were sold. And at the time of writing, a further 64 have been purchased (adding up to a cool take-home of $56,400).
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Perhaps the most interesting feature of this book launch is that Poulos has been selling his book as a limited NFT on canonic.xyz, a Bitcoin-backed book publishing platform. And nor is he the first; earlier this month, Internet personality and horror writer Zero HP Lovecraft self-published a collection of his writing, They Had No Deepness of Earth, as a limited NFT. The purchase gives access to a tradable NFT, with the option to redeem the NFT for a physical, leather-bound collectible book and an eBook. In just a few hours, Lovecraft made six-figures from around 200 copies.
We live in a time of big numbers. Start-ups regularly receive valuations in the billions. Cryptocurrencies many of us have never heard of regularly reach values in the thousands, and in Bitcoin’s case, tens of thousands. Housing prices continue to soar. So, when you hear “$56,400 in a day,” or even “six-figures in an evening”, it might be hard to understand just how impressive these book figures are.
An author friend of mine explained the situation to me like this: “With major publishing companies, selling 10,000 copies is considered a major success. But, if you think of the fractional royalties you get, Poulos just made more money in 20 minutes than the standard literary “success” does in a year .”
So what’s behind their success? While crypto maximalists argue that it’s yet another data point showing that cryptocurrency will (or already does) reign supreme, I believe the success of Zero HP Lovecraft and James Poulos speaks to something else.
To my mind, it marks another victory for Internet subculture in the face of institutionalised wokeness. In recent years, publishing has slowly morphed into a Left-wing bubble, driving out heterodox and edgy material from its platforms. This has opened up a space for Internet self-starters like Poulos and Lovecraft. If legacy publishers don’t want their work, then they can just go straight to their consumer base.
Even if 200 or 94 aren’t big numbers in and of themselves, it does point to a market that is ripe for content that goes against prescribed narratives. For two relatively unknown writers to generate sales at those prices, just imagine what other writers can do.
On the flip side, perhaps their success may also encourage existing publishers to loosen up and start entertaining more heterodox content. Maybe that’s why Penguin withstood internal pressure to publish Jordan Peterson’s second book.
Either way, it would certainly be ironic if these legacy institutions ended up copying the Internet upstarts to recapture their success. This could well be the beginning of the end for book publishing as we know it.