by Leonard Gill
"I want to change a broken industry. It's been broken for a while. I'm not just someone trying to start a business to make money."
So says Memphian Richard Billings. The broken industry he's referring to is book publishing. And the business he's starting is called Screwpulp, which is designed to bypass existing business models and that includes traditional paths to publishing and self-publishing. But Billings needs your help now. He'd like your vote. It could mean $10,000.
That's the grand prize in a contest sponsored by Everywhere Else, a business conference for startups that will take place in Memphis from February 10th to 12th. Contest participants submit a video describing their startup, and YouTube viewers can vote on their favorite. That's where you come in, and here's the Screwpulp video if you'd like a look.
You have until February 8th to vote. And as it stands, according to Billings: "We're on target. We're moving along nicely." He's been marketing his contest entry on Twitter and Facebook. And that social-media strategy is paying off: The Screwpulp video is, as of this writing, in first place against 30 other contestants.
Let Billings — a 38-year-old self-described "idea geek" — explain:
"The idea for Screwpulp began once I started writing a book, but after I had 10 to 20 pages written, I thought if I'm going to spend the next six months to a year doing this, how easy is it going to be for me to get published? In the traditional publishing model, you've got professional readers at publishing houses, and they're the ones who decide what books will make it to the next step: the editor's desk. Is it worth publishing this way? Because of all the people involved, including marketers, in the end you the writer are going to end up with anywhere from 5 percent to (if you're Stephen King) 14 percent of the sales. Others are cashing in."
And as for self-publishing? According to Billings, "It's still your problem to market your book." And as for an agent to shop the book to publishers, that's a whole other problem.
"If you publish with Screwpulp, there are no upfront costs at all, anyone can publish with us," Billings says. "We don't do any editing on the front end. The first 100 readers can download the book for free. But in exchange, they agree to give the book a review or rate it on a scale of one to five stars and mention the book on social media.
"After those 100 people have done the rating, the book goes automatically to costing 99 cents to download. If a book has only a one-star rating, nobody's going to pay 99 cents for it, so we protected the buyer. If it gets five stars, people are going to grab it, and why not? It's only 99 cents.
"But after the first 1,000 people get it for 99 cents, the book will go up to $1.99 or so per download. We haven't worked out the tiers exactly, but the price will continue to rise as people download it.
"But: Say you get a five-star book for 99 cents. You might have given that book five stars too. If you bought that same book for $15, though, you might give it only three stars. Now we're looking at value. Screwpulp is going to watch those stars. If we see the stars drop, we'll hold the author at a sweet spot: Say, $4.99 per download. So you the author make the most money. We'll take 25 percent of that and give the author 75 percent."
As for editing: Where does that figure in this process? According to Billings:
"There are a lot of editors out of work. Editors can read a Screwpulp title and say, 'I'm willing to bet on this book.' There could be a bidding war between editors. Those editors who apply would get in a queue, and as an author you could look at the stats of the editors, samples of their work, and Screwpulp could broker a deal between the writer and editor.
"And say a book gets five stars, makes it up to $9.99 per download: Screwpulp could broker a deal with a traditional publishing house too, because we can show that this book sells."
Or, Screwpulp could itself partner with a print-on-demand company or, somewhere down the line, do the printing in-house.
Interesting, then, that Billings is self-taught when it comes to computers. Which hasn't stopped him from becoming the IT management and network administrator for the Sacred Heart Southern Missions, a nonprofit and charitable organization in Walls, Mississippi, where he continues to work.
And it's especially interesting to learn that Billings — after entering the military directly out of high school — never attended college. But he has had media experience as a deejay for radio station 96X and did work for WREC.
Screwpulp — the name is a combination of the screw press (the earliest printing press), the movie Pulp Fiction, with a little "screw the publishing industry" philosophy thrown in — has already won the Amazing Risk competition for new-time entrepreneurs, which earned the company $10,000 through Launch Memphis. Billings has one word to say about the entrepreneurial spirit right now in Memphis: "amazing."
And as for Screwpulp: "I just want to make sure authors get paid, that readers get what they want, not what publishers think they want," Billings says. "Fifty Shades of Grey: That's not something I'd want to read but obviously a lot of people do, and those people … they should get what they want."