"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.
"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?" explains Billings, a 38-year-old self-described "idea geek." "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."
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."
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 and samples of their work, and Screwpulp could broker a deal between the writer and editor."
Billings and his co-founder Will Phillips Jr. have partnered with Richard Batt of Memphis and Patrick Cooper of Tampa.
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 won the Amazing Risk competition for first-time entrepreneurs, which earned the company $10,000 through Launch Memphis. It was also chosen to participate in Launch Memphis' 48-Hour Launch last June and the 2013 Seed Hatchery.
This week, Screwpulp is competing against 30 other contestants in a YouTube video 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 viewers have until February 8th to vote on their favorite. The grand prize is $10,000.
"I just want to make sure authors get paid, that readers get what they want, not what publishers think they want," Billings says of Screwpulp. "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."