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Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack

Posted: August 12, 2009 11:20 AM

Book Publishing: Death or Rebirth?


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Let's face it -- the whole chain bookstore, publishing house, agent, author thing is bankrupt. It's even more 19th century than newspapers and old-fashioned crank music records. Don't get me started on why the book business is worse off than television, radio, or magazines (all of whom are under extreme pressure). Of all these industries facing revolution, the book folks are the most arrogant. They just don't get it.

Let me tell you a little story. A year ago my VC partner and I (collectively we have been involved in starting Television Food Network, a 15 million subscriber weekly magazine, and 30 other media-related companies) decided we wanted to publish an anthology of first person stories by men about manhood. We collected a Pulitzer Prize winning author (Charlie LeDuff), an NFL Hall of Famer (Andre Tippett), a New York Times war photographer (Michael Kamber), a Sing Sing inmate gone straight (Julio Medina), a fantasy baseball legend (Mark St. Amant), a poet Laureate (Robert Pinsky) along with normal guys (black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor, married and divorced) with stories to tell about being fathers, sons, husbands and providers at this turning point in man-history.

We hired the best agent in the business, wrote a detailed book proposal, and went shopping for a publisher. Fifty (that's 5-0, including a who's who list of the literary world) turned us down. They told us guys don't read, would never read any kind of anthology, and most certainly wouldn't read an anthology about men. Apparently we are all mindless fools. The publishers also said they were focused exclusively on the "sure-thing" celebrity books in the wake of deteriorating economics. Just about that time we noticed a well-received anthology in the New York Times Review of Books written by women during menstruation.

What the hell?

My partner, James Houghton, and I decided to launch our website anyways and run a national essay contest for guys who wanted to write about a defining moment in their struggle to be good men. The response was astounding. From all across the country we got submissions and thousands of visitors to our site and fan page. (Mind you none of this little endeavor has ever been for profit. James and I formed a foundation to help at-risk boys if we ever got the book off the ground and passed the hat to pay our expenses.) As a result of the outpouring of interest, we decided to just go for it. Screw the book industry. Not only did we set out to address the issue that men across the country are dying to read and talk about -- their manhood for goodness sakes -- but to demonstrate the new paradigm in book production and promotion.

We hired an all-star team of experts, many of whom agreed to contribute their time for a good cause: editor, book design, lawyer, photographer, web design, social media, advertising, marketing, documentary film director, event marketing, public relations. We realized that getting a book deal with a publisher who would take 85% of the royalties made no sense to our Foundation. Like a heavyweight fighter who finally woke up to realize Don King is a crook, we bet on ourselves and wondered what had taken us so long.

Our book and documentary film are set to launch on November 15th. Matt Weiner, creator of Mad Men, and Shepard Fairey, the controversial visual artist, have agreed to speak on a panel after the movie premier in Los Angeles. We have our own marketing and promotion plan in place to sell our book and DVD on the web and at independent bookstores. We are planning events in boy's clubs, fire stations, prisons, and army bases -- where ever guys want to talk. Barnes & Nobles isn't on the list.

Who knows if The Good Men Project will work. But at the very least our approach demonstrates the wave of the future. The dinosaurs are dead. It's time for everyone involved in the old book food chain to admit it and develop a holistic approach to something new and exciting.

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