What lit the spark for you about alternative publishing?
I think it all started about seven years ago when I had the idea for meltells.com. I wanted to share my illustrated children’s books with the world. Meltells.com was and still is in flash. I hoped that many people would follow my example and share their books for free.
About four years ago I was at a huge children’s book fair in Bologna. There I met many frustrated illustrators. I realized that we shared the same issues. It is almost impossible to find a publisher for books and for the 99.9% of us who do not, the only alternative is self-publication. I thought that self-publication on sites like Amazon would be a good solution, but I could never figure out how to upload an illustrated book.
I later found out that more than 90% of writers sell less than fifty books on Amazon, after spending thousands of dollars. Not much of a business model. Better to do it for free and share it with the world.
So this idea for ourboox came from a kind of natural frustration? What will interest our readers is at what point did you get this initiative rolling?
When I returned from Bologna, I bought the domain ourboox.com. I wanted to take meltells.com one step further. I had the idea of writers and illustrators working together on books, each owning his or her respective intellectual property. I pitched the idea at Roostam Tigger’s Eurekamp un-conference and the reactions were very enthusiastic. In particular, my friend Nimrod Kozlovski who ran the session got excited, and continued to ‘pester’ me about it.
Another pesterer was Lior Zoref, who recently spoke at TED. I teach my students to follow their dreams and here was a dream that I wasn’t pursuing. So I did.
At what stage did Ran Shternin get involved?
I have very limited computer skills (and I mean VERY limited) and it took me over a year to find Ran. His brother, Roi, invited me to give a talk at a TEDx that he was organizing last year. He introduced me to Ran. From then on it was love at first sight. In a manner of speaking of course. We get on amazingly, we have the occasional row, we make up and continue. I buy him coffee, he buys me halva. My wife Shuli is running the show now so everything is very smooth.
Ran started working in earnest during the summer of 2013. The whole website is his baby. He’s a genius. Slightly OCD, but aren’t we all?
OK, you’re telling me that the real progress for Ourboox has all taken place with the last couple of months?
The last four months have been frenetic. Ran’s girlfriend barely talks to me. I buy them chocolates when I’m abroad to get on her good side. It works for a few days.
No, seriously, it involves a lot of hard work. And I feel we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg. We won’t turn the bend until we have a solid investment and over two thousand books.
Do you have a plan to achieve these goals?
Absolutely. Right now it’s a bit of the common ‘chicken and egg’ scenario. Until we secure investment, it’s just Ran working his socks off (and Patricia, part time on the social side). Our growth is surprising, but it will probably remain mildly exponential until we have a team of people working full time. To get that team we need the money. And to get the money we need the traction. This is a common problem of startups trying to grow a community. Fortunately, I have the financial ability to fund the project from my pocket at its present level.
Most youngsters in our position have to fold. We continue to improve, to publish more and more books every month. We are a snowball rolling down the hill, admittedly still a small one.
Where is Ourboox as of the 22nd of June, 2014? Where do you want to be one year from now?
In some respects our progress is surprising. We have over 740 books, 1700 members, over 4300 followers on Twitter, and new books are being uploaded every day. The search engines are reading every single word of our content and we seem to be increasingly visible on Google, even without any professional search engine optimization.
A year from now I see Ourboox with over five thousand books, and tens of thousands of readers. A staff of a dozen people at least. And every time someone searches any keyword on Google, our books and stories come up on the first page of the search. This has already started to happen.
For example I recently uploaded a children’s book called “Why I LOVE Yogurt”. It was illustrated by Harriet Goitein, an amazing artist whom I met through Ourboox. She illustrated the story for free and this is a collaborative effort. The amazing thing is that if you search for the title of the book, it will appear right up towards the top of the Google search. Try it and let me know!
We envision that ourboox will be a library of knowledge, fantasy and creative spirit. The only caveats we have now relate to offensive literature. If the work is abusive, pornographic, etc. we have the right to take it down immediately. And we plan to do so. In this scenario we will rely on our community to alert us of any problematic material that is published. Hopefully this will be an extremely rare scenario.
Practically speaking, what does an author need to do to publish on Ourboox?
You just sign in (after having read the Terms and Conditions), click on the “Create a Book” and off you go. It is self-evident. Even ‘computer challenged’ people like myself have no trouble navigating the instructions.
But it goes beyond the self-intuitive nature of the uploading process. Creating a book on Ourboox is great fun and very satisfying, especially for people who have dreamed of publishing but never had the opportunity. When my wife’s first book of travel poetry was published, she danced around the house. Literally.
Does Ourboox offer authors any optional or premium services? I’m referring to proofreading, editing and reviewing of their work. Maybe even members commenting briefly on other members’ books? If so, are there any charges that the contributors would incur when they publish on the site?
Down the line, we may ask a few dollars from authors if they exceed a certain number of books or want premium options that we currently do not support. In the meantime everything is free and our idea is to keep it that way as long as we can. Community members (such as yourself) are helping with proofreading, editing and reviewing for free. Others may want to charge for their services. I think that both modes will be possible. We have no intention of making money on either of those possibilities.
Clearly, to grow we will need income, and to attract money, we will need to come up with a business model. I’m not too worried about it at this early stage. I feel that if we have a really great community and a great platform we will find the financial wherwithall to succeed. Did I spell that right? Wherewithal. Did I mention that you can edit the text even after you publish it?
So what about writers who understand the limitations of traditional publishing, both with respect to access and earning possibilities, but still want to reach as wide a readership as possible. How can Ourboox help?
As I mentioned, as Ourboox grows, the number of readers coming from search engines will multiply. Authors will see just how many page views their books have received. So will publishing houses. If one offers you a book deal, you can unpublish the book in two seconds. Our rights are limited to exhibiting your work. If writers succeed in getting published by major publishers, we will be as happy as our lucky community members.
I am also a dreamer. I have self-published numerous books, and lost money on most of them. I am delighted to give access to the whole world to read and enjoy my books for free, and become better known in the process. But just as many members of our community, I wouldn’t mind making money on a couple of them. It’s just that I realize that by giving them away I increase my chances of one day being noticed and published by a major publisher. After all, who doesn’t want to be J.K. Rowling?
Thank you for reading my book! If you like it, you might also want to read:
Mel’s Ten Tips for Self-Publishing: Get Published Now!
Read more about me and see ALL my books on Ourboox (I have many)
Or even better, create a book of your own!!!
Here is a tutorial to help you get started on your own voyage as an Ourboox contributor!!
And finally, you can always write me at