Interview: Lindsay Clandfield of The Round
Over the past month in EFL Magazine, we’ve been focusing on publishing, and how the publishing world works, or sometimes doesn’t, when teaching English. A big part of any discussion on publishing these days is the increased popularity of e-books, blogs, and self publishing. Many people think that self publishing leads to a drop in quality, and a flood of less than stellar books and texts. Others see it as way to work around the publishing establishment, creating specific materials for particular needs, as well as allowing new ideas and different ways of doing things to be broadly distributed.
Navigating between these two sides of the issue is The Round, an e-book distributor that seeks to balance the openness and nimble reactions of self-publishing with the high quality of a publishing house. We asked co-founder Lindsay Clandfield a few questions about The Round, and how he thinks publishing in ELT will progress in the future.
Do you see yourself as a traditional publisher, or as fulfilling some other role? Gatekeeper, or guarantor of quality?
At The Round, we certainly don’t see ourselves as traditional publishers. We call ourselves an independent e-publishing collective, but Luke (co-founder Luke Meddings -ed.) and I have often seen The Round as the online equivalent of a little indie bookshop, or an indie record store. That being said, we do have standards for quality, all submissions to The Round are evaluated by different people before being accepted. And we insist on quality, professional editing of a book before it hits the titles section. So, in a sense you could say there is a little gatekeeping involved.
We aren’t a publishing company, since we don’t really own anything but the website. We don’t publish either. Each author publishes and sells their title themselves. They sell them via other outlets such as Amazon or Smashwords. The authors also have 100% copyright, and can opt out of The Round at any time (for example, if they wanted to get their book published by a traditional publisher). That’s why we call it a collective. Everyone could do this on their own, individually, with their own website and so forth. But we think it’s more likely for a book to get noticed if we publicize them together at the round. And it also gives an element of quality control since there is a process that books have to undergo before they come out.
What do you see as setting The Round apart from other publishing options, both self publishing and other publishing houses?
Our motto for the round is: Great for educators, Fair for authors and a Learning Environment. It’s especially the latter two elements that set us apart from other options. When an author publishes a book in The Round, they have to front the costs (design, editing etc) but in return they control the sales, keep the copyright and also get the lion’s share of the profits. In a traditional publishing model it’s the publisher who fronts the costs and takes the risk, and if the author is lucky he or she gets a royalty between 8 and 10%. In the round, the author does the initial investment but keeps 90% of the profits of the sales, returning 10% to round annually to help keep our running costs going.
So that’s the fair for authors bit. When we talk about a learning environment, we’re talking about bringing in new authors. We are both experienced authors, but from the start we wanted to give unpublished authors with proven writing experience the opportunity to be published. But writing a book (or a ‘title’, as we’ll be calling our e-books) for an intended market isn’t the same as writing a blog for whoever is interested. It can be a steep learning curve, which is why we’ll be mentoring first-time authors as their project takes shape. Once someone has written for us, they’ll be invited to mentor another first-time author. We will also be working with experienced published authors on those great little ideas that just never found a home with big publishers.
We aren’t saying this is the only way to publish. We’ve both benefited enormously from having books published in print with a distribution network behind them. There will always be room for scale in publishing. But we believe there is room for a niche too. And we believe we can offer the kind of quality control that makes The Round very different from self-publishing.
Your ‘Labs’ section is unique. Do you see it as a form of crowdsourcing, or something akin to editing or beta reading?
I think it’s more akin to beta reading or editing. It also helps keep a project on track and get towards completion. There is often a huge gap between someone saying “I’ve got an idea for a book” and actually writing and publishing that book, even if they do it all themselves. The labs section helps motivate authors to complete their projects, and gives readers a chance to see what’s coming, and even help in providing feedback. Some books in the labs section have had comments and offers of help to the author, and that has helped shape the final product.
What do you think ELT publishing will look like ten years from now? A greater focus on self-teaching materials? Taking greater advantage of the modularity and adaptability of digital learning?
It’s hard to say, as ELT publishing is undergoing a lot of rather traumatic change at the moment. For awhile it seemed that everyone was pronouncing that books would be dead, especially textbooks. But it looks like this might not be the case. Many big publishers started down a road of serious digitalization, but have since had to slow this or even backpedal to not give up on print books. Modularity and adaptability in digital learning sound like great ideas, but putting them into practice is not as easy as it looks.
It’s interesting to note that a lot of the very popular language self-teaching digital solutions have not come from traditional ELT publishing. Many are very old fashioned in their methodology, even reactionary, and I don’t think they will ‘revolutionize’ language learning any more than Rosetta Stone, Berlitz or the original Wall St English language schools did.
I expect that in ten years we will still have printed coursebooks. The online component of these will be visible, along with various self-teaching materials. There may be a choice of online learning platforms you can opt into with a language course. What is being lost now is more ‘niche’ publishing. In the move to digital, major publishers seem to focus on large products that can scale up. This means more coursebooks, more integrated products, and fewer resource books or methodology books for teaching. That sort of writing, the sort of book that won’t sell millions but has some really good ideas for teaching, that is more likely to come from teachers themselves. And that’s where The Round will be.
Thanks again to Lindsay Clandfield for answering our questions.