Sunday, July 19, 2009

DROIDMAKER FAQ, pt 2: Independent Publishing in 2009

There is also another Droidmaker story here, a second story. A story about writing an independent “mostly unauthorized” book about George Lucas, Francis Coppola and Pixar, three enormously private “organizations” with common history. There is no way to write about such ferociously independent spirits as Lucas and Coppola, and not want that level of creative control myself, for my work. The story itself is about how they invented technology to give themselves that kind of control. And now I was going to use technology to create and market a book about them, and maintain a comparable kind of creative control. Of course, you cannot get that kind of “final cut” in book publishing from an industrial publishing machine any more than Lucas or Coppola could get it from Warner Bros in the 1970s. I understood that to have full control of my work I had to publish with a small independent publisher.

DROIDMAKER was published by Triad, an academic press in Florida. This book was handcrafted by me – author and illustrator, photographer, page designer. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, used to quip that I would have ground the pulp and made the paper too, if I had thought of it. Hand pressed each page. I didn’t, but it often feels like I did. I committed more than two years to pulling this story together with an dedication to accuracy and critical inquiry. Lucas had said he didn't care what I wrote, as long as I did my own interviews and used direct sources and avoided secondary sources like the existing (small) array of books and print articles.

So in 2005 I was producing an "important" book, but I had two significant crosses to bear: First, by publishing independently I didn’t have the distribution clout that a major publisher had in terms of access to sales reps, bookstores, and media. Second, in exchange for the remarkable transparency and trust I received from Lucasfilm, Zoetrope and Pixar, and the other individuals with whom I worked, the powers-that-be politely insisted that they play no role in the promotion of the work. Not only because these are businesses that profit from this sort of intellectual property, and are not comfortable with giving that equity (and control) away; but more importantly, because this was their history, and a company cannot write its own history. Not really. Lucas understood this, and I understood this. It would be, perhaps, unseemly and self-serving for the range of individuals I interviewed to “promote” a book that sets them in the pantheon of history. Not Lucas. Not Coppola. Not Catmull, nor Lasseter. None could help promote the book.

I was starting to feel a little like Cassandra: Blessed with unprecedented access, and cursed not to be read.

Over the next year I sold perhaps 6,000 books and over the subsequent years maybe 10,000 in total.

Then there happened to be an unusual series of events at the end of June, 2009, when a couple interesting Lucas stories were emerging. An old home movie from ILM in 1977. An older interview with young George Lucas from the BBC in 1972. My book gives some context to these items.

On June 30 I got a wild hare and generated a PDF of the entire book. I posted it on my blog and I made two public-ish announcements: I posted it on my Facebook page, and I emailed a note about it to a blogger in Copenhagen, Denmark, who had just written something nice about Droidmaker a few days earlier. So I emailed “Binary Bonsai” – he posted it. And that was it.

The word spread globally in a few moments, and in 24 hours there were around 2,000 downloads of the book. A few weeks later there was another spike of interst, bringing the total downloads to about 13,000. In 14 days, more people have read my book than in the prior 4 years. I'm still letting that sink in.


snow said...

Mr. Rubin,
Thank u so much for this book.
As an director and editor, i have much interest in the subject matter. Written in a great way, It was an amazing read! [ way before the PDF went online ].
Congratulations on a great piece of work, which i will surely read again.

Nick said...

I've got the paper version, it's great :) Gained a lot of insight from the history you've recorded, and all very relevant to my current project. Thanks!