Posted on June 25, 2019 by staff

How social media predicts publisher Unbound’s next bestseller


Social media and data science are being used to help predict the success of first-time authors’ books.

This approach is at the heart of London-based publishing platform Unbound, which allows authors to pitch their book on the platform and ‘crowdfund’ its release direct to backers.

The data is allowing Unbound, a start-up co-founded by CEO Dan Kieran, John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard, to make bets on first-time authors with a quantifiably profitable online audience.

“It gives us an idea in advance whether a book is going to successfully fund or not,” Kieran told BusinessCloud. “That’s massively useful and important for a publisher like Unbound where we don’t pay advances – we’re trying to find ways of publishing more books by a more diverse range of authors.

“Because 84 per cent of the authors that use our platform use Twitter primarily to communicate with their audience, we’ve been able to build a machine which essentially has learnt to predict how much an author’s network will raise.”

As a published author himself with 13 books to his name, Kieran has also launched one of his own titles on the platform.

Among his more serious full-length titles is his co-authored ‘Crap Towns’ book, a comedy guide to the 50 worst towns in Britain. The book sold 150,000 copies, but Kieran had no way to keep in contact with those customers and promote its sequels.

“Most people of a certain age have heard of it,” said Kieran, “but I have no means of contacting those people. That’s one of the reasons why we built the business.”

Kieran explained that the company’s approach is a response to publishers who sell books to book shops rather than directly to readers.

As a result, publishers are “too far behind the curve because they use historical data” including sales figures, rather than future projections from pledges and social data.

Titles launched on the platform include The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla, crowned Britain’s favourite book in 2016’s Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, and recipient of a £5,000 pledge from J K Rowling.

Unbound facilitates the entire process, from launching the book’s crowdfund before its release, through to printing and PR after it has been funded.

Some of its other titles have been made into films and TV shows, which Unbound also facilitates.

Its success as a digital-first publisher is also attributed to the types of books it selects. Despite the data, books are still curated by the company before reaching the website.

It also strives to offer more personalised experiences to those who back a book before its release, including signed copies and events, and dedications printed on the inside.

This might explain why those who pledge on the platform commit to an 80 per cent higher price point than the equivalent in a book shop.

Its success is allowing the business to think on a larger scale, and inspired a recent £750,000 crowdfund designed for US expansion. Unbound overfunded, raising £841,000 from 653 investors, which gives it a pre-money valuation of £16.4m.

Despite receiving pledges from almost 200 different countries, 20 per cent of those are from the United States, Kieran explained. An increasing number of new authors building their online audiences are also there, and Kieran believes it is a good time to make a name across the Atlantic.

“We’ve identified a certain type of author who is building their audience online, of whom there are many more in America. What’s crucial to that is to get US bookshop distribution in place,” Kieran said.

“People want to monetise their audience but in the end, they want to see their book in a shop. That’s the ultimate validation.”