Look at this book. Tell me what you think. It doesn’t look like much right? It’s a self-published book from an unknown author with an unfamiliar foreign name. Perhaps for not being strikingly impressive in any way, the book is priced rather cheaply at $4. Perhaps for being self-published and priced cheaply, the book doesn’t feature any professional reviews (although the customer reviews are quite good) and the formatting of the book is poor. Maybe the best thing you can say about this book, to try to relate it to something with pizzazz and instant recognizability is that it looks to be roughly on the same topic as Jared Diamond’s newest work, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies.
What if I were now to tell you that this rather modest looking book is a mega best seller in its author’s, Yuval Noah Harari, native land? It’s true. From Animals into Gods was number one on the bestselling list in Israel for 52 consecutive weeks, and now at 80+ weeks from initial publication, the book remains in the top 5.
The analog to what Mr. Harari did would be if Jared Diamond decided to translate and publish his mega-hit Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies into German himself. No commercial publishing house involved; no marketing; no press in the media; not even a copy editor to typeset the e-book properly. And all this after Guns, Germs, and Steel have achieved mega commercial success in the United States.
In some ways, this is actually a poor analogy that understates the audacity of Mr. Harari’s international publishing approach. The US is the largest commercial market for books. To succeed in the American book market means both much more money and fame than to succeed almost anywhere else; the flip side of that is that to succeed in the American market takes much more money, awesome distribution capability, and extensive press coverage than any where else. These are all things wielded by a big, commercial publishing house when backed by a strong, favorable contract; these all all things missing for the self-published and so Mr. Harari’s book.
So why did he do it? I may not like Mr. Harari’s work — I hear, but have not read, that the second half of the book degenerates into a pedantic diatribe — but I admire his entrepreneurial take to publishing. From an interview that he gave, it seems Mr. Harari self-published because he could. While official translations to his work (into English and German according to Wikipedia) are pending, Mr. Harari found the self-publishing option easy, fast, and so did it himself.
I admire that “grab the bull by its horns” approach. I’m not sure that the people in the publishing trade would take the same sanguine assessment of Mr. Harari’s venture into the international publishing world as I do. I’m not sure how the author’s adventure will ultimately turn out. I would like an awfully lot for authors to generally be as adventuresome as Mr. Harari. Perhaps then many more of them will experiment with new pricing models, consider wide dissemination a good in itself, disdain DRM, and come into my golden zone of book purchasing of $3.99 or less.