The third section of Book: A Futurist's Manifesto includes a contribution from John Oakes, co-founder (with Colin Robinson) of OR Books. His chapter, "Pain and its alleviation", offers an alternative to the current supply-chain-driven publishing model.
A publishing veteran, Oakes is no fan of the prevailing model:
"In discussing contemporary publishing, there’s really only one mystery. Why does a collection of sophisticated, intellectually curious adults, many of them with substantial financial resources at their disposal, perpetuate a system that has failed? To quote John Cleese whilst attempting to return his deceased Norwegian Blue, publishing is “stone-dead,” an ex-parrot nailed to its perch, as it were, by sporadic bestseller and backlist sales. It hinges on guesswork and cronyism, on antiquated, environmentally and fiscally disastrous supply and production systems. The persistence of this system would be understandable if there were no alternative. But there is, and it’s not even based on proprietary technology. It’s primarily a matter of attitude, of being willing to try a new direction."
Oakes goes on to talk about the "Red Queen Theory of Evolution", likening it to the current state of publishing: “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”
In this chapter, Oakes describes the approach taken by OR Books, "a publishing company that embraces progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” Generally, OR sells digital and physical (print-on-demand) books directly to consumers. The publisher has neither sales representatives nor sales conferences, distributing through bookstores only when asked. When they do sell to retailers, the books are sold on a non-returnable basis at a uniform 50% discount.
A few months after launching a title directly, OR may use Amazon or another publisher to sell books to retail outlets, although Oakes sees this more as a supplemental activity. In Oakes' telling, OR Books offers value in curation (both selection and editorial development of specific books) and web-savvy marketing of the titles they publish.
About Manifesto: You can now read Oakes' chapter online, where it is hosted on the PressBooks site. The complete book can also be purchased in print, digital and bundled formats through O'Reilly Media and in print and digital formats at major book retailing sites. I've noted earlier that the royalties for the book are being used to fund the development of PressBooks, and for that reason I encourage you to consider buying the book.
A bit of disclosure: After the full book was published, John Oakes and I met to talk about opportunities to work together. I started doing this series of chapter profiles before we met, and Oakes had no knowledge of this post before it was published.