The fact that it is happening via our computers may make us think crowdsourcing, or more narrowly crowdfunding, to finance the publication of a book is something new, but books have been being “crowdfundeded” since the invention of printing from movable type. It’s not the thing that’s new; just the word. The Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia agree that the word “crowdsourcing” was first used in 2006 by Jeff Howe in Wired.

The Guardian provocatively touted Kickstarter, which started in 2009, as one of the world’s biggest powers in publishing , but this surely implies an exaggeration of the novelty of the collection of grants and subscriptions for books. Here’s John Aubrey, author of Brief Lives, discoverer of the Aubrey holes at Stonehenge, and the first to recognize Avebury as an archaeological site, reporting in 1693 on his lack of success at collecting donations for his Monumenta Britannica. “. . . I think I will have to print it by collecting subscriptions instead. I have begun gathering them already and have been lucky so far. And I have sent a copy of my prospectus for publishing my book to Mr Wood. I hope he can find me some new subscribers . . . So far I have only 112 subscriptions for my Monumenta Britannica, which is not enough, so I must ask if the University will subsidize the printing of it . . . I need to find more subscribers or my manuscript will never be printed . . . It seems more and more unlikely that my Monumenta Britannica will be printed. I despair of the manuscript ever becoming a book in four volumes.” The book was in fact not published till 1980 when a quasi-facsimile edition, edited by John Fowles and Rodney Legg was issued by Little Brown and Company. Crowdsourcing was even harder back then.

Crowdfunding is a subcategory of crowdsourcing, which Wikipedia demonstrates can cover a wide range of non-finance operations. See for example Crowdsourcing content, which makes it obvious that when it comes to books you can crowdsource more than just money. Lots of money does get raised this way: according to Wikipedia “In 2015, over US$34 billion was raised worldwide by crowdfunding.”

This Observer piece tells us that Maris Kreizman is Kickstarter’s publishing ambassador. One assumes that the publishers she’s interested in are mostly self-publishers and small indie operations. The gathering of grants and subsidies can become a part of an academic publisher’s work when some complex scholarly research just cannot be published without financial support. I doubt, however, that traditional publishers are too busy crowdfunding, though Ms Kreizman does tell us she talks to them.