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Digital Figments

boomTony Horwitz’s story is "a cautionary farce about the new media … we’re so often told is the bright shining future." His tale, as he describes it in The New York Times (6/19/14), began when "a new online publication called The Global Mail" offered him a $15,000 advance and a $5,000 travel budget to write a digital tome about the Keystone XL pipeline. Seeing it as "the sort of long investigative journey" he used to write "before budgets and print space shrank," he jumped at the opportunity.

The Global Mail was "lavishly funded by a philanthropic entrepreneur in Australia" and the book, called Boom, was to be co-published by Byliner, "a classy digital outfit." Byliner projected selling "up to 75,000 copies" of the book, with "a lofty cut of the profits" shared with Tony. As fate would have it, the book was set for release just as the State Department issued "a much anticipated report on Keystone XL … right on top of the news." Then, unfortunately, the backer had a "financial setback" and "pulled the plug" on the book.

Byliner and Tony managed to agree on a scaled-back contract that didn’t include much in the way of marketing support. The good news is, Tony self-promoted Boom into Amazon’s top 25 — a "best seller"; the bad news is that this meant he had only sold "somewhere between 700 and 800 copies." It was all downhill from there, with Byliner itself going out of business and Boom disappearing, for a time, from Amazon. Tony says his next book will be in "hard copy, between covers," that he "can put on a shelf and look at forever, even if it doesn’t sell."