I’ve received a number of queries about Unbound as a potential solution for indie authors and started conducting my own research on the platform and talking with Unbound authors about their experiences. The following is my review of their platform, business model, and services.
Unbound is a UK-based publisher that uses crowdfunding to determine which books are sent to print.
Great, we’ve seen lots of small presses use Kickstarter in this way but Unbound doesn’t use Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. They created their own crowdfunding platform and integrated it into their site rather than pay Kickstarter a platform fee on every one of their projects.
Unbound is a bit Unclear
However, unlike Kickstarter and IndieGoGo that display the funding goal, include the date of project creation and deadline, Unbound projects lack that level of detail.
I could only find the funding status, the percentage funded and the total number of backers for current and old Unbound books.
Their most successful book that I could find (it’s somewhat difficult to sort and organize projects) is a humorous biography/memoir about video games with nearly 9,000 backers and 1830% funded. You can check it out here if you’re interested. So it looks like Unbound has some popular books in their catalog.
It is tough to judge which books are popular and which ones aren’t because I have no way of knowing when the project was created.
If a project is 27% funded but it’s only Day 1, that’s not as bad as being 27% funded on day 37, you know?
Unfortunately, due to their platform, I cannot make an accurate assessment of the popularity of any of their books. (Except for the book with 9k backers. That would be a slam dunk on any platform.)
Without transparency, there’s no trust and without trust, people won’t pull out their credit cards and buy our books.
When a campaign is over, parts of the campaign are no longer available as a public record (something both KS and IGG provide) and I couldn’t reverse engineer the total crowdfunding amount (total # of backers at each reward level to calculate the campaign goal).
So, Unbound’s platform is intentionally opaque.
Whenever you are raising funds (frankly, whenever you are selling anything), transparency is vital.
As a potential investor (even if it’s just a small amount), I want to know how much money you’re requesting and how you plan to spend the funds.
Knowing these details are absolutely crucial to building trust between creators and backers.
Without transparency, there’s no trust and without trust, people won’t pull out their credit cards to buy our books.
Unbound themselves say that transparency is vital so, why don’t they make their funding goals public knowledge like other crowdfunding publishers?
I advise all of my crowdfunding clients to make their campaign pages as transparent as possible including a visual diagram showing how the funds will be spent.
If Unbound were my client, I’d be saying the same thing to them.
Making it Difficult
In creating the platform themselves and hiding certain elements that convey transparency, Unbound is doing a disservice to their authors who are trying to build trust with their readers and convert them into backers.
They are actually making the crowdfunding process harder for their authors when it’s already quite difficult because readers are still relatively new to the crowdfunding process.
Left With a Lot of Unanswered Questions
After reviewing their FAQs, I had even more questions.
If you look at Kickstarter or IndieGoGo’s FAQ pages, they go on and on to help their creators understand the process. Kickstarter has a community of fellow creators to help troubleshoot and problem solve before launch. IndieGoGo is extremely responsive to emails and willing to work with their creators.
I sent off an email to Unbound with some questions for clarification related to their process so I could understand more before writing this review on September 28.
Within minutes, I received an autoresponder from Unbound informing me that they’d get back to me as soon as possible (which was usually within three business days).
But they never responded.
I fired off a reminder email on October 16 and received the same auto response.
It’s now October 24, and I’ve still not heard from them.
I mentioned this to an Unbound author, and his response was, “Yeah, that’s not surprising. They can be slow.”
From the author’s perspective, it would cause me concern if I need to follow up numerous times with my publisher to have my simple questions addressed.
Long Project Timelines
Crowdfunding is all about limited TIME. The main reason why rewards-based crowdfunding is so different from traditional marketing is that there is an intense period of marketing activities within a very short amount of time.
Kickstarter recommends campaigns end within 30 days and IndieGoGo does not allow projects to extend their timelines past 60 days after their launch dates.
Limiting time forces action
Time-limited campaigns are successful because it is difficult to sustain a level of intense marketing for very long.
Creators burn out, and audiences become fatigued with hearing the same messages over and over again. It leads to burnout.
On their website, Unbound tells prospective authors that their books’ campaigns often last between 3-6 months (!!!) Which is 3x-6x longer than the crowdfunding experts recommend.
If this was equity crowdfunding, which is known to have a longer timeline, then that would be a different story. But this is rewards-based crowdfunding.
Sean Leahy’s campaign lasted from March-December 2016 (10 months) and is scheduled for publication February 2019. His campaign was 10x longer than his peers on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are crowdfunding.
He endured way more stress and marketing fatigue than his crowdfunding counterparts.
In our interview (available here), he mentions numerous times how it felt like a slog and no, he wouldn’t want to do it again or recommend that process to other authors.
Are the deadlines flexible?
My guess, I don’t know for sure because Unbound never got back to me, is that their campaigns have a flexible deadline until it looks like it will be funded. Perhaps they have a deadline that only the authors know about but in reality, it’s much more important for the readers to know about the deadline.
Having no deadline means that you lack the very thing that makes readers get off their butts and back your campaign.
One has to take something away to make it exclusive.
That’s why every marketer will tell you that you have to “close the cart” if you want to see sales.
“You won’t be able to get this book after today!” really forces people to act, not, “Oh, don’t worry. You can back this campaign today or tomorrow or in six months from now. It’s fiiine.”
From the creator’s perspective, having no end in sight is a nightmare. Crowdfunding is a humbling experience. It’s stressful and nobody can sustain a 24/7 marketing strategy for 10 months.
From the backer’s perspective, no deadline means I’m not motivated to back the project. Why should I do it now instead of tomorrow?
Dodgy Refund Policy
Also part of the trust factor is a clear and user-friendly refund policy.
As a backer, if this project doesn’t succeed, will I get my money back?
With Unbound, no, you won’t. Not without a lot of hassle, anyway.
Look at the text of their refund policy
With Kickstarter, your credit card isn’t charged unless the campaign is successful when it closes.
With IndieGoGo, your credit card is charged when you pledge but is fully refunded if the campaign is not successful (for their fixed funding projects only).
With Unbound, a backer is refunded in Unbound credits that they can use to back another book on the platform.
If a backer wants their actual money back, they must contact Unbound directly.
Provided that many books are backed by authors’ close network of friends and family, I highly doubt that many backers would want to use their funds to support another book on the platform.
Again, given their radio silence via email, I would imagine that getting your money back would be difficult and annoying.
Verdict: Unbound’s refund policy isn’t backer friendly and wouldn’t give me the confidence that I’m looking for when backing a book on the platform.
My mission is to support authors crowdfund their books. There are many publishers using the crowdfunding model to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their books on Kickstarter.
Microcosm Publishing—19 projects on Kickstarter raising a total of $100k.
Flesk Publications—5 projects on Kickstarter raising a total of $500k.
Beehive Books—10 projects on Kickstarter raising over $500k.
I think it’s great that Unbound has close to 300 books in their catalog and when done correctly, I believe that crowdfunding can be a sustainable marketing approach for all authors.
Room for improvement
The issue with Unbound is that they lack the very elements that make crowdfunding successful—time, transparency, and responsiveness.
Can I recommend Unbound as a publisher for authors who are open to crowdfunding? In its current state, sadly, no.
If Unbound addresses the factors that I mention and publishes each campaign’s goal amount, provides the project’s open and close dates, and changes their refund policy, then I might consider changing my recommendation.
Also, replying to emails from potential clients never hurts.
In my opinion, Unbound’s platform and approach is neither creator nor backer-friendly compared to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.
The long timelines cause undue stress and marketing fatigue on its authors and their refund policy isn’t great customer service.
The radio silence via direct email and confirmation from Unbound authors that they are slow to respond has me thinking that they are overstretched.
At this point, I would not recommend publishing with Unbound.
Instead, go the indie route or find a publisher who is open to you crowdfunding your book’s costs as Elisavet Arkolaki did with her publisher.
As always, I encourage authors to take control of their publishing and marketing timelines and create a strategy that promotes engagement with their audiences and furthers their brand as authors.
If you are open to crowdfunding your book but don’t know where to start, I recommend signing up for my newsletter to get my bonus Crowdfunding Dos and Don’ts Webinar for Authors.
What you’ll learn in the Crowdfunding Dos and Don’ts Webinar
- What every book’s crowdfunding campaign needs to be successful
- How to plan your campaign to maximize your success
- Big mistakes to avoid during your campaign
- Key elements that lead to failed campaigns
- The different dos and don’ts for Kickstarter and IndieGoGo
- Access to my monthly newsletter tips on how to best use crowdfunding to market your book