Figment.com Becomes a (Non-Traditional) Traditional Publisher

Author Blake Nelson’s new book Dream School comes out today from Figment.com, the company’s first book to be printed on physical paper.


Figment.com was launched 1 year ago today, Dec. 6, 2010, by co-founders Jacob Lewis and Dana Goodyear. Geared towards teens, but open to anyone, Figment is a site where writers can post content and readers can comment on and “heart” their favorite stories.

“I think of the site as a home for both reading and writing,” says Lewis. “It’s a place where you can create and consume your own content. We’re not just a place for teens to read and write their own fiction, we’re a community. Unlike sites where you read a book then go online to rate it, the main activity at Figment.com is happening online.”

Nearly 75,000 registered users are posting and reading content, with another 3,000 signing up each week. The figment library contains over 180,000 pieces of writing. As Lewis puts it, “We’re roughly 4 times the size of your average local library.” 

Figment has partnered with nearly every major publisher to support and publicize professional authors, using the sizable Figment platform as a marketing tool. This was a benefit Nelson was able to marshal in serializing Dream School on the site for free earlier in the year. 

The sequel to Nelson’s wildly popular Girl, Figment co-founder Dana Goodyear edited Dream School with Nelson, who jumped at the chance to serialize first because it was a marketing plan that felt so smart.

“It echoes the way Girl was serialized in the pages of Sassy magazine prior to being published,” explains Nelson. “I took a stack of fan letters that were sent to the magazine over to my editor’s office and said this is the audience for this book.” (You can read more about that in this great interview Nelson did with Rookie Magazine.)

In regards to releasing the book for free online before publication, Nelson is pragmatic.

“You have to find new, innovative ways to do things,” he says. “You have to be flexible. The technology is all changing, the way people read is changing. You have to be willing to take chances, and not be afraid to have stuff turn out differently than you think it will.”

It’s noteworthy that 17 years after the publication of Girl, with a technological revolution behind us, the plan to market Dream School was essentially the same: Serialize first. Build a platform. Then, print the book. 

This seems to beg the question: Will others follow the Figment.com model of bringing popular e-books to print? It seems that e-book popularity is certainly one indicator of sales for a limited a print run. One notable example of this is Diary of a Whimpy Kid. You can still read the entirety of Jeff Kinney’s illustrated chapter book online at Funbrain.com where it was first released digitally before becoming a middle grade sales juggernaut after being acquired by Scholastic in 2007. 

We’ve seen a race to take print books digital in recent years, with Amazon.com leading the charge to bypass printing on paper altogether. Sites like MeeGenius.com are solely focused on creating e-books, taking submissions and editing picture books in house, then publishing online for use on their digital device apps.

Will other sites acquire books for digital release, then produce a printed copy for distribution at brick and mortar bookstores based on e-book popularity? It seems that the Internet could certainly work in both directions where e-books are concerned. I’ll be interested to see how sales go for Dream School. Will the audience that supported it online order a printed copy from Amazon, or search it out on a shelf at Barnes & Noble? 

While publishing isn’t the sole focus of Figment.com, Lewis hints that this may be just the beginning of using the built-in marketing advantage of their community as a platform for sales and distribution.

“For us, it was a really wonderful opportunity to find this book," he says, "and there are lots of ways in which we can see the publishing side of Figment growing.” 

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