Friday, August 06, 2010

Resources for Indies

Just a quick note before vacation - vacation! - to show some appreciation for Jill Priluck's article on Slate about small, independent presses adapting to our digital world. Priluck explains how these small presses, including Featherproof Books which apparently publishes just two books a year, are nimble in dealing with the changing publishing landscape. She also talks about Small Beer Press, which is now based (in the hands of the Gavin Grant and Kelly Link) in Boston, it seems. Welcome to our fair city! I had no idea.

[Edited to add this sidenote: it's interesting to note that the editor at Small Beer is Jebediah Berry, who himself is a novelist (The Manual of Detection) represented by agent Esmond Harmsworth (Boston-based) and had his first novel published by Penguin. Nice to see someone who has made it big but remains committed to this small press in terms of his labor.]

Priluck makes the point, though, that these small presses are adept at knowing their readers, but this does not typically result in making money beyond what it takes to run the place. There is not a lot of growth or expansion, even when these places are able to take advantage of digital advances. Even without shareholders making unrealistic profit demands, it still would help these folks to grow rather than just survive. Perhaps someone needs to come along to string these independents together and make the work available digitally in a way that's more fair financially to the presses and their authors (as compared to, say, Amazon). Perhaps such a network is already in place.

Actually, Priluck talks about an iPad app from Electric Literature, which they are thinking of licensing to other independent presses. What was kind of bad-ass about this idea was that Electric would charge a one-time licensing fee without royalties, allowing customers to recoup the expense easily rather than having it hold back their revenue forever more. Nice one, Electric!

One other point about Amazon that I found interesting in this article. Priluck has an asterisk early on in the article:
Publishing is a business plagued with manyafflictions—except a lack of media attention.Reports that the Wylie Agency—among others—is launching an online imprint, that Amazon's e-book sales outpaced hardcover* sales, and that its digital sales will surpass paperback ones in the next nine to 12 months underscore a new reality: the age of the publisher-turned-digital-curator.
So what is the footnote here? Glad you asked:
Correction, Aug. 5, 2010: An earlier version of this article stated that Amazon e-books had outsold print books over a particular period; they outsold hardcover books only.
Interesting error. This further makes the case that the media in general is eager to report big statistics showing how digital products are taking over the world, because it's such news. Fine, Amazon exaggerates because there is more money for them - clearly - in e-books rather than printed books, but I hope more journalists are careful when writing on these issues. I think it's entirely fair to ask journalists not to embellish how much of the market digital books take up.

Anyway, glad to see Slate mentioning some good small presses. And now, I wait my final couple of hours at work before heading out to vacation. Happy reading, suckers!

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