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Will the Digital Age Be a Golden Age for Small Publishers?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

e-book and print booksIn real estate it comes down to location, location, location. For so long, the same applied to visibility in bookstores. Publishers paid heavy fees for prime placement in big box stores (they still do) to get under the eyeballs of customers. In the digital age, when we’re all peering at screens, and the limited real estate and endless assortment of titles, “search” arguably takes priority over the “serendipity” of browsing.

In today’s feature story, Chad W. Post, publisher of Open Letter Books — a small publisher of translated literary fiction, points out:

We’re small, therefore ignorable by everyone from the New York Times to the local bookstore in Omaha, Nebraska, and we publish books by authors with “unpronounceable” names, which are supposedly a huge turnoff to American readers.

We can publish the best books in the world, but getting them into the hands of readers—at least through traditional means—is a massive challenge.

Yet, he notes there is an opportunity:

This is daunting to some, exciting to others. For a small press looking to do books that fit a particular niche (a la Open Letter), this is a fantastic situation. Unlike years past when we fought for space in the same five review outlets and tried to convince the same booksellers to handsell our books, we can now go directly to our customers, and can cultivate an audience in ways that never existed before.

That opportunity — namely to cultivate an audience — has eluded most small publishers until now. But it is the essential ingredient to building a successful publishing business. Digital flattens the terrain, makes all real estate accessible, if not outright cheap.

Could the digital age be a golden age for small publishers?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  1. Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    I agree with Chad, I think the digital age opens up a lot of opportunity because we can go directly to our customers and cultivate an audience. At Le French Book (www.lefrenchbook.com), we are doing direct-to-digital translations of popular French fiction, starting with crime fiction and thrillers. This kind of initiative would not have been possible before. The years to come should be an exciting time for readers, who will be able to discover all kinds of new authors.

  2. Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    I can’t argue with Chad’s comments. Another important factor is that having to devise new and effective ways of marketing using digital media places the larger publisher in the same unsure position as the smaller ones.

  3. Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Much of what Chad writes applies to university presses as well, also being mission-driven nonprofits that have long targeted customers directly, through direct mail and exhibits at scholarly conferences, for example. In fact, the emergence of the chain bookstores was probably an unfortunate distraction for most presses, especially the smaller ones, which put too much effort into getting their books into the chains when the terms were not set up to favor the kinds of books they publish. Though presses have a love/hate relationship with Amazon also, there is no question that its appearance played a major role in enhancing the ability of presses to reach customers, especially after Google made the “long tail” possible and POD allowed presses to sell slow-moving inventory economically forever.

  4. Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    It’s bound to be good for the small publisher since it’s already demonstrably good for self-published authors!

  5. Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Yes it is good for small publishers — especially new ones, like ourself, who know of no world except a world in which a book should be available both in print and e-format.

  6. Posted June 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I would like to start selling digital directly to readers. What do people find are the best platforms for that? Or, if not “best” what are the options people are exploring? I see Chad at Open Letter Books is using a Google Checkout solution I hadn’t seen before.

  7. Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Spinifex Press (Australia) began to publish eBooks in 2006. While it took some time for the market to catch up, eBooks do help us to get to customers. We publisher fewer than ten books a year and we hVe a loyal customer base who now hear regularly from us. We can also find readers through social media and not have to spend thousands of dollars in postage to let them know about our latest release. our print catalogues are less expensive and in the US we have a significant percentage of sales of eBooks in comparison with print books. I’d be happy to write more about this for PP.

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