Can Poetry Turn a Profit Online?

In Digital by Guest Contributor

By Mark Garcia-Prats

PoetrySpeaks

Even for a poetry lover, PoetrySpeaks.com (PS) can be overwhelming. The site features poetry blogs, weekly highlighted poets, and — perhaps of most importance — a fully-searchable archive of poems (available to purchase in both text and audio format). There’s also a poetry book store and a forum to post and view video of poetry performances. The website — whose motto is “experience, discover, share” — strives to cater a diverse audience of readers, particularly beyond those who already regularly read poetry.

This ambitious Web site was launched by Chicago-based publisher Sourcebooks in November of 2009 and is attempting (not for the first time) to create one central online poetry community. Sourcebooks CEO and publisher Dominique Raccah says, “We wanted a site that helps connect poetry readers, potential poetry reader, and poets. And we wanted to begin developing a new business model for poetry.”  She says the site has been in development for five years and some $250,000 has been invested so far.

Can PoetrySpeaks.com prove that publishing poetry online can be profitable? Perhaps…PS is itself is an offshoot of the widely successful series of Poetry Speaks anthologies, whose first volume was published by Sourcebooks in 2001. The anthology included audio CDs of poets reading their own work, as well introductions and analysis of the works by famous contemporary poets. The success of the first PS anthology — which became a surprising bestseller and sold over 190,000 volumes — spawned further anthologies, such as Poetry Speaks to Children and Harlem Speaks.

Raccah hopes PoetrySpeaks.com will spark a similar revival of interest in poetry and, concurrently, lead to similar financial success.  By creating a Web site where readers are allowed more direct contact with their favorite poets and participate in that very same poetry community (by posting video of them reading their own work), PS hopes to create a large, active audience of poetry lovers who are willing to invest in their passion. You can download individual poems in text and audio format for 99 cents each, purchase poetry merchandise such as books, e-books, DVDs, and CDS, as well as buy tickets for poetry performances.

What is different from the many other poetry sites online is the extent to which the poets have been given control over how they market and display their own work. The site allows each poet to post and manage what amounts to their own mini-site, which can include a blog, schedule of events and readings, and video of their performances. Raccah believes that “PoetrySpeaks.com can solve some of the challenges the poets themselves face in getting their work, their message, and themselves in front of readers.”

Jim Schely, a Vermont poet whose work is displayed and sold on PS, is excited about the possibilities that PS offers to poets. “In a way, [Sourcebooks] has created an architecture for poets, and within that architecture all sorts of things can happen,” he says.  Though Jim is unsure what sort of audience the experimental site will garner, he says about posting his work on the site, “it can’t hurt. It’s like hanging up a billboard and saying ‘here I am and here is what I have to offer’…And it’s like so many things on the Web, it gives the advantage to the person with the initiative.”  Jim too believes that the site has the potential to attract new poetry readers saying, “The real promise of [PS] is that it’s a very unintimidating point of access to this really rich tradition.”

PS currently has 166 poets displaying their work on the site and would like to increase that by another 20 in the first quarter of the year. They are working with poets and publishing companies, such as Tupelo Press from Massachusetts who just signed a contract with the PS, to consistently enlarge the archive of professional poets who display and sell their work on the Web site. Its Advisory Board, which includes Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States, Bruce George, poet and co-founder of Def Poetry Jam (HBO), and Anne Halsey, board member of the Poetry Foundation, allows PS to draw from a wide range of experience in the community.

Raccah believes that Sourcebook’s greatest challenge for making PS a success is understanding the capabilities and demands of a new media.  “A Web site,” she says, “needs to be regularly updated, unlike a book which is a finished, tangible product.” Already Sourcebooks has plans for additional features and upgrades to the site, making the site more interactive and increasing traffic with innovative marketing efforts (such as soon to be released “poet trading cards” that poets will be able to hand out like business cards). Plans are also in the works to introduce the site to teachers who may went to teach poetry in the classroom.

With 1,500 registered users, 34,000 page views in the opening few months, and a backlog of poets to upload to the site, Raccah has been thrilled by the reaction so far.  “One of the things I’m seeing is that we’re learning a lot,” says Raccah, “and that’s something that I think is very important to continue.

VISIT: PoetrySpeaks.com

DISCUSS:Is $0.99 the Fair Price for a Poem?

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.