By Siobhan O’Leary
When independent Swiss publisher Urs Engeler lost the financial support of his patron last year, he opted to divest himself of the traditional structures of publishing, rather than close up shop. As he recently told the Boersenblatt in an interview, staying in business meant anything but business as usual.
Founded in 1995, his eponymous publishing house focuses on poetry and also issues the poetry journal Zwischen den Zeilen (Between the Lines). What emerged from this personal financial crisis (in the context of the larger world financial crisis) is Engeler’s new publishing concept called roughbooks.
Titles published in the roughbooks line are produced using digital printing and sold directly to consumers online. They are ISBN-free (one of several measures taken to keep overhead low) and not published as part of a traditional program, but rather book by book. And Engeler seems to be taking a rather grassroots approach to marketing the roughbooks line, starting by simply reaching out to the 3,000 e-mail addresses in his database and keeping fans engaged via a roughblog. Assuming a first print run of 200 copies, 50 sales at full price are all it takes for him to cover the initial production costs of a given title.
Meanwhile Engeler continues to attend to the backlist of his original line, Engeler Editor, and has also launched Engeler Verlag — a more conventional line than roughbooks, the first title of which will be released at the beginning of July and sold through traditional book channels.