I am firmly convinced that there is still a role for publishers today – especially small independent ones.
Small publishers are uniquely positioned to be able to produce anthologies and to focus on the art of writing – both in genre and in literary circles.
There are three main technologies that have made small publishers viable at any scale:
- Print on Demand
The first two reduce the up front monetary cost of creating a book (or periodical, for that matter) to two categories:
- Per-unit costs (printing,shipping,”delivery cost” if sold through Amazon)
- Setup costs (layout, ISBN, cover art, paying authors – more on the last in a few minutes)
Not that long ago, a publisher would have to order print runs of a large number of copies of a book. Which was great … if that book sold. And pretty horrible if that book didn’t sell. And even worse if that book sold far more than initially expected – there are tales of small publishers being sunk by a book’s unexpected popularity and being overwhelmed by trying to scale up.
Now, once I’ve made my money back on the initial setup costs I don’t have to worry about losing money on any title. While this isn’t a guarantee that I’m going to make money, I won’t go into debt just because a single title doesn’t sell well.
And that means I can work on “riskier” projects than a big publisher can. The reason why so many books (and movies and TV shows) look like some popular franchise is because of this economic decision.
This is also a boon for literary markets. Many small literary presses don’t pay much – maybe only in contributor copies. I suspect this kind of economic pressure (and the need to not buy too many copies of any issue) is a large part of their distribution problems. By cutting those prices and reducing the need to hold inventory, they can decrease risk and focus more of their budgetary risk on paying authors.
Originally, I managed this risk by working on a royalty basis. Authors got royalties from the first copy sold, and keep getting royalties. If the book sells well, they get more money!
The downside, of course, is that if a book doesn’t sell well, the authors don’t get as much money. Which sucks for everyone involved.
That’s where Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding sites) come in.
If you look at the funding breakdown for our current campaign, Not Our Kind, there’s money allocated for the authors, editor, and setup costs1.
Doing projects like this means that I can create that “risky” book, fulfill the anthologist’s vision, let the authors tell the stories that they want to tell… and still pay them what they deserve.
The books I publish may never have the circulation of a mass-market paperback pushed by a big publisher. But I can damn well make sure they exist, and with the help of Kickstarter, I can also make sure the authors get paid as well.
1 In this case, I’m including individual production and shipping in the “setup” costs.