Think that self-publishing, Amazon and ebooks between them are conspiring to kill off the brave independent publisher? Think again. Publishers Weekly recently shared its breakdown of the “11 companies that made PW’s list of fast-growing independent publishers in 2013,” comprehensively demonstrating that there is no sense scapegoating Amazon for the state of the publishing sector. And its rundown also highlights some handy points on what it takes for indie publishers to survive and thrive in these digitally disrupted times.
First in line, Oak Press LLC, which started as the personal platform of romance writer Bella Andre, “reported a spike in revenue of over 300% in 2012 as Andre released nine original e-book titles and five audiobooks, and began moving more aggressively into international markets,” alongside “the release of four new e-books, the publication of five new mass market paperbacks, and one hardcover released in a deal with Harlequin, plus the publication of eight audiobooks,” with 75 percent of revenues from ebooks.
Second fastest growing, children’s graphic novel publisher Papercutz, attributes its success to “careful choices geared to a tween audience.” Turner Publishing cites the acquisition of over 1000 frontlist/unpublished and backlist titles from John Wiley, while Pegasus Books pins a “128% increase in print and e-book sales since 2011” on dedicated editorial development, especially in non-fiction, as well as close cooperation with both e-book partner Open Road Integrated Media and distributor W.W. Norton. Other fast growers include very niche operations, such as C&T Publishing, with its focus on craft stores and sewing for kids, and Soho Press, with its very firm concentration on bricks-and-mortar exposure and traditional sales channels.
Ebooks feature heavily in some of the winning combinations, but by no means in all. And the growth figures remain comforting for anyone who thinks that publishing per se is about to be disrupted or disintermediated out of existence. However, I could point to a few key conclusions from all of these thriving indies – aside from the obvious one of simply bringing energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to what you do.
First, be eclectic, and work out what is the optimum mix of print and ebook publishing and distribution for your particular operation. Some publishing businesses may still be able to grow and thrive with a print-only model – the priority is working out what kind yours is.
Second, if your strength lies in a niche area of interest, identify it, focus on it with diamond-like clarity, and make sure you serve its particular needs and its preferred formats.
Third, be ready to capitalize on trends – such as post-Fifty Shades erotica – but don’t over-commit to them and keep your second strings tuned.
Finally, never neglect traditional distribution channels and audiences, especially librarians.