OK, I’m bloody exhausted. There’s only so many meetings, parties, dinners, jokes, and seven-hour plane rides one can take before totally crashing. I’ve been traveling since October 1st—after spending a late night out with Paul Auster on the 30th, which seems like maybe two months ago—so forgive my sloppy posts of the day. I do have one or two more general Frankfurt things I want to write, but first I feel like reposting some of the articles I wrote for the “Publishing Perspectives Show Daily.” All apologies if you already read these, but I need a few days to get my head back together . . . Up first are a couple pieces on OR Books, a relatively new publishing house with a non-traditional business model.
This article can also be found here. And while you’re there, sign up for the free daily e-newsletter.
Speaking at both Tools of Change and the International Digital Rights Symposium, John Oakes of the newly launched OR Books elucidated his business model. Compared to traditional publishing structures, its simplicity is quite revolutionary.
Launching last fall, OR Books has a few specific strategies: it offers its authors relatively low advances (and high royalties), edits the books quickly so that they can be released months after completion (instead of years), spends the bulk of its budget on marketing each title, and licenses titles to traditional publishers. The big difference between OR and other indie presses is that OR ignores chain stores, Amazon and the like, only selling its books directly through its Website. This practice truly upends the industry’s beliefs at a time when most other publishers are trying to figure out how to make their e-books available through as many distribution channels as possible.
Every title that OR publishes is available through its site in paperback and non-DRM e-book formats. (There’s also a bundle option through which a reader can get both the paperback and e-book at a sizable discount.) As Oakes pointed out, the benefits of this system check a number of boxes on a publisher’s wish list: no returns, much more accurate pre-publication print runs, and profits that go straight to the publisher and author. OR Books author Douglas Rushkoff pointed this out in a recent interview with Publishing Perspectives, but rather than focusing on advance sales to a handful of large customers, OR Books is focused on selling real copies to actual consumers.
The OR Books business model is deceptive in its simplicity. In many ways, it’s a throwback to a time before supply-chain intermediaries permanently altered the bookselling business—a time when publishers were also printers and bookstores. It’s a model that—if successful in the long run—thrives on both satisfying the needs of customers and maximizing the publisher’s return. (It’s an obvious thing to point out, but OR doesn’t have to pay sales reps, or attend sales conferences, etc.) Although many authors and agents have been amenable to this model, Oakes said that a number of editors at traditional publishing houses are completely baffled and antagonistic toward such a strange business model.
Which might be why so many speeches at TOC Frankfurt revolved around the need for publishers to adapt by focusing more on the needs of consumers and less on how to retain old standards.
Andrew Savikas’s keynote looked at the intertwined evolution of form and format and the need to find better customer-friendly formats (i.e., apps) for things like guidebooks and other “database” titles. His underlying point—that readers still desire traditional content (classified listings, movie information) but in new, more convenient formats—really set the tone for the conference.
Pablo Arrieta’s presentation on readership in Colombia, and the restriction of content due to the lack of an iTunes/iBookstore in Latin America, was illuminating in its global perspective.
Sheila Bounford of NBNi also discussed the need for publishers to reconnect with readers, resonating with the theme of the day.
It’s true that TOC—or any call for “change” in the publishing industry, really—is mostly focused on implementing new technologies to increase revenue. That said, along with this expansion into enhanced e-books and video games comes a parallel change in philosophical outlook—which may, in the long run, have an even larger impact on the industry as a whole.
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .