This week the literary world was astonished by news of the Giller Prize winner, Johanna Skibsrud for her novel, The Sentimentalists. Not only is she a relatively unknown debut author, but published by a small, indie house, Gaspereau Press. It’s a coup of legendary proportions, now tarnished by Gaspereau’s own refusal to acknowledge what many indie presses embrace — that the only way we can hold territory in the marketplace is to be sure we can react swiftly to sales and economic shifts.
So, Gaspereau’s response to the windfall of Skibsrud’s success is to insist upon producing only 1000 books a week, beautiful books, agreed, but completely inadequate to meet the tsunami that has already hit them.
Yet there is an elegantly simple solution to this problem, one which allows Gaspereau to not only capitalize upon the orders in which they’re drowning, but assure themselves of a healthy profit margin, cash flow and cachet. They could use print on demand.
By doing so they could produce books as needed, create a trade paperback that would meet the rabid rage of orders, and still produce a quality hardcover, beautifully hand-bound, for those who wish a more elegant addition to a permanent, physical library. They could avail themselves of the myriad of digital markets, rather than limiting themselves to one or two.
I know very well were I the publisher, with such an astonishing success, I’d most definitely have the book uploaded as quickly as humanly possible to Lightning Source, and have that book available on a global basis. Of course, that’s how Five Rivers prints all our books anyway, so it wouldn’t be a revolutionary step for us. And I’d also have that book available digitally on a simultaneous basis. There’s an old saying, very appropriate to this situation: make hay while the sun shines.
Yet it seems to me so many indie presses establish themselves, and then operate in an outdated, ivory-tower mode that sees them wailing every time there’s a Canada Council funding cut, or a spike in sales they can’t meet. It’s almost as though they set themselves up as artistes, doomed to failure. And Gaspereau isn’t the only house to continue to cling to archiac, doomed modes of publishing. I have had similar conversations with many indie colleagues who wonder how it is Five Rivers has managed to gain the distribution we have while still remaining profitable. It’s at this point I often loose all semblance of grace and apply my head repeatedly to my desk. The technology, the information, and the ability are all there, right at your fingertips, lacking only a want of will.
I know if I were Skibsrud I’d seriously be considering offers from other houses for future books, even consider striking out on my own. And that will be Gaspereau’s self-made failure.