PM Press in Oakland, Calif., is the first book publisher to bundle free e-books with nearly every one of the physical books purchased on its Web site. Its new Paperback Plus! program had a soft launch earlier this month. “E-books will still be for sale separately, as long as the market will bear it,” said press co-founder Craig O’Hara, who handles marketing and events for PM.
After reading about the pros and cons of e-book bundling, PM decided to move forward with its own e-book/print book package. O’Hara is convinced that bundling is inevitable. “I can see eventually offering free or inexpensive e-book downloads to all buyers of the hard copy with a printed coupon code, regardless of where they purchased the book,” he said. While it’s too soon to tell whether bundling will increase print sales, O’Hara is hoping that it will encourage more people to choose print. “I still feel hard copy is superior to read. I don’t want to see things going [all] digital. A lot of our print books are limited editions and works of art,” he said. And by offering bundling on the PM Web site, the press can ensure that its authors get full print royalties by selling them at list price. “We’ve been pressured to bring our e-books down to $8.95,” he noted.
In many ways e-book bundling is just one more attempt to continue the six-year-old press’s steady growth and to stay ahead in a business in transition. Despite its founding at the start of the Great Recession in late 2007 by Ramsay Kanaan, who also founded radical book publisher, AK Press, and O’Hara, who began working with him there, PM has consistently seen sales rise. It has gone from an all-volunteer staff to just hiring its first staffer who did not start off volunteering. And last year PM broke a million dollars in gross sales for the first time.
Another sign of PM’s continued growth is a newly signed contract to extend its distribution agreement with IPG for another three years. About 50% of PM’s sales go through IPG, the other half are direct to consumer at events and on the PM Web site. “Our sales with [IPG] are well over a half million dollars and returns are down because we’re selling less to Barnes & Noble,” said O’Hara.
In the past few years, PM has upped its print runs by half, from 2,000 copies to 3,000 for most of the 30 to 40 titles it publishes a year. Although O’Hara says that political nonfiction is “what pays the bills”—the list is three to one nonfiction—fiction does particularly well in Europe, and PM has acquired some strong titles. In October it will release a new novel by bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler, The Science of Herself, under sci fi author Terry Bisson’s Outspoken Authors imprint. PM also has a successful noir imprint, Switchblade, edited by Gary Phillips, and it publishes some fiction in conjunction with its Busboys & Poets imprint.