One thing that unites the fast-growing small presses on this year's list is their willingness to experiment. Whether it's publishing more titles, publishing fewer titles, selling to new markets or expanding into genres they'd only dabbled in up until now, these small publishers are eager to try new things. E-books, though, are going through varying degrees of experimentation.
Overlook hasn't done any, nor is it participating in Amazon's Search Inside the Book program or Google Book Search. Square One isn't doing e-books, either; publisher Rudy Shur says, “At this point, electronic media is so dicey that I just love to watch what other people do. We'll enter the marketplace when it makes sense.” The company is less wary of participating in both Amazon's and Google's search programs, which Shur calls “no-brainers” since “they do result in sales of hard books.” Red Wheel Weiser Conari has not tried e-books, although it has moved a number of its slow-moving backlist titles to POD. But the company participates in both Amazon and Google search initiatives; “The more that we can replicate the in-store experience online with people actually looking through our titles, the better off we are,” says president Michael Kerber.
Big Earth, too, has just added its titles to Google Book Search and sold e-book rights to some titles. It also sells directly from its Web site and notes a particular spike in business in the fall when it posts its calendars. Founder Dave Oskin says that with limited resources, “we can't be at the forefront of technical innovation, but we want to do whatever we can to help sell our books.”
ABA Books director Kathy Welton is doing e-books and participating in Google Book Search, and will probably test a couple of the company's books on the Kindle in '08. “Like a lot of publishers, we don't have a strategy, but we're experimenting,” she says. Chelsea Green just started doing Kindle books on Amazon, as well. President and publisher Margo Baldwin says the house has received a lot of offers for digital distribution, too, but “we're holding off for the moment because it feels like Wild West territory out there. There are so many competing models that it's kind of scary.”
Meanwhile, Quirk Books hasn't taken the e-book leap, although it has done some electronic licensing of its books. For instance, it licensed its Field Guides to Food (Meat, Produce, Seafood) to Chow.com.
Beaufort Books president Eric Kampmann says he “didn't know how much O.J. Simpson was hated” before publishing the book that put Beaufort on the map. If he did know, would he have published If I Did It? It's a moot point, since the book was one of the biggest publishing stories of 2007 and spent seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Kampmann says its success demonstrated that “a smaller company can do a big job, and do it well.”
Kampmann bought Beaufort in 1984. After a dormant period of 20 years, the company resumed full-time publishing operations in 2005. That year, with two employees, it published two titles. In 2006, with three employees, it published eight titles. And in 2007, with five employees, it published 11 titles, including the national bestseller If I Did It, propelling Beaufort to the top of PW's fast-growing independent publishers list. “It's a one-time experience,” Kampmann says. “We will not be America's fastest growing publisher next year.” But even without that book, Kampmann says, Beaufort's sales would have tripled in 2007.
2008 is off to a strong start: The Presence Process: A Healing Journey into Present Moment Awareness by Michael Brown, which Beaufort published in 2005, is benefiting from Oprah's recent selection of A New Earth by Eckhardt Tolle (both books focus on present-moment awareness and healing).
Tantor Media, last year's fastest-growing publisher, posted more impressive gains in 2007, with sales, titles and employees all significantly up over 2006. A key part of the success of the independent publisher of spoken-word audio has been its quick turnaround time, and Tantor president Allen Colebank continued to invest in that strategy, moving virtually all of its manufacturing to its own facility in Connecticut and setting up 35 in-home narrators. Using Tantor's proprietary system, they record at home, while the editing is done in Tantor's offices. That approach allows Tantor to keep first printings low and make money on titles that sell a few hundred copies.
The company sold considerably more than a few hundred titles of Skinny Bitch last year. Three Cups of Tea, How Doctors Think and John Daly's Golf My Own Damn Way also did well. Tantor continues to buy some rights from publishers and others from agents. “We've been winning more auctions,” Colebank notes. During the year, Tantor hired John Molish as v-p of sales and marketing, who helped oversee a new library sales force. Similar to other spoken-word companies, sales of digital downloads rose markedly last year and now represent “a significant part of our revenue,” Colebank says.
In 2007, the company established a U.K. office and began shipping titles to that market this year. Colebank estimates he has U.K. rights to about one-third of Tantor's titles. Total output in 2008 is set to rise to about 30 titles per month, and Colebank believes Tantor has the capacity to eventually do 40 titles monthly.
Big Earth Publishing was founded in 2004 by former paper executive Dave Oskin and has published more than 1,000 titles. Acquisitions have fueled Big Earth's growth, beginning with Johnson Press in 2005 through last month's purchase of Women's Adventure magazine, Big Earth's first nonbook publishing purchase. Oskin explains the magazine deal by noting that the company is in the content business. “Our long-term objective is to provide content to a community of readers,” Oskin says, “and the magazine will help us meet that objective.” Oskin sees many ways the magazine can work together with Big Earth's book units, especially in the outdoor area. His early focus will be on joint marketing and promotional efforts.
Big Earth's biggest acquisition came in 2007, when it bought Westcliffe Publishers. But Big Earth has also had success growing sales. In 2005 it acquired Bleak House, and with its financial backing the imprint has substantially increased in both sales and title output. Last year, with sales of the Trails Side trivia books doing well, Big Earth created the Quizmaster Books imprint to focus on that subject. Another growth area has been Bed and Breakfast cookbooks published by Big Earth's 3D Press. The books do well at both B&Bs and big-box stores; in January the category was Big Earth's bestselling segment. From the start, Big Earth has always done its own sales, and last year it moved its distribution from Banta to its own warehouse outside Denver. Early in 2008, Big Earth added a specialty sales rep to reach the growing nontraditional market. Even without another acquisition, Oskin expects sales to grow by about 40% this year.
After a record year in 2006, Ulysses Press surged again in 2007, posting a 78% increase in sales. It has decreased its output over the past three years—from 53 titles in 2005 to 41 in 2007—with excellent results.
The press published its first New York Times bestseller, Mugglenet.com's What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7 in late 2006, and robust sales through 2007 contributed to the tremendous sales increase. However, subtracting the sales of that book, Ulysses still saw a 38% sales increase. Publicist Karma Bennett attributes the jump to Ulysses's “auteur” approach to publishing, wherein the house looks for areas in the marketplace where there's a publishing opportunity, then comes up with a book idea and the right author to make the project happen. What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7 came about that way, and while that book will not have a backlist life, other books born in-house continue to do well. They include 2007's Pride and Prejudice sequel, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride, which was the first novel Ulysses ever published, and 2006's Atheist Universe, which was the press's first atheist book.
Eight-year-old Square One Publishers had a 22% increase last year and acquired three other houses in three consecutive months last spring: Vital Health Publishing, Professional Books and Posters Please Inc. Square One publisher Rudy Shur says his company “is now in a position to really break out and make a bigger leap in company growth than ever before.” It has eight full-time employees, three part-timers and eight freelancers. The company added two part-time employees to its warehousing department last year.
Shur says the key to his success has been sales to nontraditional outlets. For instance, Acid Alkaline has sold well to health food stores, natural supermarkets, doctors' offices and alternative health providers, and Your First Coaching Book sells to park and recreation departments and to sports leagues. Many of Square One's titles enjoy a strong and solid sales presence in educational markets, and a good number of its trade titles have crossed over into the educational market. Leading the way are the sign language guide Talking with Your Hands, Listening With Your Eyes (2003) and Why Johnny Hates Sports (2002). Square One is known for its alternative health and healthy cooking books, and those areas continued to expand in 2007. Special sales for those books—including The Glycemic Index Food Guide (2006) and Detox and Revitalize, which Square One inherited from Vital Health—have indeed been healthy.
Quirk Books, founded in 2002, nearly doubled the number of books it published in 2007, going from 74 titles in 2005 to 138 last year. President and publisher Dave Borgenicht says the jump in productivity came because the house continued to generate book ideas in-house, as it has always done, and also began receiving more high-quality submissions.
Borgenicht says about 75% of Quirk's titles are developed in-house, but lately increasing numbers of authors, agents and book packagers have approached the house with viable ideas. More people were “finally figuring out what made a Quirk book a Quirk book,” he says. Borgenicht wants to grow Quirk's list and develop a backlist that is going to be “a meaningful source of revenue sooner rather than later.” In 2007, he focused on expanding the house's market channel reach and publishing more books that were crossovers that sold well to the book trade and the gift trade.
Quirk expanded its efforts in international rights and domestic licensing efforts last year, in keeping with the company's continual focus on ancillary revenue streams. It continued to take an aggressive approach to licensing and subsidiary rights; sub-rights accounted for 15% of its revenue in 2007. Other factors in Quirk's increase include its expansion into custom publishing (both corporate and retail) and its newly enlarged internal sales department.
Chelsea Green Publishing Company, which publishes books on the politics and practice of sustainable living, had another great year in 2007. Sales were up 28%. A bestseller—The End of America by Naomi Wolf—played a big role in that success; it has been on the Times list for 15 weeks. President and publisher Margo Baldwin also cites bringing the publisher's sales force in-house and launching its Green Partner Program as playing key parts in the company's growth. Bookstores that participate in the Partner program agree to promote books—from any publisher—about the practice of green and sustainable living in a dedicated section. Baldwin says so far at least 30 independent bookstores around the country are participating.
Sales of Chelsea Green titles to independents were up 37% overall, while sales to the chains were up 30% and sales to retail specialty stores 31% over 2006. Overall net sales for both Chelsea Green titles and titles in its distributed line were up 23%. Chelsea Green distributes about 30 other small publishers, and Baldwin says that business grew about 34% last year.
Now in its 37th year, Overlook Press saw a 26% increase in sales from 2005 to 2007. Publicity director Jack Lamplough says, “We're publishing more commercial titles than we've ever done before.” Overlook also publishes some co-editions with British publisher Duckworth, which publisher Peter Mayer bought five years ago (though the aforementioned sales increase does not include those books). Overlook, which released 83 titles in '07 (10 more than in '06), currently has one book, The Secret History of the World by Mark Booth, on the New York Times extended bestseller list. It's the first time an Overlook book has landed on the list since Robert Littell's The Company (2002). Two of Overlook's 2007 releases were surprise hits: the illustrated book Church Signs Across America sold more than 40,000 copies, while the narrative nonfiction work Thermopylae, which got a boost from the similarly themed film 300, sold more than 30,000 copies. Strong backlist sales of novels by Penny Vincenzi, Charles McCarry and Walter Moers also contributed to an impressive year.
Lamplough attributes some of Overlook's recent success to personnel changes. Additions to the 18-person staff include industry vet Anne Brooks, who took over sales at the end of 2005 following stints at Kensington, PGW and Putnam, and Lamplough, who took over publicity last year. A new editor, Julie Grames, formerly of Wiley, added some highly commercial projects, including The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte by popular mystery writer Laura Joh Rowland, which pubs in March; and The Lolita Effect, Gigi Durham's nonfiction work about the media sexualization of young girls, which pubs in May.
Legal books and information publisher ABA Book Publishing (a unit of the American Bar Association) achieved a 17% increase in 2007 over the previous year. It published a record 120 print and electronic titles, and this year it's planning to boost that number to 150. It now has 22 employees, up from 18 in 2005. This past year, it expanded its relationships with American Bar Association entities including the Commission for Mental & Physical Disability; launched a flagship publishing program for ABA Publishing that released seven books; and created a branded series of PDF chapter and book downloads, called 10 ABA Essentials.
Like many independent presses, ABA Books profits from special sales: book sales at on-site meetings and conventions generated record results last year. Three such meetings generated more than $100,000 in revenue. The company utilizes targeted e-mail promotions, sometimes including sample chapters and other content, and works with nearly 100 state and local bar associations. It also sells ABA books to law firms, offering bulk discounts and custom covers.
In January 2007, ABA Books created a new monthly Book Briefs Podcast series, which has been tremendously popular. Such titles as The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law and Military Divorce have been bestsellers on iTunes and the ABA Web site. And, says director Kathy Welton, the podcasts have helped drive sales both on the ABA Web store (www.ababooks.org) and through Amazon. NBN distributes ABA's books to the trade; revenue from NBN was up 69% over 2006.
Lifestyle and body-mind-spirit specialist Red Wheel Weiser Conari posted 10% growth from 2006 to 2007, thanks in large part to a less-is-more publishing strategy. Beginning in 2006, it reduced the number of books it publishes—in 2005 it published 60 titles; in 2007, 48—which allowed it to “better focus on our sales and marketing efforts,” says president Michael Kerber. As a result, more books are selling upwards of 10,000 copies.
A recent hit is last October's We Carry Each Other by the founders of CarePages.com, a site where users can create their own free, personal Web sites during times of illness or injury. Conari's partnership with CarePages to promote the book online and through hospitals helped sell more than 25,000 copies. The house has also had success with This Is Not the Life I Ordered, which pubbed almost a year ago and has sold more than 20,000 copies and hit the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list.
Like Square One, Red Wheel Weiser Conari, which has 20 employees, depends heavily on nontraditional sales outlets. Kerber says, “The gift market and special sales continue to be an integral part of our growth strategy.” Specialty retailers and mail-order catalogues make up more than 15% of the publisher's sales. Last year, it saw its biggest growth with both Amazon.com and Borders posting significant increases over '05 and '06 in both frontlist and backlist titles. Several self-help, recovery and New Age backlist titles actually sold more copies in 2007 than they did in '06 or '07.
|Publisher||Sales Growth 2005 — 2007||Titles 2005 — 2007||Employees 2005 — 2007|
|Beaufort Books New York, N.Y.||5,135%||2||11||2||5|
|Tantor Media Old Saybrook, Conn.||628||74||242||15||50|
|Big Earth Publishing Neenah, Wis.||160||20||40||6||10|
|Ulysses Press Berkeley, Calif.||140||53||41||6||6|
|Square One Publishers Garden City, N.Y.||52||35||26||8||8|
|Quirk Books Philadelphia, Pa.||40||74||138||19||16|
|Chelsea Green White River Junction, Vt.||28||5||27||15||19|
|Overlook Press New York, N.Y.||26||71||83||16||18|
|American Bar Association Chicago, Ill.||18||83||120||18||22|
|Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari Newburyport, Mass.||8||60||48||21||20|