Shambhala Publications and Snow Lion have occupied the same corner of the publishing industry for years. As small publishers focused on spiritual books, they’ve shared customers, challenges, and, most important, a mission. Because of this, Shambhala’s acquisition in May of Snow Lion, which specializes in Tibetan Buddhist books, was a natural step for both companies. Nikko Odiseos, president of Shambhala, spoke with PW about the acquisition.
What was the strategy behind the acquisition of Snow Lion?
The acquisition was really just the maturation of a relationship that was organically becoming closer and closer as we collaborated on things like piracy, permissions, and shared authors. The desire to define a succession strategy for Snow Lion really marked the tipping point where the discussion went from “if” to “how.” Snow Lion’s books aren't the kind of books that should end up with a big publisher where it's all about the numbers. It's a mission and a labor of love. Jeff Cox, [Snow Lion president] and Sidney Piburn [Snow Lion co-founder], saw a similar philosophy on our side.
What is the current state of publishing books on Buddhism?
I think it's an interesting mix. There’s still a lot of translating the traditional teachings for an English-speaking audience. Others try to bridge the gap between the different cultures but also stay true to these traditions. Some writers integrate Buddhist teachings with psychology and other things. The bestselling authors from Shambhala and Snow Lion are people who were born and raised in the West but at the same time can be absolutely true to the traditions and present them to a Western audience in a way that is accessible.
Will the acquisition change the types of books you publish?
We are keeping the Snow Lion publishing program more or less intact. We've kept their editors. We're going to continue producing the same amount of Tibetan Buddhist titles that we had cumulatively in the past--there's no slowing down.
What changes will occur?
Snow Lion’s Ithaca operations have closed down. The principals have retired. They had a wholesale business as well, which we're not continuing with. For a long time, Shambhala has tried to develop an audience through a mail order catalogue, our Web site, social media, and a pretty sophisticated e-mail outreach program. Snow Lion allows us to do this even more because now we are the Tibetan Buddhist publisher. We have a direct relationship with our audience, so we're able to reach those people as shelf space disappears and discoverability becomes more of a challenge.
Some of the Shambhala staff are practicing Buddhists. Did that influence the way you approached this decision?
I think so. In terms of the Buddhist books one thing we're really concerned about is being true to tradition. We don't dumb things down. While we do interpretations and modern presentations, we are very true to all the traditions. We're not New-Agey. Snow Lion had a very loyal following and Shambhala does as well. We're very happy that we're able to continue their mission and their books. I think it will blossom—not just continue, but expand.