Many publishers are still trying to understand what impact the rapid growth of digital technology will have on the industry and their businesses. Publishers of titles aimed at the African-American market are no different, and the digital strategies—from making e-books readable on every kind of device to using online marketing and social media—are very much the same. PW talked with a variety of publishers—from small independents to the large New York trade book houses—about how they are using digital publishing and the new technologies to reach readers in the African-American book market.
[For a listing of current and forthcoming African-American titles for adults and for children click here]
The promise of digital publishing prompted Karen Hunter—publisher of the Simon & Schuster imprint Karen Hunter Publishing, a line of mostly nonfiction works aimed at the African-American market—to align with a new and separate digital publishing venture. She's heading a digital publishing house that will launch in January and is owned by Mgmt one, a business advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati. First One Digital Publishing plans to publish 10 e-books and will determine whether to publish print editions on a case-by-case basis.
Hunter believes that traditional publishing has been reactive, scrambling to respond to the Sony reader and later the Amazon Kindle. "The digital era wasn't ushered in by publishing, but by a device," Hunter says, emphasizing that it should be publishers not devices that drive the market. Mgmt one chairman Jimmy Gould said First One Digital Publishing represents a broad-based digital publishing effort that will include digital promotional campaigns, enhanced digital storytelling with embedded video and photos, as well as a literacy campaign and e-commerce partnership with online retailer Market-America.com.
While First One is an African-American majority-owned firm, Hunter said that wasn't by design. The First One list is not focused exclusively on African-American–oriented titles, and Hunter emphasized that First One will publish both nonfiction and fiction in a range of categories including spiritual, inspiration, fantasy, and mystery. The first release is a nonfiction title, Good Cop, Bad Money by Glen Morisano, a retired NYPD inspector who made several high-profile busts. In February, First One will republish the classic autobiography, Nigger, by black comedian, political activist, and 1968 write-in presidential candidate Dick Gregory; originally published in 1963, the new edition will have a new introduction. First One's staff of about 20 are located in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati, and Houston, and Hunter says the staff includes entertainment veterans from the likes of MTV. First One's e-books will be available for all digital devices and offered at an average of $9.99; the publisher says it will offer "triple the royalty of the industry standard."
First One plans to launch a digital app that will allow reading clubs and reader groups to join its First One Book Club. The app will provide sneak peeks at upcoming titles; announce book events and signings in users' area; invite readers to visit online to share book reviews, chat with authors, and connect with other readers; and offer promotions including monthly giveaways of e-readers. The publisher also plans to place video book trailers in malls and movie theaters.
"Our publishing house and business model will focus on creating partnerships with people who tell great stories," Hunters says, "people who are great stories, and put the power back in the hands of those who produce the content—the writers."
Indie Digital Publishing
Akashic Books, based in Brooklyn, has long featured African-American, African, and Caribbean authors as well as titles on black music; its authors include such novelists as Elizabeth Nunez, Amiri Baraka, Melvin Van Peebles, and Colin Channer. Publisher Johnny Temple said he was pleasantly surprised by the e-book sales of the novel Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden, published simultaneously in trade paperback and in e-book format in May 2010. The print novel is now at the end of its second printing and has become the top-selling e-book in Akashic's entire catalogue. Temple said he thinks reading clubs played a big role in spurring the e-book's success. "[McFadden] initiated several book club and blog contests," he says. "It suggests that the clubs are reading e-books," a possibility he hadn't seriously considered previously.
Glorious also received a positive New York Times review, a trend that Temple was able to connect to other e-books by black authors that sell well for the house, including Jesus Boy by Preston L. Allen and John Crow's Devil by Marlon James. James's book was originally released as a hardcover in 2005. Akashic hadn't yet released the book as a paperback, so when the house was out of stock of the hardcover, the e-book provided a bridge, the only edition available until the paperback was printed.