After a couple of challenging years in 2003 and 2004, Maine-based Down East Books began to see signs of a recovery last year, said owner Neale Sweet. He is hoping that a move to revamp the company's publishing program to reach beyond its Maine roots—as well as switching from self-distribution to National Book Network for sales outside the state and for fulfillment—will give the company another boost this year. Although Down East titles won't appear in the NBN catalogue until the fall season, NBN will begin shipping its books as early as this month.
"We here at Down East have long believed that the mystique of Maine is more than a regional concept and that it resonates around the country as a state of mind," said Sweet, referring to the decision to seek a greater national presence. The changes were also necessitated by a continued decline in Maine tourism dating back to September 11, coupled with little opportunity for adding significantly to the subscriber base of 100,000 for sister company Down East magazine.
Down East will reduce the number of books it publishes by a third, from 30 books last year to 20 in 2006. Currently the company has an active backlist of 175 titles, including J. Harriman's longtime bestselling children's book, LeRoy the Lobster and Crabby the Crab, which has sold 50,000 copies since it was first published in the 1960s.
"We're not abandoning books on Maine," said Sweet, who anticipates strong sales for the June release Maine: A Portrait with photos by Lucien Niemeyer. "But we'll probably be shifting the emphasis of our books a little bit." One possibility the company is exploring involves a greater collaboration with the magazine, including seeking out branding opportunities.
In addition to pruning its book output, Down East will dramatically reduce the number of nonbook items it stocks for its holiday and spring consumer catalogues. The balance will shift from more than 50% gift items to 90% books with just a dozen or so gifts.