After a year spent reducing the size of its list, closing its New York office, and stabilizing its staff, Berkeley-based Counterpoint LLC is "in a good place," according to president and publisher Charlie Winton, pointing to a spate of high profile reviews coverage and rapid growth of e-book sales. The house also has a number of big titles slated for fall and winter, including a new book by punk rock political activist Sander Hicks, former owner/founder of Soft Skull Press, now a Counterpoint imprint, who returns to Soft Skull to publish what will likely be a controversial book on the events surrounding 9/11.
In an interview, Winton discussed the closing of Counterpoint's New York office last fall ("two people 3,000 miles away was causing problems, just with communicating," he said) and coping with a down economy. "The recession was a challenge," he said, outlining the need to reduce the size of Counterpoint's staff and reduce the list by 10%. Counterpoint now has a "posse of 13" staffers, Winton said: seven full-time workers, three contract workers (including editor-at-large Dan Smetanka), and three freelance editorial workers.
Counterpoint, which includes the Soft Skull and Sierra Club imprints, will publish 65 original books this year in addition to 30 paperback reprints, mostly its own titles as well as some reprints from Simon & Schuster and Random House. The Sierra Club publishes two to three books a year (SC's Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, a $40 illustrated book, has sold nearly 23,000 copies and is on its third printing), while about 26 titles will be released under the Soft Skull imprint.
Winton pointed to important reviews in PW, the New York Times, and Library Journal of books by Linda Gray Sexton (Half in Love and Searching for Mercy Street), Amy Sackville (The Still Point), and Peter Hartshorn (I Have Seen the Future: The Life of Lincoln Steffens) and the impact of reviews on e-book sales at small presses. Winton said e-book sales were "18% of total net revenue for the first four months. We've made more money on e-books in 2011 than from Borders." Borders was not a big selling channel for Counterpoint, he added, while e-books, in particular e-book editions of literary fiction, have been "a real shot in the arm."
Winton said literary reviews have a "tangible effect" on e-book sales and that "e-book readers really respond to review coverage." He said selling 1,000 e-book copies of a novel is comparable to selling 4,000 print editions ("half of that is libraries"), explaining that he believes most of the 1,000 e-books (25% of Counterpoint's hypothetical literary book's total sales) are new readers and new revenue. And having acclaimed writers like Wendell Berry and Evan Canell on the Counterpoint backlist, he said, only helps drive e-book sales.
Fall titles include Hicks's likely to be controversial Slingshot to the Juggernaut: Total Resistance to the Death Machine Is Total Love for the Truth, coming in September, in which Hicks looks at the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Hicks is a member of the so-called "Truth" movement, the tangled web of conspiracy theorists surrounding 9/11, and he told PW—we spotted him selling out-of-print copies of an older book in the New York subway—that he believes "the U.S. government orchestrated the destruction of the towers" as an excuse to go to war in the Middle East. Along similar lines, Soft Skull is also publishing another title skeptical of official 9/11 accounts, 9/11: The Simple Facts: Why the Official Story Can't Be True by Richard Gage, from the American Institute of Architects, and Arthur Naiman, a writer. Winton acknowledged that Hicks's book will be "provocative" and said, "It's my job to make sure it's energetic as well as logical and factual."
In addition, look for new fiction from the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Apricot Jam and Other Stories, Sept.) and Thomas Steinbeck (The Silver Lotus: A Novel, Nov.) as well as Soft Skull's first graphic novel, Nature of the Beast by Adam Mans-bach (author of the bestselling parody kids' book, Go the F@#K to Sleep). And there's Every Night Is a Saturday Night: The Rock 'n' Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man Bobby Keys (Mar.) by Bobby Keys and Bill Ditenhafer (with an introduction by Keith Richards) coming in early 2012.
Winton said, "Overall, business is better," and Counterpoint has managed to "blend art and commerce and have some fun. And having fun is a big positive."