After spending 37 years in the publishing industry, including the last five as chairman, CEO, and publisher of Counterpoint LLC, Charlie Winton turned over the publisher reins at the press to Rolph Blythe on May 1. Winton said the aim is to “bring some new energy to Counterpoint” and to give him time to do different things while still acquiring a select number of titles. Coming off a year in which sales rose 30%, Winton said Counterpoint is at a place where Blythe can take his time becoming familiar with the list and the company. “There’s no pressure for Rolph to come in and hit a home run,” Winton said. Including Winton and Blythe, there will be five people acquiring for the lists of Counterpoint and its imprint Soft Skull, including Jack Shoemaker, who remains editorial director (and who, along with business manager Kelli Adams, still reports to Winton). For his part, Blythe—whose career stops include a stint as marketing manager for Counterpoint, a bookseller at Hungry Mind in St. Paul, Minn., and an agent—said he was excited to have a chance to play a “considerable role in a great organization that has the room, and expectations, for growth.”
Winton created the current Counterpoint in 2007 after he sold Avalon Publishing to the Perseus Books Group, but kept the Shoemaker and Hoard imprint and bought Counterpoint from Perseus, as well as the New York indie Soft Skull. Winton began focusing on publishing after selling the distribution company he founded, Publishers Group West, to AMS; after AMS went bankrupt, most PGW clients ended up at Perseus. There have been some bumps along the publishing way, with Winton’s most difficult time coming when he closed Soft Skull’s New York office. After “dialing back” on the number of Soft Skull titles when the imprint was brought to Counterpoint’s Berkeley, Calif., offices, Soft Skull has been publishing about 24 new titles annually for the last few years, whereas Counterpoint releases about 42, plus 30 or so backlist books.
While the company had a number of print books that did well in 2012, one of the big factors in the sales gain was the success of the e-book edition of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Originally published by Counterpoint in 2004, the book sold 55,000 e-book copies last year, thanks to the release of the film of the same name. The success of Kevin in digital gave a jumpstart to Counterpoint’s e-book efforts; Winton expects digital—even without a title reaching the heights of Kevin—to account for between 25% to 30%of sales in 2013. Kevin continued to sell well into the first quarter of this year, and Winton has high hopes for the company’s first e-book original Killing King by Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, authors of The Awful Grace of God. The e-book, set for a June release, provides the most recent reporting by the two on the issue of why the FBI has dragged its feet in running a more comprehensive program to match unidentified fingerprints connected to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. “The digital edition of Killing King was the fastest and best way for us to advance the key information that has been developed over the last six to eight months,” Winton said, explaining the decision to release the $3.99 e-book.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the J.F.K. assassination this fall, Counterpoint will release The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination by Lamar Waldron, the author whose The Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination sold 50,000 copies. A trade paperback edition of Legacy will be released in October to tie in to the Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro movie. Poet Wendell Berry has been a longtime mainstay of the Counterpoint list; his latest collection, This Day: New and Collected Sabbath Poems, 1979–2012, is set for a fall release. Although there are more than 600,000 copies of Berry’s books in print, Winton believes the new title “will really raise his profile.”
As Winton talks about the new titles and other projects in the pipeline, it’s hard to believe he is really stepping back from the press—but as evidence that he’s giving Blythe and others room to grow, Winton noted that while Blythe will be at BookExpo America this year, he will be on vacation.