A decade after Eric Obenauf and Eliza Jane Wood launched Two Dollar Radio in a Columbus, Ohio, suburb, Obenauf told PW the company is finally generating enough revenue that he was able to quit his part-time bartender gig earlier this summer. There is certainly enough to keep the husband-and-wife team busy this year, particularly as they prepare to celebrate both the small press’s 10th anniversary and the July 21 premiere at a Columbus theater of its first feature-length film, a 71-minute movie entitled I’m Not Patrick. The movie, released by the Two Dollar Radio Moving Pictures division, was written and directed by Obenauf and will be available for rent or purchase in August. The press also is releasing in September Glacier, a “cinematic novel” by Jeff Wood, who plays the lead role in I’m Not Patrick; the novel started out as a screenplay.
Obenauf, Two Dollar Radio’s editorial director, said retail sales have gone up 24% in the past 12 months, and web sales jumped 250% since Two Dollar Radio launched its new website last year. Besides Obenauf and Wood, the company has two part-time employees and two interns. It is distributed to the trade by Consortium.
“We’ve hit our stride,” said Obenauf, who holds a B.A. in film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “It took us a while to figure out what we are capable of, but we’ve got a lot of different stuff going on.” Two Dollar Radio releases no more than five or six books each year, all literary fiction, up from a single title in 2005, when its debut list featured Obenauf’s own novel, Can You Hear Me Screaming? There are currently 40 Two Dollar Radio titles in print, including Jay Neugeboren’s 1940 (2008), which was longlisted for the 2009 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
More recently, The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga, one of the press’s three spring 2016 releases, garnered international accolades; Obenauf hopes this will have an impact on its reception stateside. Ntshanga’s debut novel was published in South Africa by Penguin Random House’s Umuzi imprint in 2014, and was named a finalist for the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing. Ntshanga also won the PEN International New Voices Award in 2013.
“We want to keep the quality really high and don’t want to saturate the market,” Obenauf said, noting that initial print runs typically are between 2,500 and 5,000 copies, and sales for 2015 frontlist thus far have averaged around 3,000 copies. The Orange Eats Creeps (2010), Grace Krilanovich’s debut novel and the press’s bestseller, has sold approximately 9,000 copies. “I had no idea it would do so well,” Obenauf said, recalling that he didn’t think the press would break even on The Orange Eats Creeps, experimental fiction that was named by NPR in 2010 as one of the best books of the year. That year Krilanovich was also named a National Book Foundation “Five Under 35” honoree.
While Two Dollar Radio’s journal, Frequencies, folded after only four issues because Obenauf said he and Wood “ran out of steam” publishing nonfiction articles, the press already has a second film in production that it plans on releasing in 2016. Obenauf and Wood are also scouting locations to open a bricks-and-mortar business: a bookstore specializing in books from indie presses, with a bar and a coffee shop. While Obenauf said that the neighborhood in Columbus has been selected, he and Wood “don’t want to rush into it” and are searching for a location that exactly meets their needs in terms of space and cost.
Two Dollar Radio, Obenauf admitted, is “all over the place,” with books, films, and, now, the proposed storefront. But, he added, “It excites me. I’m proud we’ve stayed true to ourselves.”