The Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference (AWP) took place from February 3-6 in Washington D.C. AWP is the annual meetup of the advocacy organizations for America's creative writing degree programs, but, especially in the last decade, the conference, with its massive book fair, has become the most important gathering for independent and university publishers, a kind of small press BEA, though it's as much a consumer event as one for the trade.
This year, unsurprisingly, digital was on everybody's mind. BookMobile, the distributor, production house, and e-book packager that services many small presses, such as Graywolf, was on hand at the conference to debut its new app: Ampersand, an iOS e-reading platform and marketplace specifically designed for poetry (the break and butter of many small presses), but which may end up becoming an important small press marketplace in general. BookMobile's president, Don Leeper, told PW that the app is set to launch this summer, and that he was at the conference to show a prototype to publishers and drum up interest, with the expectation of coming to the table with business terms in the coming months.
Ampersand is essentially a way of displaying PDFs as e-books, wrapped in BookMobile's software and sold through BookMobile's marketplace. The app solves one of poetry publishers' problems with going digital: how to make sure poetry's line breaks display correctly no matter the font size or device. But, because Ampersand only displays PDFs, not EPub e-books, the text is not reflowable.
Still, several publishers, including Coffee House Press, Graywolf and Copper Canyon, expressed enthusiasm for the app. When figuring out its business terms, BookMobile will have to contend, of course, with Apple, which is now enforcing its rule that content sellers offer consumers the option of purchasing through Apple's in-app purchase platform, meaning Apple gets a 30% cut, which Bookmobile will have to figure into the deal in one way or another.
In other digital news, Richard Nash's upstart publishing venture Cursor was also there in the form of a booth, complete with a laptop pointing to the Cursor site and a print galley for Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka, the first book coming from the Cursor imprint Red Lemonade.
AWP this year was also a testament to the strength of the print book--the massive book fair, spread over four exhibition halls, was packed with booths from hundreds of publishers, from bigger indies like Norton and New Directions, to very small operations like Ugly Duckling Presse, with houses like Milkweed filling in the mid-range. A steady stream of conference attendees filed by all these booths for four days, buying books, meeting authors, and talking to editors.
Click here to read all of PWxyz's live coverage from the conference.