Small Publishers On a Growing Spree
Jim Milliot -- 11/20/00
PW's annual look at fast-growing companies finds lots of innovation, but e-book wariness still prevails
While some small publishers are willing to take calculated chances in the market, only a couple are actively engaged in e-publishing.Kirsty Sutton, v-p and associate publisher for Arcadia, notes that for the time being she would rather invest in technology "prepublication rather than postpublication," although she did tell PW that the company is "considering ways to make use of our photographic archive. We have some very unusual pictures."
Most of this year's small publisher standouts's e-publishing strategies are similar to that of Lyons Press whose publicity manager Don Myers explains that the company has been investigating the e-publishing and e-book world and expects to take some action in 2001. "It's the next thing for us," Myers says. Charlesbridge Publishing's associate publisher Mary Ann Sabia notes that while the children's book publisher has been "inundated" with proposals, the company has not committed to anything. One reason for Sabia's hesitation is her feeling that electronic formats will not work particularly well for children's picture books. Nonetheless, Sabia expects that Charlesbridge may test a few titles next year. "We won't be the last ones to get into e-books," Sabia says. Gibbs, Smith Publishers' v-p for sales and marketing, Christopher Robbins, has concerns similar to Sabia's regarding illustrated works. "The technology hasn't really caught up to four-color books," Robbins says. Gibbs, Smith is, however, investigating moving some of its elementary school textbooks into digital formats, and Robbins speculates that the publisher may do some experimenting next year. According to Paul Brookes, founder of Brookes Publishing Company, his firm has formed a committee to examine the e-publishing world, and while Brookes "d sn't want to be on the cutting edge," he says the company will likely test the waters next year.
A publisher that is aggressively exploring the e-book market is Seven Stories Press. Company president Dan Simon says that the company has signed an agreement with the new e-book conversion and distribution company GiantChair.com. Simon hopes to have as many as 100 Seven Stories titles in e-book format within the next 12 months.
The fastest-growing small publisher among this year's standouts is Gallopade International. Launched in 1979 with a single children's mystery book by company founder Carole Marsh, the company gradually added education-oriented titles over the years and about 10 years ago began creating books with its own desktop publishing program that it would print out and sell when it received an order. At present Gallopade has approximately 10,000 products listed on Amazon.com, many in the print-on-demand format. Michelle Yother, Gallopade president, tells PW the company's best-recognized materials are educational products about the 50 states. Gallopade has between 50 to 60 educational titles for each state, including activity books, sticker books, maps and CD-ROMs. While the publisher enjoyed steady sales growth to the educational market for nearly 20 years, its big leap in sales began in 1998 when it turned its attention to the retail market. "We evaluated where we were going and felt we needed to move more into the trade market," Yother says. Since that time, Gallopade has been developing such trade-oriented products as travel and pocket guides, and to date it has released books for 20 states. It plans to have both sets of guides available for all states within a few years. The company has also developed Web sites with information about 20 states and is working to create sites for the entire country. To help increase its exposure in the retail market, Gallopade will attend its first BookExpo America in 2001.
A combination of well-received literary titles plus two Gary Null books pushed sales at Seven Stories Press up a stunning 440% in 1999. The Null titles were largely responsible for two $1-million months--Get Healthy Now! in April and For Women Only!, co-authored by Barbara Seaman, in December. The house's fiction list was led by Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Talents,which sold about 20,000 copies in hardcover and won the 1999 Nebula Award. Peter Constantine's The Undiscovered Chekhov was released in late fall 1998 and won the National Translation Award of the American Literary Translation Association for 1999 and has sold 15,000 copies in hardcover and trade paperback editions. Other key literary titles included Assia Djebar's So Vast the Prison and Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm. Both titles sold more than 10,000 copies. In December 1999, Seven Stories released Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian,which has sold 50,000 copies to date. Paperback rights to Kevorkian, Lee Stringer's Grand Central Winter plus Like Shaking Hands with God by Vonnegut and Stringer were all sold to Washington Square Press, each for a mid-five-figure advance.
The Lyons Press appears on PW's fast-growing small publishers list for the third year in a row. With sales headed toward the $10-million mark for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001, Lyons may make it one more time next year before it crosses into the next publishing tier. Publicist Don Myers attributes Lyons's growth to an aggressive acquisition and sales approach. The company expanded both the number of titles it publishes as well as the number of books in its bestselling subjects--outdoor sports, history and adventure, food and wine, and horses. It promotes its titles through a variety of sales channels, including chain and independent booksellers, online retailers, book clubs, special sales and the international market. The company expects to publish 210 titles in the current fiscal year and has 240 books slated for fiscal 2002.
Avalon Publishing Group is the East Coast publishing arm of Publishers Group Inc. and is composed of Thunder's Mouth Press, Marlowe & Co. and Blue Moon Books. Each company focuses on particular niche markets: Thunder's Mouth's strength is in the nonfiction categories of popular culture, music, film, art and illustrated erotica. Marlowe concentrates on self-help, personal growth, health, alternative health and new age/spiritual growth areas, while Blue Moon sticks to mass market erotic fiction. Avalon's ability to target books for specific markets and its expanding backlist sales are responsible for the company's 93% growth rate between 1997 and 1999, publicist Matt Trokenheim says. Thunder's Mouth, for example, enjoyed a boost to sales in 1998 when it launched Adrenaline Books; the new outdoor adventure line now has 12 titles with more than 200,000 copies in print. Marlowe had a similar experience with its books exploring the "glucose revolution."
Change are headed Avalon's way in early 2001 when the company will be merged with PGI's Carrol & Graf unit. The new company will share support staff and space, but will retain separate imprints and editorial identities. "We want to create a better environment for all the imprints to work together," Trokenheim says. The combined entity is expected to have total revenues of about $15 million and publish close to 200 titles.
Brookes Publishing Co., which hit PW's first list in 1995, makes a return trip this year with sales up 36% over the last three years. Brookes expanded beyond its original focus on books on developmental disabilities in children to encompass such related fields as literacy and early childhood assessment. Among its bestsellers have been the supplemental language and reading curriculum for teachers Phonemic Awareness in Young Children by Marilyn Jager Adams et al., which has sold more than 120,000 copies to date, and Ages & Stages Questionnaires: A Parent-Completed, Child Monitoring System by Diane Bricker et al. Brookes's Web site has been an important tool in providing information about its titles, and the company is setting up companion sites to provide support to customers in the use of its textbooks, teacher resources and other products.
Beginning in 1997, Gibbs, Smith Publishers shifted its publishing strategy from publishing across a wide variety of subjects to concentrating on a few core categories. It added interior design and architecture segments to its western, holiday, children's and inspirational lines, says the company's Christopher Robbins. Accompanying the change in publishing philosophy, Gibbs, Smith also sought to increase its presence in the trade across the country, rather than limiting most of its marketing to the West. A higher sales and marketing budget, including a steep increase in co-op programs, resulted in higher inventory turns, a 40% increase in the number of titles going back for second and third printings, and increased backlist sales nationwide. Augmenting its trade division, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of its sales, the company's textbook division publishes state histories for fourth and seventh grades in 12 states. A third part of Gibbs, Smith's operations is its distribution business, which recently added two new clients, Sierra Books for Children and the Western Design Conference. To accommodate its growth, Gibbs, Smith is building a new 10,000-sq.-ft. warehouse on a site just north of Salt Lake City.
Volume 246 Issue 47 11/20/2000