More than 100 publishers turned out earlier this month for the Association of American Publishers' Small and Independent Publishers seminar, a daylong conference the AAP last held on the West Coast in 2001. The focus of the panels and discussions among the publishers in San Francisco was on ways to grow their businesses beyond the book trade and how to make the most effective use of the Internet.

Giving the keynote address, Avalon Publishing Group CEO Charlie Winton said, "Managing resources and understanding your capital needs might be the most challenging thing we deal with" as independent publishers. He also stressed the need to develop revenue streams beyond traditional bookselling channels and pointed to Workman, Chronicle and Ten Speed as good examples of indie publishers that successfully pursue nontraditional retail sales.

One thing working in favor of independent houses today is the return of publishers to the distribution business, a move that gives publishers a better chance to find the right distributor, Winton said. Even though Winton founded PGW, he considered other options before recently re-signing with PGW. "I always start with people," said Winton about how he sizes up distributors. "Do they reflect your business in the best way possible?" He said his second concern is financial stability. "There's nothing worse than having to collect money."

During the special markets panel, Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Red Wheel/Weiser & Conari, referred to Winton's comments, noting, "Special markets are becoming more and more important for all publishers." Sales beyond bookstores are so important for Red Wheel, Knight said, that when the company makes a book acquisition it uses "a rule of three. There's trade, mass merchants and special markets. If a book only works in one market, we don't publish it."

Knight said Red Wheel/Weiser & Conari has recently focused on getting its books to wholesalers that sell to gift stores and into specialty retail stores, including Anthropology, Discovery and Z Gallery. "They're really important accounts for us now," she said. "And they don't care if a book is backlist; it's new to them."

While small presses are usually told to specialize, Matt McKay, publisher of New Harbinger Press, observed that the most important issue for the psychology and self-help press is to not get "choked" by its own niche. "We're starting to do memoirs and gift and professional books," he said, as an example. During the Internet panel, O'Reilly's Allen Noren talked about a possible iTunes-style custom-publishing model, which got McKay thinking that New Harbinger needs to step up its e-publishing program. "Cutting books into pieces and custom-making books—in self-help that's what people want," he said.

Ten Speed recently reorganized its sales and marketing structure and remodeled its Web site. To help with its online marketing, the house hired an online specialist as part of its reorganization, said Lorena Jones, Ten Speed's publisher.

AAP vice-president Tina Jordan said that given the good attendance, the organization will most likely not wait another five years to host an SIP conference on the West Coast. "If publishers want it, we'll make that happen," she said.