For more than a decade, PW’s annual fast-growing independent press feature has included a number of New England–based publishers, with 30-year-old Chelsea Green Publishing leading the way. The White River Junction, Vt., press has had some of the strongest sales among houses with revenue between $2 million and $10 million in nine out of the past 10 years, with books like Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. Other publishers like Tantor Media in Old Saybrook, Conn., and Sellers Publishing in Portland, Maine, have each appeared on three consecutive lists before growing too big for the category, having sales exceed $10 million.
Fourteen-year-old Tantor, which has had double-digit revenue growth every year since 2009, according to CEO and co-owner Kevin Colebank, has been expanding and diversifying its offerings. Two years ago, the audio powerhouse added print and digital books. “In 2014, in addition to ramping up audio,” says Colebank, “we are stepping up [our] print and e-book publishing program to offer more titles.” That means 100 audio titles a month this year, an increase of 70% over 2013, with a target of 2,000 titles in 2015. “We want agents to think about us not just for audio,” adds v-p of sales John Molish, who confirms that the company is aiming to grow print and digital book revenue so that it equals that of audio within the next few years.
Not that Tantor has any plans to pull back from audio to reach that goal. It continues to find strength, with audiobooks like the tie-in to the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black; the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, The Republic of Thieves, an Audies Finalist; and Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston. But it would also like to publish more content across all three formats—print, e-book, and audio—as it did with Scott Thorson’s HBO tie-in, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, written with Alex Thorliefson.
Because of Tantor’s conscious decision to relocate from California to Connecticut in 2004, it has developed strong relationships with New England creatives. “We are dedicated to discovering and building local authors and narrators,” says partner Laura Colebank. She also notes that the company partners with local agents, like D4EO’s Bob Diforio, which represented New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton’s The Ones Who Didn’t Do It, for which Tantor recently acquired print, e-book, and audio rights.
Sales at Sellers have risen 38% over the past five years. In 2013, total sales revenue grew by 10% and net profit increased 55%, according to founder Ronnie Sellers, who attributes the company’s success to its employees. “I know that the Yankee values and work ethic that my coworkers live by have played a vital part,” he says.
Two years ago, Sellers’s RSVP card line got a boost with the hiring of the former creative director for Recycled Paper Greetings, John LeMoine, and his senior art director, Noelle Shannon. It’s now the fastest growing part of the company’s business, although calendars still represent the largest revenue stream, with an assist from the 2014 wall calendar tie-in to the AMC TV show The Walking Dead, which sold more than 193,000 copies. Calendar preorders for this year are up almost 50% over what they were last year at this time, notes Sellers.
“Our book program,” notes public relations and marketing manager Andy Sturtevant, “has become more of a complementary line to our calendar and card lines and focuses on gift books, often based on the licenses we have for our calendar line.” This fall the press will do nine gift books and two craft titles, plus two additions to its 500 Recipe Cookbook series, which has over 650,000 copies in print. Its Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty and related titles is now up to 375,000 copies.
Arguably a New York publisher, Other Press has a second location. Publisher Judith Gurewich has a house in Cambridge, Mass., which serves as a literary retreat for its authors. She personally edits each book and reviews those edits in Cambridge with the author, who reads the entire book aloud over the course of a weekend. Gurewich’s eye for international literature helped propel Other onto PW’s fast-growing press list for the first time in 2012, because of Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, which has sold more than 260,000 copies.
Although Gurewich continues to have success with books like the English-language edition of Linn Ullmann’s newly released The Cold Song, a best book of Norway, she has been working on strengthening U.S. offerings. “When I realized that as good as my books were, I wasn’t getting good submissions from American agents, I went to New York and started visiting two or three agents a day,” explains Gurewich. The visits paid off with five books purchased over the span of a couple weeks last month and a much more American-centric list for 2015, with a book on incarceration and a biography of Greta Garbo.
Rochester, Vt.-based Inner Traditions/Bear & Company, which marketing and sales director John Hays describes as the “university press of mind, body, and spirit,” may not have appeared on PW’s list for a while, but it has experienced five consecutive years of growth. Digital has helped, notes Hays, who credits it with providing a new revenue stream and new readers without diminishing print sales.
Part of Inner Traditions’ growth has come from its 1,400-title backlist developed over close to 40 years. Although it publishes 70 new books a year, its corporate philosophy is that no book should go out of print. “To us, [our books] contain perennial wisdom. But to the popular mind it comes and goes,” says Hays who points to the success of Rick Strassman’s DMT: The Spirit Molecule, one of the press’s current bestsellers, first published more than a decade ago. Inner Traditions will bring out Strassman’s latest work this fall, DMT and the Soul of Prophecy, and continues to sign books on shamanism.
Backlist and Oprah boosted sales for Red Wheel Weiser Conari, which is based in Newburyport, Mass., but has editorial offices in San Francisco. Ever since Oprah named Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening (2000) one of her favorite things in 2010, sales have not slowed. “It really is amazing,” says president and CEO Michael Kerber. “We acquired that book when we acquired Conari Press in 2002. It always was a good seller. Three and a half years later, between print and digital, we’re now selling 5,000 copies a month.” Recently, Oprah listed it as one of her seven “super-soulful” books. In addition to the Nepo, Anne Kagan’s The Afterlife of Billy Fingers is contributing to a good start to 2014, with more than 30,000 copies sold in digital and print since its publication last spring.
Since 2011, Red Wheel has reduced its list from a high of 78 titles to 50 in 2014, and it has begun reviving some of its backlist classics, like Thera Nyanaponika’s The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (1973) with a new foreword by Sylvia Boorstein. It recently repackaged Jonathan Robinson’s Short Cuts to Bliss with a new title, Find Happiness Now. The company is also revitalizing some books aimed at its special sales accounts such as Spencer Gifts and Urban Outfitters, with titles like The Ultimate Dictionary of Dream Language and Bad Birthdays.
No big changes are on the horizon at Charlesbridge Publishing in Watertown, Mass., which had a strong first quarter after moving to Random House for distribution this year. The press will release 30 children’s books and 12 titles under its Imagine Publishing imprint in 2014. “We’ve been lucky to be very stable, with strong ties to both the retail and the school/library markets. Our picture books have weathered the trend toward YA quite well, and our longer nonfiction and middle-grade novels seem to have hit the mark, too. As early adopters of e-book distribution and digital licensing, we’ve been ahead of the curve in that growth sector as well,” says marketing director Donna Spurlock. Among the books she’s especially excited about are a new series by Paul A. Reynolds and Peter H. Reynolds about a set of twins who use the S.T.E.A.M. philosophy of learning to solve everyday science conundrums, Sydney & Simon: Full Steam Ahead (Sept.).
Like many of its colleagues, Charlesbridge’s list is influenced by its New England location. “New England is a big part of our success as a publisher,” says executive v-p and associate publisher Mary Ann Sabia. “Twenty-five years ago, it was New England accounts that gave us our start. They have always supported our regional titles and embrace and champion our New England authors and illustrators.”