Why do we publish some of our books in hardback only?

As a small, independent publisher we are fortunate that most of our publishing decisions can come from the heart (‘do I like this book?’ ‘is it important?’ ‘is it new?’) rather than the head (‘will it make money for our shareholders?’ ‘will it help me hit targets?’). However one of the downsides of being such a small operation is that our margins for error are not huge, and when things go wrong, or the market takes a downturn, we don’t have a large university or a multinational conglomerate to cushion us: we stand or fall by the quality of the books we’ve published recently and the number of people prepared to buy them.

Laura, Anna and Tommi at AAAL selling all our books, both paperbacks AND hardbacks, at the same discount price

Until relatively recently we were unusual in publishing virtually all of our books in both paperback and hardback, with the paperbacks appearing at the same time as the hardbacks. If money were no object this is undoubtedly how we would choose to publish our books: making quality research widely available is why we do what we do, and publishing any other way is a wrench for us. I hate telling authors that they aren’t getting a paperback of their books, and none of us like to stand behind a conference table and hear how students can’t afford to buy our books. There’s little joy in publishing if your audience is small and getting smaller.

But about 18 months ago we were hit by the perfect storm of the continuing effects of the financial crisis on both library and individual budgets, increasing costs, and library ebook deals which meant that we were often receiving a tiny percentage of the income we did 10 years ago for providing the same product. In effect, large numbers of our books were no longer selling enough to cover our costs in producing them, let alone make us a profit. We were faced with a decision: do we throw our hands up, accept that there is no longer a role for independent academic publishers, and go and do something else? Or do we make changes to ensure that most of the books we publish at least pay their own way? And it’s sad but true that it’s easier for us to cover our costs on a book where we sell 80 hardback copies than where we sell 30 hardbacks and 100 paperbacks.

We recognise that this means we are producing books that are unaffordable for some people who might want to buy them – what do we do to try and make our books as affordable as we can?

  • We still publish over half our titles in paperback and hardback simultaneously.
  • We offer many and varied discounts and promotions. Anyone who has ever written for us is entitled to a permanent 50% discount on everything we publish.
  • When only a hardback is available, we price the ebook as if there were a paperback – not all publishers do this.
  • We offer substantial discounts at conferences, bigger than those of most of our competitors.
  • We review all of our books 6 months after publication and if sales of either the hardback or the ebook suggest that there might be a bigger market than we anticipated, we produce a paperback. We also take into account feedback from readers, librarians and our sales reps: if enough people are asking for a paperback, we produce one.
  • We keep prices down on our most popular books, rather than charging as much as we could for books that readers have to buy for courses or to keep their own work up-to-date.
Some recent titles originally published in hardback only that we’ve decided to bring out in paperback

As an author, you can give your book the best possible chance of being published in paperback by keeping the widest possible (realistic!) audience in mind when writing – might your research be of interest to teachers, policy-makers, parents? Are you writing to make your research accessible to scholars from other disciplines? Are you linking your research to wider debates so it will be of interest to readers not specifically working in your particular research context? When the book is written, let us know if there are specific courses that might use your book. And after the book is published, pass on feedback to us – if people are asking you for a paperback, tell them to ask us.

We’re always very happy to discuss any ideas our authors and customers might have for making our books more affordably or widely available. Please get in touch with me if you have any thoughts! Every decision to publish a book in hardback only is accompanied by a good deal of soul-searching in the CVP/MM office, but I do believe that if we are to continue to publish important books, to innovate and lead the field, and to be a small force for good in the world, we do sometimes have to take hard decisions.

Anna

If you have any thoughts about this blog post, please do get in touch with us at info@channelviewpublications.com.

Happy Independence Day: The Value of Independent Publishing

Channel View Publications/Multilingual Matters is proud to be an independent publisher. But what exactly is independent publishing and why is it so important?

There are many different definitions of an independent publisher, and starting with the definition offered by the Independent Publishers Guild in the UK, members range from the author who publishes his or her own work, through to companies as sizeable as Bloomsbury or Sage, or indeed Cambridge University Press. The corporate and ownership structures of these entities could not be more different. Some have charitable status, others are floated on the stock exchange, and others are owned entirely by the proprietor.

Tommi at work
Tommi at work

When we publish a book, we put our name to it, and we commit a not insignificant investment of time and money into a book. So whoever controls the purse strings, and the physical resources of the publishing company has a good deal of say over what does and does not get published. It is my belief that a truly independent publisher is a publisher where the people actively involved in making the publishing decisions also have control over the physical resources of the company, and so if they decide to publish a book, there is no outside committee or owner, or shareholder body that can stop the publication.

Why is this so important?

Independent publishing has tended to be at the vanguard of both academic and literary publishing. We publish books for reasons that are not necessarily profit driven, and most independent publishers will have stories of the reckless endeavours they have embarked upon with nothing but a sincere belief that the publication should see the light of day. Often these books go on to be bestsellers, but equally there are those that were valiant failures in a commercial sense, but might have made a significant change in the field. Where independents first tread, the corporates often follow.

In fiction publishing you only need to look at the Stieg Larsson books that were published in translation by an independent British publisher and publicised by leaving copies in taxis and buses around London to see the impact that an independent publisher with a belief in their list can have. This was followed by a boom of interest in Nordic Crime fiction in translation, and the corporate publishers were quick to follow suit. In the academic world it is often the independent publishers who will publish in new and untested fields, and only once the ground is proven do the corporate and large university presses move into these areas. We are able to publish in these areas precisely because we are independent, and if we believe in something then there is nobody to tell us not to do it. None of this is to deny the importance of larger, less flexible publishers, they are able to commit resources into projects of scale like handbooks and encyclopaedias that we certainly would be hard pressed to take on, but without the independent publisher to break the ground in the first place with a risky but interesting monograph, or an edited volume of global scope with chapters by all the people who are pushing the envelope on a certain issue, it is unlikely that those other projects would ever take off. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

The Channel View team
The Channel View team

Similarly, the independent publisher who publishes out of a sense of belief in an area will most likely still be around long after the corporate publishers have moved on to whatever the latest fashion is, and when politically and economically the tide turns against certain fields of study, we will often stick by them because we believe in them.

A major advantage of working with a smaller independent publisher, whether you are coming into contact with us as a customer or as an author, is the stability and transparency of any contact you have with us. It is highly likely that you will have dealt with the same people last time you contacted us, and we will have a detailed knowledge of your past projects, or if there were any special handling requirements for your orders, we will probably know them already.

We do not change staff every 6 months, and we don’t have a revolving door internship policy. When we take on interns, it is always with the hope that they might stay with us long term.

Finally, with most small independents, you are never more than a phone call away from the senior management. Problems do occur in all businesses, and whilst we do our very best to make sure that they are as few and far between as possible, anytime you do need to talk to us,  all you need do is pick up the phone and ask to be put through. You will always find someone with the authority to make a decision, and we will almost always be very happy to talk to you, so long as you don’t call on the day that we are all rushing around getting ready to leave for the Frankfurt Book Fair!

Tommi

Commissioning and List Management Course

Last week I spent 4 days staying at a lovely hotel in Oxfordshire.  Sadly, I didn’t get to use any of the wonderful facilities or even spend a reasonable number of hours in my bed (which was very comfy!) as I was on a very intensive course on commissioning and list management.  The course was run by the Publishing Training Centre for those of us who are new to the editorial side of publishing and are interested in developing lists.

We had talks on topics which included market research, strategic list management, working with authors, finance, digital strategy, marketing, contracts and the law. It really was a complete overview of all aspects of the work and I came away buzzing with ideas and things to discuss with everyone back at the office.

The delegates were from big publishers which included OUP, Palgrave and Routledge, as well as the Commonwealth Secretariat (which has a not-for-profit publishing branch) and me, the only representative from an independent publisher. We were able to compare how some aspects of publishing are the same, whatever publisher you work for, and how some things can be quite different. I came away from the course feeling quite glad that we’re an independent publisher and can make decisions without having to approach various boards and meet targets!

Apart from the talks we also had a case study to work on in groups and present to the panel at the end of the course. My team looked at bringing a fading list of books into the 21st century by thinking about all the exciting digital products we could develop. Sadly, reality and finances may be a barrier for most of our ideas, but it was good to be thinking creatively about what publishing might be like in the next decade or so.

Laura