Growing a small press

Given the recent conversation sparked by GUD’s poll which is exploring the ratio of writers to readers of short fiction, I found this article in Wired News very interesting.

A small press, growing? How could it be?

Against market trends, Dzanc Books is a small publisher poised to succeed, hiring staff and expanding quickly. And that may be because it sprouted from a blog rather than a traditional printing press, and it is certainly web-savvy.

Naturally, with my involvement in Shimmer, I have a vested interest in the fate of small presses. In particular, I’m interested in some of the viral marketing Dzanc has been employing. A lot of the things in the article turned up in the panel on Small Press that I was on at WFC.

I’m of the opinion that one of the things that small presses need to do is to rediscover what they do that no other media can provide, in much the same way that painters had to discover what paint did that photography could not.

I believe that small presses need to really pay attention to the package that they deliver the fiction in. There are other ways to get a quick cheap fiction fix so the people to whom a printed book will appeal are those people who like a physical artifact. A savvy publisher, like Subterranean Press or Nightshade, will recognize that and cater to the people who want their fiction in a nice package. And look at the way Clarkesworld magazine or Fantasy magazine are leveraging the online presence to publicize their anthologies.

I suspect that printed pulp fiction will vanish because there are other ways of getting it. But I’m betting that as the internet allows publishers to reach niche markets more easily that small presses can ultimately thrive.

What do you think?

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4 Responses

  1. Amal

    “But I’m betting that as the internet allows publishers to reach niche markets more easily that small presses can ultimately thrive.”

    I agree. I readily confess to my consumer’s tendency to be seduced by a good cover. Even when I read things online, the design and presentation of a website have a huge effect on how much I enjoy the work and how likely I am to read anything else there. And the thing is, when I like something, I want to have it in an immediate, tactile way that’ll make it last. When I read a brilliant book in mass market, I want to find it in hardcover. If I discover a band I like via free mp3s, I’ll buy the CD. When I’ve enjoyed the run of a television series, I want it on DVD.

    I also think that what small presses have going for them is a grass roots feel; that you can get something as gorgeous as Realms or Shimmer while knowing at the same time that you’re helping build something up, that you have a really tangible feeling of contributing to the flourishing of art you enjoy.

  2. Tricia V

    I don’t know, as I currently have no time to be either a reader of or writer of fiction. I do, of course, have time to post on the internet. And I guess that’s the thing, I do some reading on the internet, but it’s mostly interactive stuff. So, yeah, I’m part of what’s killing print.

    I like your analogy to painting v. photography. Print will not die, it will evolve. Just, right now, it’s thrashing around a bit with the genetic experiments.

  3. Mr Radley

    My apologies, for I’ve not read the linked article, and if what follows is covered there, again I’m sorry for duplicating it. And please don’t take as negative criticism. Viral marketing techniques will surely help, no doubt about that. But what is also equally important to many is regular, informational updates to the web site.

    For instance, what exactly is going on at Shimmer these days? Well, I only know what’s going on because I e-mailed Beth and asked her (note: I am not subscribed to the mailing list, so there could be an update daily and I’d never know about it). Beth’s explanation was reasonable considering the circumstances, and I even felt bad and wished I could help, but afterwards I thought, maybe just a weekly post on the web site would ensure that readers and subscribers know the magazine is still alive? (There hasn’t a been a news post since May 4th, by the way, and the site has been updated once [possibly] since the Pirate issue came out.)

    Well, there’s also Beth’s blog, and your blog, Mary, to go to for occasional Shimmery info — and perhaps the rest of the staff has blogs, too. In my opinion, it would be nice to see the site updated with something, if not a weekly basis, then on a monthly basis. Or very worst case, on a quarterly basis to coincide with the quarterly releases of Shimmer. And if an issue is regrettably delayed, an update on the site would also be welcomed. Again, maybe all of that is told to mailing list subscribers and issue subscribers. Those of us who don’t subscribe, or who pick up a copy through other means, want to know, too.

    Well, them’s my thoughts and opinions. Maybe others don’t care so much. Perhaps it all it really takes is viral marketing.

  4. Mary Robinette Kowal

    These are all interesting points. Tricia, I’m curious. Would you mind linking to an example of a couple of the interactive things that you find particularly compelling?

    Mr. Radley: You are, of course, correct. A weekly update of Shimmer’s website would help us grow our audience. It might seem like it doesn’t take much time, but generating content that is relevant and interesting and frequent consumes more time than one might think.