Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Can This Business Model Survive?

A few weeks ago, I read a favorable review of the book Push Comes to Shove, by Wesley Brown. It sounded like an interesting book, but more than that, the publishing company had an interesting business model. They give their books away.

Yes, they give their books away. Even the shipping and handling is free. In return, they ask that recipients make a donation to a charity or a person in need and that they pass the book along when they're done. Concord Free Press calls it a generosity-based publishing model.

How can they afford to publish books? They don't pay their writers or designers. They keep their expenses low. They accept donations. They do a limited print run. They sell T-shirts.

I like the idea of community that they're trying to build. I like the idea of requesting that people donate to charity instead of to the press; they say their first book has generated over $40,000 in donations. I like the idea of keeping books moving through society. The website notes that most books are read, shelved, and spend the rest of their lives gathering dust.

They only publish novels, but I started wondering if this model could work for poetry. Most poets aren't going to make gobs of money off of their books--if in fact, we make any. Would we rather have that money given to a charity? Is it important to be able to choose the charity? We could argue that the contest model of poetry publishing is supporting a charity, but the charity is that book publisher or a journal. I'd be happier if the money went to Oxfam or Lutheran World Relief, or some other organization that's devoted to helping the poorest of the poor.

It would be easier for me to do self-promotion and book sales if I knew that my efforts were helping the poorest of the poor. But maybe that's just me. Actually, I don't have trouble with self-promotion. I'll go out and rustle up poetry readings. But I hate being the one who sells my books. I hate that question that someone inevitably asks, "Do you think your book is really worth this price?" I always say, "The publisher set that price." But the question leaves me feeling queasy.

It's similar to how I feel about my students, who are now paying about $1500 a course. It's hard for me to imagine that I know anything that would be worth that price. And they assume that all that money goes to me. They look at our school's full-time teaching load of 5 classes a quarter, 4 quarters a year, and at all the students sitting around them. Even the ones who are math deficient can figure out that we'd be making gobs of money if that $1500 a course came directly into our pockets.

Except, of course, that money doesn't go into our pockets. Likewise, with poets and other authors. People assume that all that money that a book costs goes directly to us. But it doesn't. That's why this book publishing experiment of Concord Free Press intrigues me so much.


Audrey Gato, Editorial Assistant, Concord Free Press said...

Thanks for being intrigued, Kristin. So far, readers have definitely done their part. Our first two novels have raised more than $80k for great causes and people in need.

FYI, our next novel is The Next Queen of Heaven, by Gregory Maguire (Wicked), followed by IOU: New Writing on Money. It's a multi-genre collection, including poetry, short stories, and essays. Feel free to spread the word.

Dale said...

It sounds like a terrific enterprise, but I'm not sure it sounds like a business model :-)

Which is fine: why should it be?

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