Now that I have this smart new online store, I should talk a bit about what we have for sale. We have a whole lot of issues of Salon Futura and Clarkesworld — I’ll talk more about them tomorrow. I’m also already in discussions with a couple of other small presses about stocking their books. But right now the only book we have on offer is Dark Spires. That’s actually a very important test case. Here’s why.
A week or two back I got into a frank exchange of views with Lavie Tidhar on Twitter. Lavie had tried to say something that, in 140 characters, lost all nuance and came out insulting. We sorted that, but his basic point was that US small presses appeared to him to be much more commercially focused than British ones. As I explained to him, this is nothing much to do with intent, and even less to do with national temperament, but everything to do with economics.
If you set up am SF&F small press in the UK (or Australia, as I’m sure Alisa Krasnostein will testify) your chances of paying SFWA professional rates to your authors are not good. You are unlikely to be able to get into shops (which in the UK means into Waterstones), and shipping to the rest of the world is horribly expensive unless you are a big operation like The Book Depository, so your market is really small. Most of your sales will come at conventions, and sales will be numbered in hundreds rather than thousands. As you are not getting economies of scale on the printing, you’d need to charge far more than the market will bear in order to pay your writers well. PS Publishing manage this by making really high quality books, but I don’t have the skills for that. I can, however, make ebooks.
With electronic publishing the whole game changes. I don’t have to pay the printer, or for shipping. And I can sell to anyone in the world. The first ebook sale for Dark Spires was to someone in Australia! That would never have happened with just a print edition.
So suddenly I have the prospect of a great many more sales. And with that I have the potential to pay my writers substantial royalties. Being able to do that would make me very happy. And for my part, ebook sales will help subsidize Salon Futura, which will also make me happy.
Of course there is still the issue of persuading people to buy the book. I’m not going to wax lyrical about its chances in awards, because it is not that sort of book. Dark Spires was not created to compete with the blockbuster anthologies produced by the likes of Ellen Datlow or Jonathan Strahan. It is not chock full of star names. Rather it was created with the specific intent of showcasing writers from a particular part of the UK. If you want an analogy, it is rather like doing a book using only writers from the Sacramento area and the rest of California north of the Bay Area (complete with a rather rural focus). So you get one or two big names (of whom, for us, Liz Williams is probably the biggest), and a whole bunch of people whose work you may never have read before. Also, because the stories are all locally based, you get some unusual subject matter.
Persuading readers to take a chance on new writers is not always easy, but the ebook is priced at £2.99, which is less than a pint of beer. Hopefully that will encourage people to give it a try. I do, after all, have the whole international SF community to sell to, and if only a small fraction of them buy the book I will still be able to pay the writers a lot more than I could with just a print edition.
In case any of you are concerned about ebooks, I’ll repeat what I said in comments yesterday. There is no DRM on my books. I can’t magically take them back or change them remotely. You can lend them to your friends. And you don’t need an ebook reader to view them. There are plenty of free software packages that will allow you to read them on your PC. See here for more details.
Hopefully a few more of you will buy the book and enjoy it. Then, once I have proved I can pay well, I can start approaching other writers with confidence.