Via Tranversalinflections and Loewak I heard about the possible decline and fall of Salt Publishing, the poetry, short story and literary criticism publisher set up by Australian poet John Kinsella (who also launched Salt Magazine) in the 90’s. The financial crisis hit them hard, and they were on the edge off going overboard. In a final swan song however, Salt is fiercely fighting off its nearing end. They cried out help. And help came to the rescue. Not the kind of help you get from the bank or from raising book prices or from necessary cutbacks… No, help came from the community. Salt engaged the public, their customers – possibly the best thing an independent publisher can do in our present-day online network culture. Booktwo.org wrote about their efforts and gave them little chance, saying that ‘sadly, appeals for philanthropy are not a sustainable model’. I dare to differ. As I wrote about before whilst discussing Open Access business models, the Maecenas model, in which the community actively supports an artist (or a publisher in this example), might in some cases turn out to be quite profitable and in the case of Salt publishers perhaps even life-saving!
So what happened? Salt used the combination of a community-cry-out-viral-tactic (nicely summed up in this Guardian blog post), using all kinds of social media sites to get attention, with the all-time favorite business technique of the discount (a one-time, one-month 33% discount on all titles), to gather enough money.
Their viral centered on a great idea (please buy just one book, right now) and a great WWF style video which you can see underneath.
“Support the good work here. Don’t let Salt fall. If the recession is going to take things down, let it be motor manufacturers, let it be bad banks, let it be chains of fast food restaurants. We can lose a few of them, but we don’t have enough small independent and daring publishers like Salt. I think I can be a little more forthright than Chris and say ‘Just six books’. Buy dozens why don’t you? It’s a great list. And apparently you will help the economy in many subtle ways too complicated for studious folk like us.”
And then it happened, in one week more than a 1000 orders poured in from all over the world. Salt is not out of the red figures yet, but it is getting there!
My advice (and keeping in the spirit of the Maecenas model): add a ‘please donate money’ (any money you can spare!) button to the site (you never know…) accompanied by something like the title heading this post. To survive future drawbacks and to keep on profiting from the newly established community and client base, I would try experimenting with Open Access business models. Although not yet very common outside non-fiction (notwithstanding that SF, Paulo Coelho and Cory Doctorow seem to be doing fine), poetry seems to be an excellent genre to apply new experimental business models to. Your books will be better findable, the free online (or any form of hybrid model) can work as a marketing tool, it can gather enthusiasm, buzz, and, again, community. And since a lot of poetry lovers are, I would say, the kind of consumers of culture and literature that still feel a deep commitment to ‘the book’, to reading and to possessing the print book (of course not all of them, just think about all the forms of digital web-based poetry that no longer needs any kind of paper carrier), your print sales probably won’t go down and perhaps will even go up. Special editions, collectors items…, my mouth is already watering, spread the word. And, come on, did you ever see people printing out a poem or collating their own poetry readers? Could you imagine shelves with black-and-white print outs of poetry books, like those burned CD’s we all have lying around? Nah, I think that, at least for the near future, just like vinyl, a nice edition of a quality poetry collection can still be a money-maker.
But first, let’s go and help out Salt by buying that one book. Since I am both greedy and zealous, I’ll use that discount and will go for two: McKenzie Wark’s Dispositions (author of GAM3R 7H3ORY) and Louis Armand’s The Garden.
To end with the words of Chris Hamilton-Emery, director of Salt Publishing from The Bookseller:
“What I’ve learnt this week is that a small family business with a super team and a deep passion for books can use the web to unite very disparate communities. Tell the truth and you can build a global brand that personally unites people and, through literature, celebrates what it is to be human.”