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Guest Post: Candlemark & Gleam’s Kate Sullivan Talks About Payment and Distribution Models

Candlemark & Gleam‘s Kate Sullivan is our guest today, and she’s going to talk about the different distribution and payment models used by small and indie publishers today.

Her press focuses on fantastika, which includes not only fantasy, but science fiction and punk. Check out the new and old ideas the industry is considering or using.

Greetings from the wild and wooly realm of small-press indie publishing! I’m Kate, mastermind behind Candlemark & Gleam, a niche press specializing in fantastika – science fiction, fantasy, *punk, and whatever else you can throw at us – and I’ll be your guide on this little trip into the bleeding edge of publishing adventures.

The digital revolution, even as it has scared the pants off the Big Six publishers, has had a great effect on the publishing world as a whole:  It’s easier than ever to produce books and distribute them, and that means that there’s been a small press revolution in the last couple of years. And small presses, while lacking much of the marketing muscle of the big boys, have a number of distinct advantages. Chief among these is nimbleness:  Small presses have less overhead and are less bogged down in the status quo, so we’re able to experiment with things that the larger publishers might not be able to, even if they want to.

Many small publishers, including Candlemark & Gleam, are trying out different distribution and payment models, many of which are based on old ideas. Personally, I think this is one of the most exciting developments in publishing today – that we’re looking back at the golden age of publishing (which I consider to be the Victorian era), when there were scads of very active publishers on the scene, all competing in an extremely book-hungry marketplace.

What are some of these old ideas? Glad you asked! Let’s take a look at a couple:

1. Cheap books. Prior to the mid-1800s, even though mechanical printing had been around for quite some time (thank you, Johann Gutenberg), books were still the province of the elite. They were expensive to produce, usually hand-bound to order, and had to be painstakingly slit and separated with book knives. All that changed with the paperback, the penny dreadful, and the pulp novel. From the 1830s through the 1950s, every average Joe was able to afford to delve into fantastical exploits and tales of derring-do, weird happenings, or horrible crime, depending on his (or her) tastes. From a shilling per book (twelve pennies, a goodly amount for a working-class stiff), prices dropped to, say, a single penny. This made books-as-mass-entertainment possible, and made our current publishing environment viable.

Today, small publishers are experimenting with price points in a similar way. While there’s not a whole lot we can do to drop the price of a paperback, we CAN play around with seeing what the “sweet spot” is for eBooks. Many self-publishers are putting out Kindle editions for 99 cents or $2.99, figuring that they’ll make up on volume what they lose in percentage. Small presses, given that we tend to have to support ourselves as well as the author, often charge more – from $4.99 to $9.99 seems to be the average for a small press eBook. At Candlemark & Gleam, we’re playing around with dropping our prices to see if we make up revenue on volume. It’s important, though, to remember the authors – is 99 cents really a fair price for a novel that someone’s poured perhaps years into creating? I think the sweet spot for a well-formatted, well-edited, finely crafted digital novel is going to end up being somewhere around $3 to $5 – cheap enough for the average Joe to grab without thinking twice, but still enough to support the author.

2. Serials. This is a fascinating concept – splitting up a novel into chapters or installments, and asking the reader to buy each. Charles Dickens wrote serial novels, and serial novels were common in the 1930s pulp magazines. They died out as fiction magazines went the way of the dodo, but the time to revive them is now. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently had an article about the resurgence of serials, noting that luminaries like Stephen King have tried it, and pointing out the Huffington Post’s experiment. At Candlemark & Gleam, we’re about to release our first serial, Hickey of the Beast, a YA fantasy novel in 30 parts. We’ll be pairing that serial experiment with some more of that “playing with prices” thing – the first two chapters will be free to try, while you’ll then have the option to buy each chapter individually, or to buy a subscription at one of several prices that entitles you to a finished eBook at the end, plus some extras. Which brings us to our next new-old idea…

3. Bundles. Pulp fiction often included several novellas in one book, or packaged a short story along with a novel. Why the heck don’t we do this anymore? Sure, the Big Six have been putting “teaser” chapters in the back of novels in a series for awhile, and you can sometimes find author interviews at the back of a paperback, but what about extra goodies in a bundle? Small publishers are starting to take this idea and run with it. Have you bought the paperback of a novel? Here, have a download code for a copy of the eBook version. Why not have a set of bundles or packages at different price points? At the low end of the spectrum, you get a plain-jane eBook with no complex formatting or graphic hyperbole (a lot like the bare-bones books you often get for 99c on Kindle, self-published). For a few bucks more, you get a fancy eBook with lovely formatting and layout, plus an exclusive short story. Step up from there, and perhaps you get all of the above, plus an autographed poster of the book cover. Feel like shelling out $25 for the eBook? Get all of the above, plus something really special, like a custom-made action figure of your favourite character from the book. Makes a great gift, don’t you think? The sky’s the limit here, and small publishers, with their lower overhead and ability to move quickly, are in a great position to really experiment with this idea.

And that’s just the beginning. Licensing models that offer book-library subscriptions to readers, free back catalogues, enhanced eBooks – there’s a lot going on in the small publishing realm these days, and there will only be more coming up. It’s exciting and awesome, and as a small-press mastermind, I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to try to put some of these ideas to use, and see what holds up to the test of time . . . the second time around.

Thanks, Kate, for participating in today’s Celebration of Small & Indie Presses!

About the publisher:

Candlemark & Gleam is an experiment in publishing, specializing in fantastika and genre-bending fiction written by new authors. We consider ourselves modern anachronists – creative types dedicated to preserving the beauty and individuality of age-old publishing forms while adapting them for the digital era. It’s time to go back to the future of publishing – won’t you join us?

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  • Very interesting ideas, especially the bundles.
    Anna´s last blog post ..And the winner of The Linen Queen is…

    • Anna,

      I think it’s a matter of getting what you pay for, in terms of bundles. You can offer several different types of bundles – for instance, right now, we’re offering bundles with extras. You can buy just the book/subscription, or you can pay more to get exclusive stories or actual physical goodies. Likewise, I think bundling eBooks with print volumes is going to become a trend in the future – it makes sense to buy the STORY, rather than a particular format, particularly when there’s less of a distribution cost entailed in selling an eBook than a paperback.