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  • O Books

    Mon, 17 Aug 2009 02:50

    O Books started publishing with a handful of titles on world religions in 2004, moved on to MBS, and is now branching out into philosophy, psychology, women's studies, fiction and a number of other areas. They chose "O" partly because it is simple, and they couldn't think of anything else that hadn't been taken: "it's a symbol of the world, of oneness and unity. Giotto used it to indicate perfection. In different cultures it also means the "eye", symbolising knowledge and insight. Those seemed good enough reasons."

    The Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?

    O Books: People who broadly think of themselves as "alternative", "counter-cultural", "radical", whether that's expressed in beliefs, lifestyle or activism. We engage with people who are seeking to better themselves, or the world, or looking for meaning and reasons for behavior. Who see the current recession/depression as an opportunity to re-order private and public priorities rather than a cause for dismay.

    The Book Depository: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?

    O Books: The exponential growth in the number of new titles (helped by POD, which we don't use), the scale of returns from shops (helped by EPOS, though thinking more of North America here than the UK), related decline in midlist sales and the corresponding difficulty of doing justice marketing-wise to good books which aren't necessarily going to sell in large numbers. On top of that there's the often-mentioned raft of new delivery formats (digital) and outlets (online etc.), which all adds up to a perfect storm over the next few years.

    But then we see that as our opportunity. The Depression in the 1930s created the current publishing environment ("sale or return" and most of the best known imprints today), and the new one we reckon will end it. So we've abandoned the traditional feudal or adversarial author/agent/publisher model and are creating a more co-operative one, which tries to take the publisher cost out of the author-reader equation as far as possible. All our authors are on the same contract, talk to us and each other on a forum, they all have access to our database of marketing contacts, can see all that happens on every title, can add to it, their books are all available worldwide (over half our new authors live in North America), they will soon see monthly sales figures. We focus on getting to the readers rather than the shops (though we use traditional sales teams). We collectively add a few hundred new media or sales contacts to the database every month, several thousand marketing "activities", and spend 500 hours or so a month on improving the systems behind them.

    The Book Depository: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?

    O Books: We don't spend time looking for authors, the large majority of our new titles come from existing authors recommending others to come to us, We're not bothered about sales, as such. It's the last consideration, rather than the first. It needs to be a strong book for its market, however large or small that market is. We're looking for the right "voice" for reaching it, a willingness to co-operate in promoting it, the ability to work with databases and systems rather than needing meetings and phone calls. It's not rocket science, and authors either like what we're doing or they don't. Most that approach us do, and if we like the book then contracts are usually signed within a day or two of getting the proposal.

    The Book Depository: What books are you most proud of having published?

    O Books: My own favourites are the ones with an alternative angle on the big questions, acknowledged classics in their area like Is There An Afterlife? by David Fontana, The Fall by Steve Taylor, Back to the Truth by Dennis Waite or The Science of Oneness by Malcolm Hollick. But the ones that sell strongly are more likely to be in the area of changing your life for the better.

    The Book Depository: What books are you working on right now?

    O Books: It's hard to pick any out, because of the number. With an average of 10 new titles coming out a month this year, scaling up to double that later in 2010, and maybe doubling again in 2011, there are a few hundred in the pipeline. With good reason. Old publishing divides marketing between x number of books and y number of employees, so the fewer you publish the better you can market them. We're the other way around. The more authors we have, the stronger the marketing becomes. It's a virtuous rather than a vicious spiral. If I was to choose one, it would probably be Destination of the Species by Michael Meacher MP, coming in January 2010 (listed on the website), though he breaks most of the rules as far as our authors go - I'm not entirely convinced he's managed to switch on a computer yet.

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