In a voyage abundant in metaphors (and blessed with sunshine) publishing veterans John Oakes and Colin Robinson literally launched their new venture OR Books on a old fireboat from a pier eight blocks south of the Javits center on Sunday afternoon. The boat chugged leisurely around the south end of Manhattan, past the Statue of Liberty and right past the giant Queen Mary 2 in Red Hook. From a megaphone on the top deck they hailed their “politically progressive and culturally adventurous” content paired with a “revolutionary approach to business.”
In other words, they aim to sell non-returnable only and print only on-demand (or not at all via ebooks). And they pledge to spend the money saved on inventory on marketing instead. Oakes said they want to “affirm the partnership between publishers and authors.” Robinson added that a publisher’s “first obligation is to find readers for the books they’re publishing” and commented, “we know the existing doesn’t work. We’re going to try something new.” Oakes added, “if the boat goes down, there goes the future of publishing.”
They will launch in September, and announced a collaboration with the editorial collective Mischief & Mayhem (comprising Lisa Dierbeck, Josh Furst, DW Gibson, Dale Peck and Choire Sicha) which will contribute books to the venture. (Oakes co-founded Four Walls Eight Windows, and was publisher of Thunder’s Mouth and then executive editor at Atlas; Robinson was managing director at Verso; publisher at the New Press; and then a senior editor at Scribner).
To bookend things nicely, BEA began with the sketching out of another new venture from a pair of publishing veterans, this one from Richard Nash (formerly of Soft Skull) and Dedi Felman (formerly of Simon & Schuster, and co-founder of Words without Borders). Called The Round Table, their enterprise targets the writers who flock to writers conferences and offers them the prospect of a online community comprising both publishing professionals and interested and engaged readers. But they are also targeting passionate readers looking for more direct connections with the authors and genres they love. They offer not just individual books but “membership”–including access to a “library of content in draft, final and ‘postfinal’ versions; workshop, community, and special features; and access to authors and peers.” If you think the lines are pretty blurred between writers, readers and members, then you’re on the right track.
The pair aim to focus on five community verticals: current affairs; mystery/crime/thriller; sci-fi/fantasy; alternative fiction and pop culture; and urban lit and consciousness. Those verticals also turn into imprints, and community members help rate the aspiring writers who will be offered actual contracts. (Books will be acquired in traditional fashion as well, from agents, authors, etc.)
Felman and Nash plan a number of twists on standard publishing economic models: the standard contract will be for three years, with automatic renewals and a built-in six-month cancellation. Some books will be sold inexpensively, through the online “membership” library and $9 digital downloads, while limited editions of “artisanally created objects” will also be offered for anywhere from $40 to $1,000.
Nash also sees them developing a platform that can just as easily be sold as a white-label service to other independent publishers, helping them turn slush file and fans alike into online subscriber/members.