Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Advantages of Small Publishers

Yesterday, I talked about large and small publishers. In case you missed it, the point was that large publishers can produce a higher quality product and market it more efficiently than a small publisher. Before you conclude that small publishers have nothing going for them, let me discuss some reasons why a small publisher can be a good thing.


No publishing company is very large, when compared to businesses in other industries. Random House has less than 6,000 employees and the big boy in the Christian publishing world, Thomas Nelson, has somewhere around 700. The reason I point that out is because we really can’t claim that small publishers are more personal. They are all small enough to have a personal feel to them.


One of the real advantages that a small publisher has over a large publisher has to do with risk. Suppose I am a small publisher with five employees. A manuscript comes along and we fall in love with it, but it may seem offensive to our customer base. In fact, it might be so offensive that they will stop buying our books. As a small publisher, it is a small risk if I decide to publish it anyway. If it works, we do well, but if it doesn’t the worst that can happen is that the six of us will be out of work for a while. If the man or woman at the helm of a large publisher makes the same decision then it could result in hundreds of people losing their jobs. In spite of what some politicians will tell you, large businesses aren’t just these big entities with lots of money. They use that money to pay workers and if the business isn’t doing well the workers are out of work.


Small publishers are motivated by a higher goal. They often focus on a niche in publishing or they focus on authors who have common thoughts. Some associations operate a publishing company so they can publish the work of their membership and work that their membership wants to read. Unlike large publishers that must appeal to a large audience, these publishers have the means to communicate with a close knit group of people who are highly likely to buy the books published there.


Large publishers must publish or they won’t make money. Sometimes, this means publishing some things that aren’t as high of quality as others. A small publisher can afford to be much more selective about what they choose to publish. There is a Catch 22 here because the better writers will tend to go to the higher paying large publishers, but a small publisher with a history of only publishing the best can get a reputation that will allow it to do very well, even though they don’t publish much.

6 comments :

Jennifer F. said...

This is an interesting comparison, thanks! I just found your blog via your comment at Rachelle Gardner's and I look forward to reading more.

Avily Jerome said...

Thanks for balancing out the perspective, Timothy!

And thanks for the comment about businesses NOT being the bad guys!

If you haven't checked out my blog before, you should take a look at it today- I had a lot of fun with this one!

http://avilyjerome.blogspot.com

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

So, lemme get this straight: if the pub with 6 employees takes a risk, and loses, and all 6 employees are thereby out of a job, it's better than a big publisher doing the same and hundreds are out of work?

I think not. For one thing, remember that a large house has other projects that make money, and can take up the slack for any one book that fails.

Your example doesn't hold up. You're making generalizations consistent with the fact you're not terribly familiar with the publishing industry in its entirety.

Timothy Fish said...

Anonymous 1:17,

Perhaps I was not clear in what I said. If that is the case, I do apologize. Think of it like this. Suppose a driver runs a red light and kills one quarter of the occupants of the vehicle he hits. That would be one person out of a family of four, certainly a tragedy for one family, but if he hit a school bus with forty children aboard, that tragedy could extend to ten families and an entire school.

If a publishing company has built a reputation for providing books with very accurate information decides to take a risk and put out a book without being able to completely verify the facts, they risk alienating their customers and bringing the accuracy of all of their books into question if inaccuracies are discovered in the book. Perhaps the company will survive, but not without laying off twenty-five workers. For the small publishing company, it would be impossible for the decision to publish the book to put that many people out of work. The smaller company has their pain capped at six workers.

Roland said...

Nice post, though I agree with Anonymous, at least in part. I assume that small publishers can be more daring with their selection because they have less to risk financially (I have to believe that most employees of small publishers have a full time day job to fall back on).

I found this website, some christian small press, which gives some additional advantages to publishing with little guys in their explanation of why that sector is growing. Here's one I find really appealing:

"First, small publishers tend to be more author-friendly. We try harder to please the author, and are more accessible. That is probably the biggest reason for the growth of this sector of the publishing business. Larger firms are more compartmentalized, and the author's input is seen as an intrusion into the work of "specialists." With a small publishing firm, your input into book design, cover design, production, and many other issues will be accepted and even sought. The attitude is "We've got a lot of work to do, and we'd like your help." Your rights will also be considered more carefully and in general you will be accorded more respect. This is especially true for the non-celebrity author."

Roland said...

sorry this was the website:

http://www.mapletreepublishing.com/smallpublishers.htm