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.