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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If You Like Independent Military History Publishing, You Can Keep Your Independent Military History Publishing. Period. Well . . .

A love-hate relationship.
In that, I know I am not alone.

Unfortunately, many publishers large and small who were in business a decade ago are no longer in business. The reasons for their demise are legion. Some were poorly run. Others produced a sub par product. Some merged with other companies. For many others (most?), the economics of the marketplace, driven by rapid changes in technology, made it impossible for them to compete.

Most small publishers simply do not have a parachute when their plane takes flak and begins to lose altitude.

"Dude--I didn't see that digital tidal wave coming. Did you?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. I did."
If at all possible, I try to purchase my books directly from publishers (especially smaller ones) because as a publisher I understand what that means: a larger proportion of every dollar goes directly to the publisher and the author. The margins in publishing are RAZOR thin, and it takes an outstanding product, coupled with vigorous marketing, to pay the bills and keep the lights on. And capable employees. And great authors. And the careful and judicious choosing of manuscripts. And good book design. And . . . luck. (Yeah, it's not easy.)

Amazon has made this much more difficult for many people. And I understand why: Raw economics. Do I save a few bucks, or support Small Company X.

The scenario that keeps me up at night every once in a while is what the Civil War book-reading world will look like if and when the quality small publishers are driven out of the marketplace. So many good smaller military houses are simply . . . no longer. (The two that always jump into my mind that I enjoyed the most are Morningside and Sarpedon. There are dozens more.)

Relying on Simon and Schuster for our quality Civil War books doesn't sit well with me. I like my maps plentiful and my footnotes down at foot level. University presses turn out great books, but fewer U presses focus on quality military studies, and then only a handful each season. One or two other publishers I am aware of publish just about anything they can get their hands on (many are Savas Beatie rejects), format the (largely) unedited text, slap on a generic cover, attach a steep price, and push it out there.

I am sure some of you think, "Well, self-publishing is the wave of the future and so there will always be lots of books to choose from." Perhaps. But just because you can turn on a stove top and sprinkle herbs and spices on a steak doesn't make you Ruth's Chris. I regularly get self-published books in the mail. Few, sadly, pass muster. Invariably, after flipping through and looking at the design, leading, type-face, paper, binding, etc. I am disappointed. There is no substitute for knowing what you are doing from the bottom up in ANY business.

My friend John Fox, who runs Angle Valley Press, just wrote an interesting blog post on all this. I encourage you to read it. His books are among the best, too.


1 comment:

Dave Powell said...


I confess I am not always aware of other small-press milhist publishers _until_ I see their books on Amazon.

It would be nice if there were a site on the web that could serve as a market-place for like minded customers, so I could visit their sites and order direct.

Is there such a place now? Am I just behind the times?

Dave Powell