Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Small press networks in the digital age

Julie Koh, Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn

Sleepers Publishing is an independent publishing house based in Melbourne. Founded by Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn in 2003, it advocates for new and emerging writers in Australia. Writer Julie Koh interviewed Louise and Zoe about the implications of new technologies for the work of Sleepers Publishing and other small presses across Australia.

How does social networking impact on how you connect with readers?

Social media is a really quick and easy way to speak to our audience frequently and light-heartedly. We use Twitter, which is big in the publishing industry, and Facebook. Some of our authors are great social networkers: Steven Amsterdam is big on Facebook, with regular and interesting updates, and miles vertigan is a prolific Tweeter. His tweets are funny and irreverent, and a great companion to his book, Life Kills - they have a similar style and sense of humour to the book, so they are each a tiny publicity stunt.

The Sleepers App for iPhone comprises short stories from previous Almanacs. What was your rationale behind creating the app? Are you finding this technology to be a worthwhile venture?

We were aware a few years ago that reading habits were starting to change, and as we began to make our existing books available as ebooks we also wanted to dive into a new format. The iPhone App seemed like a good way to start because we know many users of the iPhone, and the great thing about it is that it’s with you all the time. There have been sales but digital formats are generally slow at the moment, and plenty of our readers still prefer paper books. However, it’s been a really useful way for us to get our toes in the water of digital reading, and we have discovered a fondness there. We are, increasingly, surrounded with friends and family reading on Kindles and iPads.

You publish in both paper book and ebook formats. Are you finding one format to be more popular than the other? How much do you think this will change in the future?

All of our books are now available as ebooks. We still sell more paper books, by a long margin, but it’s slowly changing. It can be hard to find the books you want as ebooks in Australia, due to territorial rights, so readers are sometimes wary of investing in the new technology until everything is available. However, availability is increasing, in multiple formats, starting, for us, with Readings and Kobo, and we envisage a steady rise in ebook take-up from our readers over the next few years.

A few years ago, the Small Press Underground Networking Community (SPUNC), in which you are both involved, commissioned a report by Kate Freeth, A lovely kind of madness: Small and independent publishing in Australia (2007). Freeth found that some of the more common difficulties that small presses face relate to issues of distribution, publicity, marketing and public awareness. How is SPUNC helping small presses to confront these difficulties?

SPUNC has been invaluable at connecting small presses with the ebook retailers/distributors, and therefore showing us the market that is out there. It can be difficult to keep up to date with all of the technology as it changes so it’s terrific having someone "on the ground", digitally speaking, to keep us in the loop. In terms of paper book distribution and marketing, the SPUNC site and blog and surrounding social networks creates an easy to access way into a community of likeminded publishers, and a community of eager readers. It’s the linking and educating that SPUNC does so well.

Can you comment further on how new technology has had, and will have, an impact on the operation of Sleepers Publishing and small presses in Australia?

We can’t speak with any authority about other small presses but, at Sleepers, it has been terrifically energising to know that we are now able to access a worldwide community. Prior to ebooks, it has been near impossible for us to take our books out of Australia and New Zealand, but now we are in the global market. We look forward to seeing that grow and continue. Sometime in the future, we will print fewer books – ideally only printing on demand – therefore reducing the need for warehousing or, as is the case at the moment, overcrowding our micro-tiny office. We look forward to that day!

Louise and Zoe discuss the Sleepers iPhone app,
the founding of Sleepers Publishing and paper books.

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