Quite a lot has happened in the last few months. I always think I should post an update here and then, inevitably, I forget.
1. New e-book markets:
We're expanding the number of places where our e-books are sold. We've just gone to contract with two e-bookstores here in Hong Kong, Handheld Culture and BuBo Bookshelf. Handheld's website is only in Chinese at this time (use Chrome if you want to see it in translated form); BBB is accessible in several languages.
This is important to us for several reasons. Obviously we are a Hong Kong business, so expanding our local offerings here is an important step for us. Both of these e-bookstores are growing fast in the Chinese-language market, not just here but in the mainland, Taiwan, and Singapore. They work via apps, and BBB is particularly interesting in that it adds audio functionality to e-books as a standard part of the process. The philosophy behind them is that in Hong Kong and the wider region, people are less likely to be interested in separate e-reading devices than they are in using their tablets or smartphones. With that in mind, both companies have taken an approach that kind of mirrors Amazon without actual Kindle devices: both have their own e-bookstores, and purchasing and reading are done either via browser or app.
We're also about to land in South Africa, with the books sold through Kalahari and Exclusives. We're doing this via On the Dot, a content distributor who works with South Africa's other e-bookstores as well (it's a rather odd system, IMHO, but it seems to work for them). In time, I anticipate coverage in all of South Africa's e-book market (there are three other places there that we're still working on), and as On the Dot plans to grow in the region, I'm optimistic about what we can do with publishers in Africa, some of whom I've reached out to in the past.
We're now also contracted with I Love Books (www.ilovebooks.com
), an e-bookstore that is about to launch in Singapore. The folks at MediaCorp realized Singapore had no local e-bookstore (there was one but it seems to have folded) and decide to set up one of their own. The site is now up and working, and should formally launch in May. There's actually one more possible partnership in the works, as well, but since the discussions are very preliminary, it's too soon to say who it is and where they're based.
Last but not least in this chronicle of e-retail goodness, we have been approved as a direct content supplier for Apple, meaning that we no longer have to use Omnilit.com as an intermediary. This is great for a number of reasons. I have never been entirely sure whether the glacial pace of uploading books to Apple has been because of a backlog on Omnilit's end, or whether it's really Apple. There's more evidence to support the latter theory than the former. We've done a couple of things to facilitate this change. I pulled all the books Omnilit had not yet sent to Apple out of their queue so that we can submit them directly. Some had been in that queue for upwards of six months, so the extra time is irrelevant at this point. The seven or eight books that did make it over the wall, I left in place. Jerome has uploaded a couple of books as a test, and once we're clearer on how long the process takes, we'll begin sending them in larger batches.
As a sort of PS, Kobo has launched a new server, although they have not yet replaced their tired FTP uploading system. At some point we'll try again with them. Perhaps the new IT infrastructure will solve some of the bottlenecks they had been experiencing. They do generate intermittent sales of the few titles we managed to send them, so they're worth keeping an eye on. Stay tuned.
2. BookCyclone: a much-needed course correction
Now for the announcement that may come as a bit of a surprise: Jerome and I have decided to disable the e-commerce aspect of the BookCyclone website. We are not killing the imprint, though! It has actually been a success and has opened a lot of doors for us, even if we haven't been able to quit our day jobs yet. The site has been plagued with technical problems more or less from Day One, and the developers' foot-dragging and general recalcitrance haven't helped. When we launched it, BuBo was just starting up but hadn't had its growth spurt yet, and I don't think Handheld was around yet. With them on the market and backed by a significant capital, there's no reason for us to go on competing. This is actually consistent with my original vision for the imprint — to stay as thin and lean as possible, providing access to larger e-retailers rather than competing against them. A few weeks ago, when we encountered another huge technical glitch, I decided enough was enough. It's time to pull the plug. We'll keep the site up as a catalog, and in time we'll sort out how we can modify it to suit its new role. (This will not happen tomorrow, because there's too much else going on!) Yes, that's relief you're reading between the lines. It was a good idea when we had it but now things have changed.
Will this result in a significant uptick in sales? I don't know. Amazon still owns much of the market. However, this expansion deliberately focuses on parts of the world outside Amazon's areas of dominance. I got the idea because I've noticed how many of our sales on Amazon are in the 35%-royalty bracket, meaning that they're happening in countries without Amazon stores. Even if there's not a big jump, the terms with all the new partners are better (or at least no worse, when all is said and done) than 35%.
For what it's worth, I think all this expansion has come about because we are now large enough (in terms of the number of titles we offer) to warrant replies to our e-mails. This is all rather sudden, and crunching all the metadata is going to be time-consuming, but after that, it'll put us in a reasonable growth position. I wouldn't mind partnering with one or two more publishers before the end of the year, nor adding a few individual authors — but no more than that. I want to make sure our growth stays within what we can control, afford, and do well. So if anyone knows anyone, please do keep us in mind.
One project will be for us to prepare a table of royalty rates that these places offer. Look for that once the last of the contracts are signed and sorted out.
3. Signal 8 Press: new and upcoming releases
In February, we released my long-overdue collection The Infernal Republic. It enjoyed terrific reviews (with one notable, and notably stupid, exception) and a spectacular lack of sales. I think we will not be publishing many short story collections in the near future, after Peter Tieryas Liu's Watering Heaven. At some level this feels like a capitulation, but this is a for-profit business, after all.
Signal 8 Press's list is now quasi-full through 2013. Here's what we've got in the pipeline:
Rest of 2012:
River Dragon Sky, Justin Nicholes
Buddhist Meditation and the Internet: Practices and Possibilities, Joanne Miller
Watering Heaven, Peter Tieryas Liu
Handover, Paul Blaney
Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung
, Nigel CollettThe Gunners of Shenyang
, Jihui YuBitter Orange
, yours trulyThe Year of the Tiger
, Kirk Kjeldsen
There's still room to add one or maybe even two more books in 2013 because I haven't firmed up all the pub dates yet. With Justin Nicholes and Shannon Young on board as editors (something for which I am profoundly grateful), we can handle more than when I was doing more of it by myself. We're in a good place, though: if we get a manuscript that absolutely must be published, then we can, and if we don't, we're set for the year.
4. Whirlwind Book Consultancy
Last but far from least, and this is kind of a huge announcement, is that we are launching a third branch of the business this summer: Whirlwind Book Consultancy. This will focus on the self-publishing and corporate-publishing ends of the market, providing solutions for people and businesses who want to DIY, whether it be e-books, paper books, editing, ghostwriting, distribution, collateral, marketing help, or all of the above. This is kind of modeled on what Outskirts Press and several others have been doing, but with a more regional focus. As with everything else we've done, there's really no one in this part of the world offering the same products and services in the same way, so we're stepping into the niche. Shannon will be coordinating this once we go live — although I will be actively involved as well, I'm already doing as much as I can handle with the existing two imprints. One thing I should point out is that for ethical reasons, Signal 8 Press will not publish books that we have been paid to edit; nor will we direct rejected submissions to the paid-services side of the house. I'm adamant about preserving the integrity of what we have already established. At the same time, we've already got a lot of infrastructure in place, in terms of our vendors and production and distribution capabilities (I planned around becoming much bigger much sooner than this, so short of cloning myself, I've got the rest covered), so it makes sense to put it to use. We've got a few leads on projects already, but as with BookCyclone, we're on the lookout for more.