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Adam Lowe: Dog Horn Publishing
Interview Date: Thu 30 Jun 2011
1. Dog Horn Publishing is entering into the digital publishing market at a turning point. The sales of e-books outstripped that of other books. Would you say that sales projections and the rising popularity of e-books influenced that decision?

Not really. For us the decision was one that came about for a variety of reasons. Firstly, two of my authors (and they know who they are!) kept pestering me (quite rightly so) to move with the times. Secondly, ebooks are cheaper than print books for review copies. It saves on all that expensive (and, frankly, unreliable) postage. Royal Mail and I are really not the best of friends.

Finally, I'm a naturally curious fellow, so I just wanted to try it. It has the extra benefit of making our books more widely available, without costing anything except my already very precious time. Time I can give, if it's for something I believe in, and publishing is something I believe in very much.

2. You've made a wise decision by not restricting yourself to one format. Do you think that a standardised format will emerge in digital publishing as has happened in the music industry?

I'm not sure. I don't think print books will ever die out, first and foremost. Those who claim the book will die just don't understand readers very well. Authors like Dan Brown and Katie Price are perfect for the ebook--they're summer reads you don't want weighing your bag down with, and you're not that fussed about putting them on your shelf. But things like poetry and literary fiction (or comic books and science fiction greats, if you're a geek on the other side of the spectrum) are bought by people who have a very different attitude to books. Those readers are proud of their bookshelves. They want to show them off. They cherish them. They like the smell of paper. They probably have a number of signed first editions. If people fork out hundreds of pounds for uncorrected proofs, they'll also continue to buy hardbacks and paperbacks.

But the major battle will probably be between Apple and Amazon. Which is quite strange, because we have a fruit battling a rainforest, making them ripe for literary satire. Neither offers particularly favourable terms for publishers anyway, but they make books much more widely accessible.
 
We've hedged our bets by making Shark available as a paperback, a PDF, and an ebook in a variety of formats. We hope to do the same with the rest of our titles over time, and to explore new ways of using digital technology for storytelling. These formats are new and just developing, so naturally there will be changes and obsolescence. We'll just see.

3. Some prominent authors sell their e-books at the same price as a paperback book and sometimes higher. Do you plan to sell your books at a fraction of that cost as a result of those savings?

There aren't many savings to be had from ebooks, to be honest. This is something of a myth. Because of digital printing presses and print on demand, publishers don't have to fork out huge sums of money for publishing any more. For a small press, at least, the greatest cost is in development. We work a lot with new and emerging writers, and that requires time. The whole editorial process can take months. In terms of what that costs, the printing is just a drop in the ocean. So to offer ebooks as significantly cheaper than printed books is a bit of a false economy. You end up relying on bulk sales to make up for the lack of any real profit margin, and it's not always certain a cheap ebook will sell better than its print alternative anyway. But we're all doing it because we feel we should and authors want us to do it.
 
I'm not saying that money can't be made this way (clearly it can), but I'm saying that the kinds of pricing we're seeing now ignores the fact most small presses' costs are not in printing books.
 
Those authors who sell their ebooks at equivalent costs to paperbacks are probably being sensible about the whole thing, in terms of covering costs. But I think in terms of what the consumer sees, they won't necessarily want to fork out for something intangible that costs the same as, or more than, something they can physically hold. I personally would never buy an MP3 album. It just vexes me to pay money for something that I can't see or feel. Especially if the cost is the same as a CD. A CD, to me, is far more versatile, because you have the physical object (which often looks quite nice), but contained within that object is the means of copying and making digital editions yourself (MP3s). If I can get a CD for £6.99 from Play.com, why would I pay £0.99 per song for the same album from iTune? It doesn't make sense to me. iTunes seems to work, so maybe the immediacy of a download trumps not having a physical object for many people. But then illegal downloading of music is allegedly also a big problem (which I think is rooted to the idea that people don't want to pay for exclusively digital/intangible products).
 
4. On the same subject, what would you say the reasoning is behind this type of "price-fixing". Is it a concern with lost revenue or do you believe that the publishing industry does not yet see the digital market as "established"?

I'm not sure. Perhaps it is a concern with lost revenue, yes. But it could very well just be greed. If more people are downloading a book on a whim than buying it in print on Amazon, then why not bump up the price? Presumably they aren't seeing sales decline because of this, so they'll continue to do it.
 
5. Many people are critical of e-readers. What would you say in response to people who are opposed to digital publishing?

I'm old-fashioned. Most publishers are. We like books. We spend inordinate amounts of time reading. You'll never get a truly revolutionary or cutting edge answer from us. I completely understand why people are opposed to digital publishing. I love a printed book.
 
But at the same time, I see how digital publishing might level the playing field for some writers who've struggled to be published the 'traditional' way. Yet the same was said of print-on-demand and that's not really been a revolution for authors either. These 'revolutions' ultimately find a way of serving the establishment anyway. The last game-changer was the internet, which allowed Apple and Amazon to dominate. This isn't quite on the same scale yet.
 
6. Do you have a separate marketing strategy for the promotion of e-books as opposed to physical books?

Well you can't take an ebook to an event and sell it from the back of a room. However you can print out one of those nifty barcodes for smartphones, which will lead readers straight to the relevant web page where they can buy the book. That helps.
 
But lots of small presses sell books at events. Most of my authors make the bulk of their sales through events and readings, or through university courses. Ebooks won't really help them in that respect, but they might allow them to tap into social media buzz for a few more sales.
 
7. Many authors have struggled to enter the market until the emergence of e-readers and there are success stories for those who have self-published. Do you support self-publishing or do you believe that digital publishing should be controlled?

This is such a contentious issue to many. It needn't be. It's as simple as this: some self-published books are fantastic; some are awful. But to say self-publishing is bad just because some self-published books are dreadful, is to miss the point. I also think many mainstream books these days are awful, so really it's a matter of taste.
 
My only advice to self-publishing writers would be to hire a professional editor and seek objective feedback on their work. All too often you see self-indulgent writing which was rejected elsewhere because it has an audience of one (the author). If you can get past that stage, then why not?
 
Publishing, and access to the means of cultural production, should always be available to the majority and not the elite.
 
8. What do you make of Amazon's decision to accept the ePub format in their digital bookstore and on the Amazon Kindle?

It makes no difference to me whether it's .epub or .mobi, because Smashwords will allow small presses to convert their books to any format currently used. But I guess there is some sort of monopolising going on there. Is anybody really surprised though?
 
It makes perfect sense that a huge corporate beast like Amazon would restrict sales to one format, which works on their own branded devices. It's the exact same thing Apple have been doing for years.
 
Personally, I vote open source for the win. But people are lazy and won't look around if Amazon seems to have everything in one place at very low prices.
 
9. Will Dog Horn Publishing be using an in-house system to publish the books or will the e-books be produced, formatted and sold through an outsourced company?

At the moment it will be outsourced, because it seems the easiest way. If we ever get more manpower (and more money) that might change.
 
10. Finally, tell us about your new book.

Well I'm currently working on a novel-length version of my limited edition chapbook, Troglodyte Rose. Trog Rose was a novella that came out in 2009 from Cadaverine Publications. It was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, and Lethe Press in the States have picked it up for its extended paperback release. It's kinda like Tank Girl meets City of Embers. There's an interactive website, which will be getting an update for the relaunch, here: http://www.troglodyterose.com. The website was my first foray into digital storytelling, and there's a lot more I'd like to do in that arena.

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