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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
At the moment it will be outsourced, because it seems the
easiest way. If we ever get more manpower (and more money) that might
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.