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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 09:07, June 07, 2006
Small press big on ideas, light on cash
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More than a decade before "The Da Vinci Code" phenomenon, a free-spirited British couple wrote their own homage to the Holy Grail after a year bicycling across southern France.

"Cycling in Search of the Cathars" the first book to be published by Elaine Connell and Chris Ratcliffe's tiny Pennine Pens in 1991 was part travelogue and part history of Holy Grail folklore, the subject of Dan Brown's novel-turned-film.

"I still get annoyed at that," said Connell, reflecting on how their book brought none of the success enjoyed by Brown.

In this case, big proved beautiful big marketing, big stars and big money leading to a global blockbuster.

But as large publishing houses fight for business in a market characterized by consolidation and cut-rate discounts, Britain's small press companies like Pennine Pens in northern England are finding some success thanks to technology and a desire for new literary voices.

Measuring success at small presses is difficult, mainly because the firms are so diverse.

Many have annual sales of less than 1 million pounds (US$1.87 million), their books take up scant shelf space in large bookstores and cater to niche interests such as crime fiction, horror stories or walking guides.

But in the small towns and cities nestled near Yorkshire's boggy moors and far from the bustle of London's literary scene, small publishers say they have been multiplying and growing.

"The further you go north, the healthier the independent publishing industry is," said Hannah Bannister, marketing director of Peepal Tree Press, a Leeds-based publisher of Black British and South Asian writers.

"In a lot of ways it's the small publishers that define what the big publishers do next," she added.

Small is beautiful

The Pennine hills in Yorkshire have a rich literary tradition, which includes the Bronte sisters, who immortalized the landscape in novels like "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre," and former poet laureate Ted Hughes, who grew up in Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge.

The 2.8 billion pound (US$5.2 billion) British book industry has been in decline for nearly a decade. But sales by some of the smallest publishers have been decreasing at roughly half the rate of the largest, according to the Publishers Association.

That trend is even more marked in the United States. A Book Industry Study Group survey in 2004 showed publishers with annual sales of US$1 million or less made up 94 per cent of the total population of publishers.

This segment generated around 10 per cent of total publishing sales of US$34.8 billion in 2004.

One factor behind this growth in small presses has been the explosion of the Internet in the last decade. It has helped small publishers to compete by cutting down on design costs and making marketing easier.

Self-publishing software has also made it easier to print smaller batches of books, while big publishers depend on bulk sales of a single book Random House has sold 50 million copies worldwide of "The Da Vinci Code" to cover distribution and marketing costs.

Source: China Daily

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