Sunday, April 20, 2008

No new paradigms - just old gimmicks

The Friday Project formed a couple of years ago with a unique and interesting proposition - taking the best of the web, and making these sites into books. I've just read that its no more, having gone into liquidation. The new paradigm - getting books to the market, quicker, and sourcing them directly from the bloggers and other sites doing innovative stuff on the web - doesn't seem to have helped in the way that mattered: selling books in shops. Dreadful news for hopeful writers such as Nasim Marie Jafry, and Caroline Smailes, as well as bookseller turned blogger-editor-agent Scott Pack, whose amusing blog gave a sense that all was well in the world of the Friday Project. I guess I hoped that this small publisher, punching above its weight, would grow, and be successful, but I have to admit to always having my reservations. The bulk of their books seemed to be "toilet books" of one sort or another, seasonal stocking fillers such as Velcro Cows and TV Cream Toys; in other words gimmicky books with a short shelf life that we've all got a few off (Lost Consonants, the Meaning of Liff, Schott's Miscellany) but rarely add more than a bit of gaiety to life. No crime in itself; and I was looking forward to their list growing to include more fiction, and more interesting books. But, case in point, I've not bought a thing they've published. There's no crime in small publishers - as well as large publishers - publishing this harmless tat, and, I guess if you get a big hit (The Little Book of Calm perhaps), then it can help keep other more cerebral parts of your list going for years. However, I'm wondering if this is the very problem: by trying to grow as a publisher through selling on the internet's more gimmicky ideas, you need to have more hits than misses. And books like this, though they can become brands, are - like hit videos on YouTube - transitory one-offs, and none, ironically, had really "gone viral." The Friday Project was - at the end of the day - publishing the kind of books that every major publishes ad infinitum perhaps without the capitalisation (or the hits) to make their independence a virtue. Maybe with its assets and staff under the auspices of a major(HarperCollins according to Publishing News) the Friday Project will find some kind of future; but there's no new paradigm here, just the same old publishing business. Ouch. I'd like to be think here's something to be said for the old fashioned idea, of investing in authors rather than gimmicks.Whether this is a cautionary tale for serious (but niche) publishers also using the internet, like Salt and Snowbooks we'll have to see.


Me said...

Hiya - it's a salutory lesson and sad for all, but at Snowbooks we have a very different approach to financal management. We have no debt, for instance, and prefer to grow organically, whereas TFP were keen to get big, quickly. Still, as you say, it highlights the risks inherent in the industry.

- Emma Barnes, Snowbooks

Adrian Slatcher said...

Thanks for the comment, Emma - I read your own website after I'd written this piece; where you made a similar point. Good luck steering through the choppy waters.

Me said...

Thanks BR - thankfully 2008 seems a lot less choppy than 2007 but the thing about this industry is that winds can change so suddenly. Firm hand to the tiller and all that!

- EB

Anonymous said...

We have set-up a blog to discuss TFP issues:

We will create a link to this post as it is an interesting view point on the situation.


MarkFarley said...

Scott has never been a bookseller, can we point that out? He worked for a book chain as a buyer. He didn't sell the books to anybody. If he had, he may have had better experience into acquiring what actually sells.

A book of sick jokes including a 'racist' section and opens of a Simon Weston face melting pun is not an example of what does sell.

And to think they approached Barack Obama? I tweak my nipples at that sort of irony.

Unfortunately, their books counted on Christmas sales and in an overflowing market of just too much tat, they drowned. Shame.

Adrian Slatcher said...

I never get this many comments when I write about literature, or creativity, go figure.

Juliet said...

What an excellent blog. Can't remember how I landed here, but I shall certainly be back for more.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Nice to have you a long Juliet.