Small Book Publishers Offered New Technology
Hundreds of small, independent publishers will have easier access to digital book technology under a new service offered by Perseus Books Group, the result of agreements between it and more than a half-dozen technology companies, Perseus is expected to announce on Thursday.
The new service, called Constellation, will allow independent publishers to make use of electronic readers, digital book search, print-on-demand and other digital formats at rates negotiated by Perseus on their behalf. Unlike large publishers, small ones typically lack the resources to use digital technology and as a result often bypass it altogether.
David Steinberger, the president and chief executive of Perseus, said that by using Constellation independent publishers could make their books quickly available in several digital formats, allowing them to compete on the same technological level and with the same speed and flexibility as larger companies. Many publishing analysts see digital technology as one of the few major growth areas in the book industry.
Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com have features that allow consumers to read or search inside a book, and such tools are known to improve sales; digital printing technology allows publishers to produce books when they become suddenly and unexpectedly in demand.
“There’s been an increasing sense of urgency about this,” Mr. Steinberger said. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘What does the independent publisher need to grow and succeed in the future?’ And this is what kept coming up.”
Perseus Books Group, one of the largest independent publishers of general-interest books, includes the imprints Basic Books, Running Press and Vanguard Press. It also provides sales, marketing and distribution services to more than 300 independent publishers.
Mr. Steinberger said he sees Constellation, which will go into effect on Thursday, as an expansion of Perseus’s book distribution services. “Distribution means getting our publishers’ books everywhere they need to go and everywhere they want to go,” he said. “Digital is an essential part to that. We’re just trying to streamline it.”
The companies involved in the deal include Google, for its Google Book Search feature; Amazon, for its Kindle electronic reader; Sony, for its Sony Reader; Barnes & Noble, for its “See Inside” feature on its Web site; and Lightning Source, a print-on-demand company.
Publishers who use the new service can provide a single digital book file to Constellation and specify how they would like it to be used. As a result consumers may see more obscure, esoteric books available in digital formats, Perseus said.
Electronic books have been available since 1968, though they still make up only a small portion of the book business. Much of the growth, especially in the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, has picked up in the last several years.
While corporate publishers like Random House and Simon & Schuster have devoted significant time and resources to harnessing digital technology, most small publishers have, out of necessity, kept their focus on the traditional duties of acquiring, editing and publishing books. Larger publishers also typically have more leverage when negotiating contracts.
Peter Osnos, the founder of PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group, and the executive director of the Caravan Project, a nonprofit partnership that makes books available in different formats, said Constellation is applying the same model as Caravan.
“The biggest problem in the book world is availability — measuring how many books you think you need,” Mr. Osnos said. “What you will have now is the development of this ability on behalf of publishers to produce their books any way the consumer wants them. That’s why all of this matters.”