Posted by Admin | December 30th, 2009

A while back I wrote a post on an innovative new publisher, OR Books, that plans to sell ebooks and print-on-demand paper books . . . but only from its own website. You won’t find its books in stores or on Amazon. This strategy greatly reduces the publisher’s costs (in distribution and returns) but also greatly reduces the potential visibility of its books. In fact, the start-up would have seemed less than promising had its founders, John Oakes and Colin Robinson, not been such well-known and highly respected editors.

After months of keeping a low profile, OR Books finally announced its first work: Going Rouge: An American Nightmare. Sound familiar? Its title, Going Rouge, has the same letters, with just two switched around, as Going Rogue, Sarah Palin’s memoir. It also has a nearly identical Your browser may not support display of this image. cover design and the same release date as Palin’s book. The covers are so similar that with a casual glance it would be easy to confuse one for the other. It makes me wonder if OR Books was merely trying to take advantage of Palin’s best-selling memoir or if it was trying to confuse customers wishing to buy Palin’s book into buying its own book instead (bookstores can order copies from the publisher HCI Books).

If OR Books chose the work to gain publicity for its new press, it succeeded brilliantly. The book, compiled by two editors at The Nation, has already received a lot of press, much of it for the nearly identical cover. People who don’t like Palin and who would otherwise never have heard of OR Books might go to its website and purchase a copy. As a result, OR Books accomplished something extremely important for a new publisher in the highly competitive and glutted American market, where about 300,000 books are published each year.

But despite my admiration for its marketing success, I feel somewhat disappointed by what seems to be a gimmicky strategy. Oakes and Robinson are serious publishers who have the potential to identify, edit, and publish significant literary works. So bravo, OR Books, for your marketing coup, but I look forward to your subsequent books—something more innovative, I hope, something we could call art.

Thomas Riggs

Thomas Riggs & Company

Missoula, Montana

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