The future of books? Publishing by numbers


A collective of book lovers have started their own publishing collective with a unique funding ethos, writes SINÉAD GLEESON

BARELY A week goes by without something – a full-page discursive article in a newspaper, a hefty blogpost on an arch American culture website – declaring the death of publishing. “Books are doomed. Doomed I tell you!” is the general gambit of these pieces, but many don’t share that view. At a time when books are engaged in a paper-versus- electronic tussle between physical copies and e-reader editions, at least people are still reading.

And some hardy, dedicated book-lovers have gone even further and gravitated towards publishing – but publishing with a twist.

And Other Stories is a UK-based publishing collective with a unique funding ethos. They publish fiction and literature in translation, gathered from “Reading Groups” that they manage and mine for suggestions. They court subscribers – which means anyone with a love of books – with a couple of interesting incentives. For £35 (€41), four books a year are delivered to your door (or someone else’s if you send a gift subscription).

So far, so standard. What makes it unique is that subscribers receive a numbered first edition. They are also thanked by name in another upcoming book, and offered a say in what books are published in the future.

It’s a personalised antidote to the behemoth model of Amazon publishing. And Other Stories was set up by translator Stefan Tobler, a “Brazilian Englishman”, out of a love of books.

“Through talking with friends, we would discover gaps in publishing, or feel frustrated at what’s actually getting published,” says Tobler. “There are so many amazing books in translation that people never hear about and we wanted to see those books in print.”

To date, they have published four books (pictured), including Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole, which was longlisted for this year’s GuardianFirst Book Award. Tobler jokes that a dust allergy prevents him from opening a bookshop and that he “never dreamed” he would be a publisher.

The group is a not-for-profit organisation that relies on Arts Council funding in the UK, but the subscription income is vital to its continuation. To many, the idea of an anonymous books warehouse is the future of publishing, but Tobler believes there are several reasons why people support what his organisation are doing. “I used to work for an NGO, and if people feel passionate about wanting to make something happen, they can do it. There is an element of altrusim, but it’s also about people wanting to be part of something, to get something special that you wouldn’t get otherwise.”

By inviting the opinions of people outside of the publishing mindset, the focus is very much on a love of books and championing work that could easily be overlooked. Is this co-operative model something Tobler thinks we’ll see more of in the future? “We’ll definitely see more of it with smaller publishers, purely because not many big publishers have a strong connection to their readers. We simply couldn’t do this if people didn’t subscribe.”

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