With the recent announcement of its new Constellation services, The Perseus Books Group (www.perseusbooks.com) continues to reinforce its mission to "enable independent publishers to reach their potential." Constellation is a one-stop service offering digital conversion technologies and new distribution channels to small, independent publishers. For little to no upfront costs, small, independent publishers may access digital technologies and platforms that until now were either too expensive or resource intensive.
Perseus Books Group, founded in 1996, is itself an independent publisher whose divisions include PublicAffairs, Running Press, Basic Books, Nation Books, Vanguard Press, and Da Capo Press. In addition, its Basic Civitas imprint publishes work from African-American authors. The company also publishes academic books and college textbooks from Westview Press.
Unlike the larger publishing houses that are able to afford in-house conversion and licensing staffs, smaller publishers have had to forego entirely or limit their digital offerings because of the high costs associated with participation in this emerging marketplace. With Constellation, these publishers may now take advantage of a wide array of digital services, including short print run (SRP), print on demand (POD), online content sampling services, and ebook sales and distribution.
Rather than attempting to reach and partner with each and every potential distributor for their publications, users of the service only need to send Constellation one copy of each book to be included; the Constellation team does the rest. The team conducts all negotiations with service providers and distribution partners on behalf of the participating publishers. Publishers who were unable to address digital initiatives in the past will now be able to meet digital demand head-on, thereby supporting existing readers and finding new readers at the same time.
Publishers who wish to use the Constellation service may sign an addendum to their existing agreements with Perseus identifying the digital services they would like and the vendors to whom they would like to provide those services. The participating publisher will ultimately be provided with access to a web portal from which it can manage its title submissions. This digital asset management capability will be in place sometime next year and will be built on the TeleScope platform produced by North Plains, a provider of rich media and digital asset management solutions.
Blog postings, primarily favorable to Constellation, generally view digital rights management (DRM) capabilities as positive. However, the nature and type of DRM included is a key concern. Blogger David Rothman (www.teleread.org/blog) suggests that whatever DRM platform is adopted be optional and that the epub be truly generic, giving publishers a choice of whether or not to "protect" their books.
Pricing is determined by what services a publisher chooses with fees charged for manufacturing, converting, and file loads for the different product lines. Fees are deducted from revenue earned for a calendar month with statements arriving the month after the month of the actual transaction. The publisher, therefore, does not need to pay any upfront costs, but instead, it pays monthly as a debit against sales.
Streamlining the conversion and distribution process is a key benefit for independent publishers that do not have the resources to engage with each and every potential channel, not to mention the various formats required to support each one. Constellation will manage all agreements with technology vendors in the interest of obtaining better rates for its customers and further support for the data types required by each channel. Independent publishers, and all publishers for that matter, have always struggled with how many books should be included in an initial print run, particularly if a book becomes a runaway best-seller. Now these smaller publishers may engage with their readers wherever they are and in whatever format or medium the reader prefers.
Perseus already has agreements in place with a number of leading digital services providers, among them Amazon (Kindle electronic reader, BookSurge POD, and Search Inside the Book), Google (Google Book Search), Barnes & Noble (See Inside feature), and Lightning Source (POD). Publishers, however, may choose what titles and what distribution partners they want to use retaining control at the individual title and publisher level.
David Steinberger, president and CEO of the Perseus Books Group, views Constellation as leveling the digital playing field. "Up until now, the full range of digital opportunities has been mostly confined to large corporate publishers owned by multinational corporations, and many independent publishers have been shut out. Constellation will provide these publishers with a low-cost, one-stop digital solution enabling the small publisher to extend its reach and enter the digital arena effectively and successfully."
Conversion services certainly have been available for some time. The true benefit of the Constellation service offering for smaller, independent publishers is the marriage of the digitization process with the distribution channel partners. The publisher is able to obtain digital versions—more importantly, digital versions already aligned with the formatting requirements of the channel partner. All negotiations and management of the distribution partnerships are handled by Constellation, again saving the publishers both time and money while earning revenue as well.
With publishers of all sizes scrambling to go "e," these types of combined service offerings take much of the onus off of in-house efforts while still preserving control at the publisher level of what is converted and what partners are selected. In today’s wired world, it is imperative to not only be "found" on the web but to deliver content in whatever medium or form a customer requires. Distribution and reach have become watchwords for all publisher organizations. Brand extension is no longer a corner stand at the local bookstore but, instead, encompasses all kinds of possible placement opportunities using the power of the web and digital content. Now every publisher, small and large, may join in the fray.