The slow decline of the publishing industry over the last decade has caused despair, confusion, and lots of swearing among people in the business of books. Some are stubbornly sticking to the same model they’ve always used, which simply doesn’t deliver the way it did twenty years ago. Some are finding ways to make publishing relevant in a digital landscape. But Concord Free Press has found an innovative way to negate the adverse effect of diminishing profits: eliminate profits entirely.
Concord Free Press gives away books for free. Go to their website, give them your address, and you’ll get their latest title in the mail. It takes ridiculously little effort. The only caveat is that they ask you to make a donation of any amount to anyone besides themselves. It could be your favorite charity or someone you met on the street who’s in need of a few bucks. Once you donate, you can report on their website how much you gave, and to whom. Then you pass the book on to someone else and ask them to make a donation in return.
Without the demand of being profitable, Concord Free Press can publish a variety of new and unique voices. They have a limited marketing budget, but their unconventional non-business model tends to attract enough attention by itself. Authors donate their works, but they often end up getting deals from pay publishers after all of Concord Free Press’s initial print run of 3,000 has been distributed.
Their unique plan mixes the free-content spirit of the internet with a powerful and unprecedented giving incentive. Paper Darts got a chance to shoot Concord Free Press a few questions about their so-crazy-it-totally-works publishing model.
Paper Darts: Your publishing model is very purpose-driven and certainly makes a statement. Does your charitable philosophy influence your selection of the manuscripts you publish?
Concord Free Press: Our books are linked more by the author’s willingness to join an intriguing publishing experiment than by any aesthetic doctrine. That said, we like unusual and bold works that have some sharp edges and strong opinions. In short, books that connect to readers on a more visceral level than entertainment.
PD: On the surface, many of the books you publish seem dark and satirical. In contrast, your publishing model is quite optimistic. Is this an intentional balancing act?
CFP: Yes. If we published books related to generosity and doing good, we’d bore ourselves and our readers. I’d say the Concord Free Press books are more on the lighter side of satire. The Concord ePress ebooks definitely run the gamut, with some dark ones on the list. We’re focused on creating a new approach to publishing, one based on generosity (versus the anxiety of the bottom line). The actual tone or subject of our books is almost irrelevant, though we certainly publish the most intriguing books we can.
PD: Do you think that any of the books published by Concord Free Press would never have seen the light of day through a traditional publisher?
CFP: Most of our books end up having second lives in commercial editions by HarperCollins, St. Martin’s, and others. So they definitely see the light of day, with a little help from us. And CFP authors are fairly far along in their publishing careers, so they have a proven track record of writing publishable and popular books. That said, some of our books are often cross-genre works, which makes them problematic for traditional publishers. And more interesting to us.
PD: I was amazed by how quick and easy it was to get a free book from your site—it seems like a lot of people might take advantage of that without holding up their end of the agreement. Have you ever considered a more fail-safe method of securing donations, or would that stifle your mission?
CFP: We can’t be the charity police. Leaving the process simple and trusting readers is in keeping with the overall light spirit of the CFP. We’ve been incredibly impressed by the many thousands of readers who actually do what the CFP asks on the back of their book—give some money away to a cause or someone in need, tell us about it, and pass the book on.
What inspires us is that every book we publish creates between $40,000–$50,000 in generosity throughout the world. A couple of bucks (or pounds) to a guy on the streets of Edinburgh. A donation to Kiva or United Way. It adds up to more than $230,000 for our first five books. Seeing where readers are giving (listed on our site) tells us that the whole process is working.
PD: Do you have a wish list of established authors you would love to publish, or do you prefer to find newer, less recognized voices?
CFP: Good question. Sure, we’d love to publish early works by the big leaguers, the kind of books that tend to reside in every writer’s desk drawer. We’d love to publish more women authors—for some reason, we’re dude-centric, which is a real source of embarrassment. We’d love to publish a novel from a Middle Eastern or Haitian writer, established or new. We’re open to any great work from an author who loves what we’re doing.
PD: Do any of the Concord Free Press editors have previous experience working for for-profit publishing firms, or was this project an unprecedented foray into publishing for all involved?
CFP: We’re a group of dozens of writers, designers, and other enthusiastic but unpaid volunteers, including some publishing types. But most of us know publishing from the outside. What we’ve found is that publishing is a whole lot of fun when you’re doing it out of generosity—and when you see the books have an impact beyond simply getting read.
Interview conducted by Matt Beachey.