2020? How the hell did that happen?
We’re living in the ACTUAL FUTURE people and (despite all the reasons the world is throwing at us not to be) we’re heading into 2020 feeling massively optimistic and excited.
2020 looks set to be the most interesting year in Fahrenheit’s history and today we’re gonna explain why.
Before we get started on revealing our plans for the next year though we want to explain our thinking and to do that we have to indulge in some #RealTalk so grab yourself a coffee and settle down, this is could take a while.
The publishing industry has changed beyond recognition over the last 30 years. Some of that change has been amazingly positive – some, less so.
Amazon has certainly had a huge influence – depending on your point of view The Mighty Zon has either democratised the publishing landscape – offering greater choice and value for money to readers and allowing hundreds of thousands of previously unpublished writers to get their words into book form – or it’s brought a once thriving industry to its knees by slashing prices and flooding the market with a tsunami of slush-pile shit.
Frankly we’re not getting dragged into that dog-fight – in the end the Fahrenheit view is that we play the best hand we can with the cards we’ve been dealt.
We are where we are and the simple truth is that for authors it’s never been easier to get their book out there and conversely it’s never been more difficult to make publishing pay.
Don’t get us wrong we’re not complaining – we choose to walk this path every day and we’re happy to live or die by the decisions we make when it comes to our business.
The fact is though that reading as a leisure activity is increasingly becoming a niche activity among the general population. I know it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re surrounded by a warm cosy cushion of #BookLove on all your social media channels but it’s none-the-less true.
If you read 1 book every month you’re already in a tiny minority of the wider population. If you read 1 or more books every week you’ve moved into the realms of weirdly obsessive as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
Now take a moment and breathe deeply, I know that statement won’t sit easily with most of you who think you don’t have a book problem – the fact is though, if you’re reading this blog you’re almost certainly already so deep into your reading addiction that you’ll probably never claw your way back out.
Here’s a simple two-part test to find out if you’re a bookish-weirdo :
- Do you know what a TBR pile is?
- Do you have one?
If the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’ then you ARE 100% a bookish-weirdo. If the answer to both is ‘yes’ then you’re already beyond hope. If you’re surprised that the question even needed asking then you’re one step away from an intervention from your nearest and dearest.
The truth is that for most people reading this, books & reading (and talking about books & reading) have become almost fetishistic – don’t worry – we’re right there with you – we’re so deep into this life of book-depravity we had to set up our own publishing company just to keep our habit ticking over.
The majority of the population – if they buy a book at all – are most likely to grab one to take on holiday (though the evidence shows that even this number is decreasing) or maybe they’ll buy a fancy looking cookbook to give someone as a Christmas gift or they’ll buy a book for a child (as an aside, research has shown that it’s more likely these books will be bought as gifts by people who aren’t the actual parents, so a degree of virtue signalling from aunts, uncles, grandparents seems to be a factor here).
Although individually these book-buyers might only buy one or two books a year, cumulatively it’s this group of consumers (not the book-obsessives) that make up the lion’s share of all books purchased throughout the year. It’s these people who are the reason why physical book sales are holding up against all the odds and why corporate publishing’s profits are still increasing year on year.
These people on the whole don’t read reviews in The Guardian, they don’t scour the book-blogs looking for the next undiscovered gem, they don’t log on to see what people on book-twitter #AmReading. What they do is they look for a name they recognise – Jamie, Nigella, David Walliams, Lee Child etc – when you’re only buying one or two books a year you don’t want to take a risk and if a million other people have bought them too they can’t be rubbish, right? (wrong obvs, but you take the point)
For indie publishers like Fahrenheit this leads to a particular set of challenges.
We don’t have the resources to pay huge advances to well known authors or celebrities – and frankly even if we did, we wouldn’t get into that game. For our part, the joy we get out of Fahrenheit is finding new talent and getting their words out there for readers to enjoy – chequebook publishing, even if it was an option, wouldn’t interest us in the slightest – been there, done that.
The only other route to selling really chunky numbers of books these days is promotion. It’s worth noting though that promotion used to mean something different than it does now. Promotion and publicity used to be two sides of the same marketing coin – both tools in their different ways could move the sales dial if deployed properly. These days though although publicity (on blogs, newspapers, magazines etc) can raise awareness for a title it very rarely moves the sales dial in any significant way, or for any significant period of time.
The reality these days is that if a publisher really wants to shift a book in quantity they need to commit increasingly large sums of money either to online advertising and/or offer larger and larger discounts/promotion fees to book-sellers (both online and bricks & mortar retailers).
Even then there’s no guarantee that after costs they’ll recoup more than they spend.
Here’s a real-life example: We got an order for 50 copies of one of our books from a UK book chain to support a specific event. The discount demanded was larger than we were comfortable with but we figured it was event specific and if they sold the first 50, it might whet their appetite and they’d come back for more, but on more reasonable terms, once the event was over. The event was a success and they sold all 50 books in just 2 days. Great you’d think? Nope, not really – our profit on the whole order was just under £30. They also took 4 months to pay the invoice so in effect we lost money.
So what’s an indie publisher to do?
Well, we introduced some practical innovations that offer real value to our readers;
- If you buy the paperback edition of any of our books we’ll give you the eBook download for free.
- Our readers can collect loyalty points with every purchase which are redeemable against any item in our store.
- All purchases from our store are beautifully hand-wrapped and packaged in 100% recyclable materials – zero single-use plastic or excessive packaging.
In addition, we’ve fairly successfully shifted a large chunk of our sales directly through to the Fahrenheit store. We’ve found that most people start small – most often they’ll start by downloading the free eBook they get for signing up and then move on from there – gradually picking up paperbacks and merch until eventually they find themselves wrapped in a Fahrenheit 13 t-shirt, crying over an Ian Ayris novel and snorting hot-sauce straight from the bottle.
We’ve kept ahead of the pack by innovating and continually offering our readers new and different experiences that other publishers just can’t seem to get their heads around.
Honestly if I had a quid for every time a ‘proper publisher’ has muttered under their breath about Fahrenheit selling mugs, or t-shirts or heaven forbid, fucking hot-sauce – well lets just say, we wouldn’t need to sell mugs, or t-shirts, or fucking hot sauce.
We could care less what the publishing establishment thinks about what we’re building here but as they're so free with their advice about 'the problem with Fahrenheit' here’s some free advice from us to them:
- Publishing every generic police procedural/psychological thriller/who-gives-a-fuck-who-did-it manuscript that comes your way isn’t a business strategy.
- Swanning around at the London Book Fair air-kissing reporters from The Guardian and sucking up to the dinosaurs at The Bookseller in the hope of getting a mention in the next issue isn’t a business strategy.
- Spending more money on promotions & discounts to booksellers than you could ever recoup even if you do nail that unicorn best-seller isn’t a business strategy.
- Setting up a go-fund-me isn’t a business strategy.
We recognised early on that Fahrenheit readers don’t just spend all their time shut in a quiet room pouring over books but if you like Fahrenheit you like us for a reason, and that’s probably because you embrace the same stuff we do.
We love music, we love going to gigs, we love movies, we love food, we love laughing till we cry, we love spending time shooting the shit with our friends. We don’t care what colour your skin is, or where you were born, or what you do for a living. We don’t care how much cash you’ve got stashed in the bank, we don’t care who you fall in love with or what you do in bed with them. We love creative people, we love dreamers, kooks, freaks & weirdos, we love people who love dreamers, kooks, freaks & weirdos, we love people who are fearless, people who don’t mind standing outside of the herd, people who dance to their own tune and live their lives on their own terms.
Over the years we’ve attracted people who think the same way we do about a lot of things and we’ve also built up a reputation for excellence. Our readers know that even if they’ve never heard of the author, or the book sounds just plain weird they can trust the fact that it’s got the Fahrenheit Skull on the cover and be confident that it’s always gonna be worth a punt.
We talk to our readers like adults, we tell the truth – when we’re pissed off about something you’ll know about it – when we’re happy we share the joy. We're not a faceless corporate entity – engage with us and you’ll get a proper human response.
So that’s where we're at – let us tell you where we’re going.
Our strategy is to build a sustainable business that generates enough money to allow us to keep finding and publishing the books we want to publish.
These books wont always be the most obviously commercial or mainstream - that's our nature – we've always been outsiders and we've always championed new voices and outsider art.
If we happen to stumble on a best-seller along the way then great, we certainly wont shy away from that level of commercial success but we aren't going to join the legion of publishing Captain Ahabs who fixate on catching that great white whale to the exclusion of everything else.
We're committed to building a solvent, ethical and creatively relevant business that will still be flourishing 10 years from now. To do that we need to expand on the things we're good at and fearlessly celebrate our uniqueness.
We’ve talked a lot about all this internally and tried to identify the reasons why so many readers have become so fiercely loyal to Fahrenheit.
For sure we’re fun to be around – you’d definitely enjoy going for a beer with us - but in the end, when we strip away everything else we reckon that it comes down to the quality of the books we publish. A strong brand and a can-do punk attitude will take you a long way but in the end if the books were rubbish we don’t think we’d have been able to sustain this level of support from our readers for as long as we have.
In the end then we reckon one of our greatest strengths is our curation skills – we know how to pick quality and we do it so consistently that our readers have come to trust the Fahrenheit logo in a way that I think most corporate publishers could only dream of.
To that end we’ve decided to double down on curation as we enter the next stage of The Fahrenheit Project.
We’ll begin flexing our curation muscles in several new ways over the next 12 months.
- It gives us huge pleasure to see the number of amazing small indie presses that have set up over the last few years and we know (because they’ve told us) that Fahrenheit has been an inspiration for many of them. We don’t see other publishers as competition, we think anything that helps readers discover new books outside of the usual dull corporate sphere should be encouraged. With this in mind, over the next few months you’ll see us begin to promote and sell books from other indie presses in the Fahrenheit store. We’ve already got a few deals signed and sealed and we expect to add to these as we move forward. We’d love to see Fahrenheit develop into an indie hub (a Rebel Alliance if you will) and we’ll be working hard over the next year to make that happen. Collaboration not competition is our guiding principal on this.
- This year will also see the launch of our own magazine - Sharpen Fist Here will launch this summer and will give a platform for all the amazing short fiction pieces that come through our hands. Each edition will be available in a very limited edition and the ethos will be very much in the style of the old skool punk fanzines. Details on how to submit your short fiction to SFH will be announced soon,
- While books will always be our main focus, we recognise that the world doesn’t begin and end with words on a page. The success of the merch on our site has shown us that our readers aren’t just one dimensional book-sniffers so we’re also going to start featuring a carefully curated selection of products from talented makers and creators who we think will resonate with Fahrenheit readers. We’ve got amazingly talented people lined up who you’ll see featured on our site over the coming months - jewellers, stained glass makers, textile artists, zine creators, musicians and record labels to name a few of the treats we’ve got in store for you.
- This year we’ll also be taking Fahrenheit out on the road as we set up a series of Fahrenheit pop-ups in various locations across the summer. There’ll be books, merch, music and food all with the Fahrenheit stamp of approval. As you’ve probably guessed by now our long-term aim is to open a permanent Fahrenheit space where you can all come and hang out – these summer pop-ups mark the first steps in this journey.
- Over the years we’ve built up an incredible pool of publishing talent that we can turn to when we need them. We think that as well as supporting other indie presses by selling their books in our store we should also show our support for the unsung heroes of indie publishing – the editors, the designers, the blog tour organisers - to that end over the next 12 months we’ll be opening up our little black book of contacts and recommendations to offer the services of these publishing professionals to other indie presses and indie authors.
We get that this is all very ambitious and we can already hear the cries of "shouldn't you just concentrate on publishing books?" from the traditionalists. The simple truth is that (for all the reasons we set out at the beginning of this blog) without this level of ambition, without this desire for innovation and diversification Indie publishers like Fahrenheit will be doomed to either stagnate or fail entirely over the next 5 years – things are not going to get any easier.
Publishing the best books we can find will always be our primary purpose - everything else we do will only ever support that - for us it's books, first and last and always.
Our publishing schedule this year is bulging with books - as well as new books from Fahrenheit legends Tony R. Cox, Lee Matthew Goldberg, Nick Quantrill and Ian Patrick we'll be publishing the complete crime fighting bluesman series from Ricky Bush as well as a frankly game-changing 600 page zombie heist novel from Russell Day (yes, it does have Netflix written all over it – we're totally on that).
Fans of our hugely popular @69Crime Tete Beche Flip Books can rest easy too - we've got at least another 6 in the 2020 publishing schedule.
And here's just a taster of some of the books from new authors that are going to blow your little punk socks off in the first half of 2020
- Early in the year we've got some vintage speedway #BritNoir heading your way from debut author DDC Morgan - this book is very close to my heart - the writing is a sharp, sparse and evocative homage to the british working classes in the 1950s (and frankly the cover art for this one is worth the price of admission alone).
- We've got some #KarmicNoir headed your way from Paul Steven Stone - this book blew my mind when I read the manuscript last summer and it isn't like anything else you've ever read. I've got a strong feeling this will be Fahrenheit's equivalent to The Dice Man.
- Debut author Jackie Swift will be bringing some playful #SexyNoir to Planet Fahrenheit when she introduces Lola Jones to you all this Spring - this is the first book in a series that we're sure you're going to get addicted to and I can see that Lola Jones is going to establish herself right up their with Danny Bird and Rose as one of your favourite Fahrenheit characters.
- We know you all love a bit of #TechNoir and we've got an absolute cracker in the debut book from actor and film-maker Tyler Knight publishing this year. Part William Gibson, part Chuck Palahniuk - seriously he's that good.
- And then there's The Beloved Children from Tina Jackson. What can I say about this book except that it's something very special indeed. With its mysticism, fortune tellers, a talking russian bear and its evocative descriptions of wartime London theatreland it genuinely weaves a spell around the reader. In the unlikely event any Fahrenheit book was ever nominated for The Booker Prize it'd be this one - #Actual.
So there you go. Where we are and where we're going in 2020.
I know this was a long read but the real truth is that Fahrenheit is so much more than just us sitting in The Bunker making books - Fahrenheit is you - every one of you who have ever bought a book, worn a t-shirt or written a review. You're all our partners in this and that's why we wanted to explain to you in detail about our plans.
Fahrenheit is as much yours as ours now and we hope you're looking forward to the future as much as we are.
We kiss you.
Chris McVeigh, Publisher.
P.S. Today we're publishing the complete Tranquility Trilogy by Linden Chase in one single volume for the first time. As a thank-you for reading this to the end and for giving us your time we're gonna give you a free eBook download of this very special edition. Add the eBook to your basket and enter the promo-code BOOK2020 at the checkout.
P.P.S If you like the sound of what we're doing you could always put your hand in your pocket and BUY SOMETHING while you're here.
P.P.P.S If you're interested in more information or in getting involved in any of the plans we've talked about here email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
P.P.P.P.S Since we published this piece interest has gone through the roof and by public demand we've put out a range of BOOKISH WEIRDO t-shirts & mugs which you can buy here