Now that we’re two years old, we’ve been looking at what our next step is. We’ve explored a number of ideas, but the one we have kept coming back to over and over was to expand into our own press. We accidentally have compiled a staff full of people who have worked in one area or another in publishing, and together we have the perfect skillset to hit the ground running. We’re extremely excited to add this suite of services to the store’s offerings. We’ll be working with our local self-published authors, bringing some of our production in-house for our products, and pushing our reach beyond our four walls.
What are we doing?
We are investing in a full-scale digital printing and perfect binding system. This will allow us to create paperback books at or better than the quality produced by the big publishers, with minimum orders of even a single copy of the book. We’ll be able to control how sustainable our printing process is and use a higher quality glue that doesn’t get brittle or soft depending on temperature or humidity.
This idea started out as a way for us to publish our own classics that we know we’ll always need in stock. The main issue we kept running into was that most printers weren’t interested in talking with us. For some the minimum orders were too high, or they wanted more differentiation, or they just didn’t want to compete with their own classics that they were already printing. With the amount of money we were going to have to invest in inventory, it just made sense to compare it to the price of printing and binding them ourselves.
That’s where it got cool. With the same equipment for our classics, we can print books for local self-published authors, we could move the production of our stickers, bookmarks and journals in-house, and we could take on weird and wild projects that could be so incredibly fun. In addition, we could provide these same services to other bookstores and members of our community.
What impact will it have?
Great question, Sam. People probably think you’re really cool and smart.
The most immediate impact is that it’ll help stabilize the store in a few ways. It’s a poorly kept secret that margins on books are much narrower than on a lot of other goods, which is why so many bookstores find a way to supplement their income with a secondary business, such as clothing or a coffee shop or snacks or wine. That’s awesome and will be super helpful, but bringing many of our production in-house will also actually widen the margins on many of our best-selling items. In short, we’re never getting rich off of the press, but it’ll absolutely help us stay around.
Less selfishly, the press will really elevate our ability to engage with the community. Evansville has a thriving art community that is only growing. We plan to commission local art for every book cover, illustration, sticker, bookmark, and anything else we can think of that needs art. In addition to actually paying artists for their art, we also will feature a full-page About the Artist page introducing them, where to find their art, and how to support them. With the much wider distribution our own press opens us up to, this helps us extend the reach of our local art community as far as our books can ship.
Our press will also have the capability to do print-on-demand runs for local authors. We have a large number of locals already on our shelves, and they mostly use one of the big corporate competitors to print their books. Because of the volume they handle (and the costs they cut) there is no real quality control step to those production lines. Nearly every local author we’ve talked to has received books with the pages out of order, the cover upside down, multiple colors of ink, or other easily preventable printing errors. Even if reimbursed, these errors cost the authors time and money, missing deadlines and promised ship dates. By just having someone look at every book that comes off the line, we’ll be eliminating this issue completely.
Why are we asking for help?
Put simply, we can’t do this ourselves with the resources we have currently available. We’re only two years old, so the amount of money we need to get all of our equipment set up is considered to be high risk. This really limits the funding avenues available to us as-is, but can be overcome in a couple of key ways.
First, any money that we’re able to raise in this campaign will be less money we have to borrow. A smaller loan means lower risk, which can be a deciding factor to get lenders to actually look at our plans, projections, and in-place letters of intent from prospective clients (more on this later.)
Second and more crucially, every single donation, no matter the size, shows that there is a person interested in our service offering. Showing that we have a network of prospective customers already eagerly waiting for our products and services will also go a long way with lenders, prospective clients, and even distributors.
What are the risks?
Any new venture, of course, has an element of risk. In our case, the biggest challenge we’ll be facing is initial growth. There are a lot of large presses out there, and we’ll be a small fish in a big pond. We will never have the resources of those giant corporate presses, but that’s not really the niche that we’re going for, either.
Instead, we’re starting up with a very focused goal: we’re producing high-quality, digital, perfect-bound paperbacks. With a small peek behind the curtain, around 85% of our book sales are paperback, so it just makes sense.
It’s also a whole lot of equipment that will require some specialized training, adequate space and ventilation, and stable conditions. We’re talking almost 45 linear feet of production line, here, with lots of sensitive toners and glues and materials.
We’ve made an arrangement with another local business owner for our production space. The press will be only a few blocks from the store in a large, dry basement… with a freight elevator. It’s temperature and humidity stable (we’ve been measuring!) and large enough for us to spread out a little and get comfortable. It’s also got easy access to ventilation, so we just have to pump the fumes up and out of the building!
As far as training and maintenance, we’ve secured it at a very low cost from the equipment vendor themselves, so we’ll have easy access to techs within a couple hours of the equipment going down.