While Stef Penney got all the accolades in the media for winning the Costa Book Prize last week, the real beneficiaries of hosannas is her publisher, Quercus. the Financial Times profiles the small press that’s found its way with an unusual path – combining “contact” publishing (or packaged books) with trade books such that the money made from one sector allows editors to buy within the other. “Modern technology has given small publishers an access to the marketplace they never had before,” said chairman Anthony Cheetham, who helped found Quercus in 2004. “Selling a book on Amazon.com, for example, is a democratic process: it doesn’t cost any money to get the book out there, and you have just as good a chance of access as the largest company on earth.”
Crucial to the small houses’ marketing power, however, has been a consortium called the Independent Alliance. It combines the sales and marketing efforts of seven small publishers, including Faber and Faber, Canongate and Profile, to achieve competitive scale. Consolidation among British booksellers means that with such marketing muscle behind them small publishers can gain wide exposure for a book if it is picked up by just one of the large retailers such as Waterstone’s. “Without the alliance, we never would have had the reach or visibility for [Tenderness of Wolves] that we had before the award,” said Mark Smith, Quercus’ CEO.
Or without some luck. “[Cheetham's] ex-wife, Rosie Cheetham, was a literary agent working for Time Warner at the time,” said Mr Smith. “She loved the book and tried to buy it, but they turned it down. So she passed it on to Anthony, and he loved it too.”