Bloomsbury venture to bring books "back from dead"

Wed Sep 28, 2011 5:32am EDT

* Bloomsbury launches first digital-only imprint

* Says to bring out-of-print books "back from dead"

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Bloomsbury Publishing, home to the Harry Potter books in Britain, launched its first purely digital imprint on Wednesday which it said would bring out-of-print titles "back from the dead".

Bloomsbury Reader has signed up a string of authors including Monica Dickens, great grand-daughter of Charles, politicians Alan Clark and Ted Heath, crime writer H.R.F. Keating and novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett.

The publisher is focusing on books which are out of print and where all English-language rights have reverted back to the author or the author's estate.

In several cases, for example Clark's famous political diaries, some of an author's work is still in print and remains with the original publisher. Those books that are not will be digitally published by Bloomsbury Reader.

"In my experience, if people read a book by an author and they love that author, they suddenly want to read everything by that author and that's where this can fit in," said Stephanie Duncan, digital media director at Bloomsbury Publishing.

"Once you've read every Inspector Ghote mystery then you think, well what else has H.R.F. Keating written, and that's where Bloomsbury Reader comes in because we'll be delivering all those books," she told Reuters in an interview.

Duncan added that the new venture was working closely with other publishers rather than competing against them.

COPIES HARD TO FIND

One hurdle for Bloomsbury has been finding hard copies of books that have been out of print for a long time.

"Talk about bringing books back from the dead," said Duncan. "It's actually, in some instances, a struggle to find a print copy that we can start the process with. In that sense it's sort of saving books as well for future generations."

Another challenge is to reach a big enough audience and make the works stand out in a marketplace that tends to be dominated by bestseller lists and "hot" new titles.

"The challenge is how do you get a book that's may be 50, 80 years old and find its audience," Duncan explained.

"I think digital gives a real ability to find that audience because of course word-of-mouth remains the strongest way to sell a book and digital word-of-mouth is quicker, its reach is wider, it's interactive."

Bloomsbury was initially approached by literary and talent agency The Rights House with the idea of setting up the new venture. It provided the publisher with a list of authors which Bloomsbury took on board.

Duncan then set about looking for new names, and the venture has the potential to expand, she said.

"In terms of types of books, I think things that do incredibly well (in e-book terms) are crime, romance, so of course we'd love to get lots of those types of books that are selling very well.

As well as e-books, the venture is offering readers hard copies if they ask for them.

"Print-on-demand" copies will cost just under 13 pounds in Britain or $20 in the United States, compared with e-books that will retail at just under seven pounds and $9 respectively.

And should a particular title prove particularly popular, Bloomsbury Reader has the option of bringing it back into print.

Bloomsbury estimates the digital share of its sales in terms of value at around 10 percent, but the publisher sees that growing to 50 percent by 2015.

"Print will remain an important part of our business and that will continue for a long time," said Duncan.

Boosting digital sales significantly is likely to be the launch of the Pottermore website dedicated to the Harry Potter phenomenon and where author J.K. Rowling will sell her wizard tales in e-book form for the first time. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)