I guess it won't have escaped many people's notice that last week my publisher Salt announced that they were in trouble. The ending of their Arts Council grant, designed to get them on their feet while they built up a market (which it seems they had been doing with some success) coincided with the economic turndown and the apparent loss of market for books generally in spite of hopes expressed elsewhere that literary books would weather the storm.
When this kind of thing happens to independent publishers, they usually fade away quietly - perhaps no one ever wants to announce the problems before the end actually comes: too bad for business while there's still hope of some miracle! So it was with a fair amount of amazement that I began to read Salt director Chris Hamilton Emery's Facebook announcement of the difficulties Salt was encountering. But the statement led up to another announcement, of an idea which may come to be seen in publishing history as a brilliant marketing stroke - well, I hope it does anyway! Chris announced the Just One Book campaign. If enough people bought just one book, Salt could pay off their debt and the troubles would only be temporary, and Salt would not have to end.
The result has been astounding and proved the power of the internet for publishers. As Chris says, the news went instantly 'global': it was facebooked and twittered and blogged (this is why I've been busier on my other blog than this one), it made the Bookseller, and the response in terms of orders has been huge. It seems the backlist is now secured, and the frontlist is getting on track.
Susan Hill, expressing her familiar and indeed reasonable view that publishing is above all a business not a charity, has commented in a Facebook thread that books requiring their publishers to beg people to buy them in this way should not be being published in the first place. If people don't want books, she says, ie if there isn't a market for them, then they shouldn't be being published. It's more complicated than that, though: as I've said so many times, people can't want books if they don't know about them, and the thing which large publishers have and which small publishers don't is huge marketing budgets to get the knowledge of them out there, to the punters and to the bookshops - a point poignantly protrayed in the latest of Chris's searingly honest and vivid bulletins.
What so many emails and Facebook messages have made clear to me this week is that Chris's campaign has indeed alerted to the presence of Salt and their books many people who were unaware of them, or only peripherally aware, and whose interest has now been aroused.
He's created a market, in other words.