I sat down with author Stona Fitch recently, to talk about his brilliantly innovative publishing house called Concord Free Press, www.concordfreepress.com
Author Stona Fitch
CFP’s non-profit model is to publish a limited quantity of original books from top-shelf authors and give them away, for FREE. Even shipping anywhere in the world is FREE. The industry calls it generosity-based publishing. In exchange for the book, CFP requests that you make a voluntary donation to a charity or a person in need—your choice. You can chart your donation on the CFP website and then pass the book along to someone else so that the giving can continue. It’s a simple, yet powerful concept, inspiring both reading and giving. It’s all good, all real and pretty amazing.
DG: Stona, we know you are an acclaimed author yourself, what gave you the idea to start Concord Free Press?
Stona: My fourth novel, Give + Take, was orphaned when my editor left the publishing house I was working with. The novel is about a jazz pianist who steals diamonds and BMWs, fences them, and gives the money away. Generosity and its limits is a big theme in Give + Take, so the book really inspired CFP, which publishes beautifully designed, original books and gives them all away in exchange for acts of generosity.
DG: OK, this sounds too good to be true. You have an American Revolution-era patriot in your logo. Are you trying to revolutionize the world of traditional publishing?
Stona: Yes, if only by showing how a radically simple idea can take hold and work. We’re interested in expanding the core definition of what a book can do, in engaging with readers in new ways, and in inspiring a link between the solitary act of reading and more community-focused acts of generosity. From the start, we suspected that readers were inherently generous. If you can believe in a character made out of words, you’re likely to have empathy for the real, three-dimensional people around you. And our readers have really come through.
DG: That’s perceptive of you to know your readers so well. I see you have some literary Big Guns on your advisory board (e.g., Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Francine Prose, Megan Abbott, Jess Walter, and more) How did you attract these authors?
Stona: I asked them to join and they said yes, because they were intrigued by the CFP, which is a rare positive note in the overall gloom of publishing. It’s important to note that we’re writers, not publishers. We’re taking control of the machinery and technology of publishing and using it in a new way.
DG: We know what’s in it for readers (free books), bookstores (store traffic), and the charities (donations). But what’s in it for your authors who submit their work knowing their book will not generate traditional profits?
Stona: When they publish with us, writers get their work to readers via an interesting new channel, one that gets a lot of attention for such a small operation. Plus, our writers retain all rights to their work beyond our inherently limited press run. Being published by us doesn’t preclude having the work republished in a traditional, for-profit edition, either in the U.S. or abroad. Or from selling the film rights. In fact, a CFP edition can encourage these sales. So a book that we publish can go on to bigger, more commercial, and more lucrative things for its author. For example, Thomas Dunne Books just republished Give + Take in a traditional hardcover edition in the US, with foreign editions in the UK, Greece, Taiwan, and beyond. And HarperCollins will be republishing Gregory Maguire’s The Next Queen of Heaven, the third CFP novel, this fall.
DG: Really interesting. It sounds like even traditional publishers are benefitting from your concept. So, what is your business model? How do you support the press?
Stona: Like any non-profit, we ask a lot of people for a little money and a few people for more. And it’s working. People believe in what we’re doing and are willing to support us. And since we all work for free, our expenses are very low—mostly just printing and postage.
DG: Alrighty then, what’s the bottom line? How much cha ching do your books generate for charities?
Stona: Our books generate $40,000 to $50,000 per title in donations, an unheard-of figure for a trade paperback. And that's only the donations people tell us about. Factoring in our costs, that’s an ROI of more than 400%, even though worthy causes and people in need ultimately receive that money. And each book keeps going, generating more generosity along the way. We just launched our fourth book, a multi-genre collection edited by the acclaimed poet/critic Ron Slate called IOU: New Writing on Money and we’re already at about $139,000 in total donations to date.
DG: Those numbers are impressive. How do you distribute your books and how often do you publish new books?
Stona: We give away our books through a network of more than fifty great independent bookstores around the country and via worldwide requests on our website www.concordfreepress.com Distribution of our books is strictly first come, first served. We publish new books twice a year, in May and October.
DG: Thanks for being with us Stona. It was a pleasure speaking with you about Concord Free Press. We think you are doing something important here. Good luck!
Stona: Thanks for spreading the word about our admittedly unusual approach to publishing. There’s no catch. We promise.
If you would like to find out more about Concord Free Press, check out their website www.concordfreepress.com. Also, we are giving away four copies of IOU. It’s a wild collection of writings on money— short fiction, poetry, essays, and memoirs—from a remarkably diverse set of voices. There are also fascinating interviews by CFP with two people who served prison time for money-related crimes, including Katherine Ann Power, the 70s-era radical who spend more than a decade on the run as America’s top fugitive. Get a copy and see why so many people are talking about the Concord Free Press.
To Enter: Leave a comment or question below for Stona or share your thoughts on Concord Free Press.
General contest rules: To enter, you must be a U. S. or Canadian resident, and at least 18 years of age and you must leave a comment or question on today’s post. No purchase necessary. The winner(s) will be randomly selected and will recieve a copy of the bok IOU. Employees, contractors, and the families of employees and contractors of Daily Grommet, Inc. are not eligible to enter. You are not eligible to win if you have received a prize or giveaway from Daily Grommet in the last six months. Void where prohibited. Contest will run from 11:30 am EST July 19th through 12:00 pm EST July 20th, 2010.