My biz Red Hill Publishing applied a while ago to join SPUNC, the Small Press Underground Networking Community. Looks like a really worthwhile and important organisation, although I wouldn’t know as our membership was declined.

They said:

At the current time, we do not accept publishers who require their authors to pay upfront costs, and it is unlikely that we will allow such publishers to become members in the near future.

Yet their website notes:

(SPUNC) is a representative body for small and independent Australian publishers. It was formed in 2006 to promote independent publishing and support the principle of diversity within the publishing industry as a vital component of Australian literary culture.

Obviously not interested in too much diversity …

As an independent publisher Red Hill is primarily focused on one outcome: return on investment for our authors. I think we’re one of the few publishers that is genuinely concerned about whether our authors not only recoup their investment but make a profitable living from writing.

I certainly accept that there are many ‘fee-for-service’ publishers who are disingenuous in claiming to support their authors. How an author can expect to secure a return on investment after spending $20,000 when their ‘publishing package’ only includes 100 printed books is beyond me. How such businesses can justify their existence as anything other than opportunistic similarly eludes me.

At the same time offering an advance against royalties doesn’t suddenly make a publisher the epitome of integrity. Most published authors can reel off grievances about ‘creative’ accounting; nominal marketing support; unanswered phone calls – the list goes on. The traditional publishing business model doesn’t guarantee trustworthiness.

Organisations like SPUNC, and the publishing industry more broadly, focus on the wrong end of the publishing ‘workflow’. They see the legitimacy of a publisher as being determined by who takes the financial risk, when what matters most are the outcomes for the author (and perhaps how they are achieved).

The question is simple enough: does the publisher’s business model allow the author to make a living from their work? Unless an author offers up a mass-market smash hit I don’t see how a 10% royalty helps them achieve this.

Oh, and by the way, Red Hill is an author-retained rights publisher. Authors take a financial risk, keep their rights and retain the spoils. Our authors keep 87.5% of receipts (100% until they have recouped their investment). And since Red Hill works with authors who have existing, non-retail channels to market, on a $34.95 RRP that’s $30.58 in their bank for each copy sold. On a 10% royalty it would be only $3.49.

I don’t see anything untoward about our maths or our business model. If a publisher is more interested in making money for itself I can see how it might be a problem.