Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks has published four audio chapbooks so far. The original concept - which we thought pretty original for a chapbook at the time - was website-with-audio only. Each audio chapbook would have its own website, to which we would upload the poems as individual posts, each with its own audio, and that would be that.
As we got feedback from readers, however, we realized that as a publisher a) we could do much more with the text and audio for very little extra effort and that b) we weren't asking the right question of the poetry consumer. In fact, we weren't asking poetry consumers anything at all - we were just telling them: poetry is best served in this manner. Website-with-audio, is what we said.
But poetry is like steak, isn't it? Everyone wants it served in a particular way. Eventually we came to realize that what we should be asking, as a publisher, is: How do you like your poetry served?
In the old days, it was tough and expensive and darned risky to serve up reading material in even one form - as just good old print-book. You had to invest in raw materials and skilled labor and work really hard at selling books to even recoup your expenses, let alone make a profit.
These days, though, everything is just a click of the mouse away and publishing the same material in a whole variety of different formats doesn't cost you, as a publisher, anything but your time (which, if you are publishing poetry, you had better be donating ... I'm just sayin').
So. How do you like your poetry served? This is how we address that question at Whale Sound (titles & links at bottom of this post):
Some people prefer the original online website format - text and audio available as individual posts on the website.
Some people just want physical text - forget the audio and the online text. For those, there are two options. One is free - the PDF download. If you have a poetry-book budget and want a physical holdable BOOK in your hands, your best option is the book version, available at cost-price from Lulu, with no author/publisher mark-up. If you prefer to read from an e-reader, you can get a free PDF e-book download via Lulu, but we're still working on e-booking in general - formatting is a big challenge for poetry publication.
Some people just want an audio chapbook they can listen to on their iPod. The MP3 download is for you, if you want free audio. If you'd like a CD you can put in a player and keep on your CD rack, buy the CD - again, available at cost-price from Lulu.
In sum, at Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks you can:
1. Read each poem online as an individual post
2. Listen to each poem online as an individual unit
3. Download a free PDF of the whole chapbook
4. Download a free MP3 audio file of the whole chapbook
5. Purchase a print edition chapbook of from Lulu (at $4.98 + shipping - this is cost-price, no author/publisher mark-up)
6. Purchase an audio CD from Lulu (at $5.50 + shipping - again, this is cost-price)
I had some back-and-forth with a friend when I came up with these options. My friend rolled his eyes and said: "But if you provide the whole chapbook as a free PDF, who will buy the printed book? If you provide the whole chapbook as a free MP3 file, who will buy the CD?" He said we would be better off offering a few poems free on the website as text and audio teasers, which would then entice people into buying the book or CD.
I answered with questions: What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to sell books, or are we trying to get these poems read? At Whale Sound, we are trying to get the poems read. The number of people who buy the book is not the point. We don't make money off sales, and we don't want to. Lulu is a print-on-demand publisher, so there will never be sad piles of unsold chapbooks or unsold CDs that we have paid for, gathering dust in some warehouse.
What matters to us is that the individual poetry consumer who prefers to read poetry from a book held in their hands has the option to obtain these poems in those forms. That the individual consumer who prefers to put a CD in a player to hear the poems can obtain them in that form.
The question is not: Who will buy the book or the CD? The question is: Are we catering to people who prefer their poetry in printed books or e-books or as audio on CD? In other words, are we delivering poetry in forms that maximize its chances of being read?
And of course, the great thing is that adding these additional delivery methods to the original website-with-audio concept is not a whole lot of extra work, believe it or not. I was and remain very surprised at how easy it is to produce simple but professional-looking products at Lulu. The hardest work lies in producing the basic ‘raw’ material - the edited manuscript, the recorded poems, and the cover art. Once that is done, all that remains is to repackage this same raw material in several different ways for different types of consumers. Online text, online audio; downloadable text, downloadable audio; print edition, CD edition. The technology that makes all these different packaging options easy is available to anyone and is both free and easy to use. We started offering these options with Cloud Studies and Dark Refuge and in both cases it took me less than an afternoon on the Lulu website to upload, design and publish the chapbooks. The CD was just as easy to put together.
Goodness knows we still have huge amounts to learn, but the learning comes best with the doing. So if any of you have been wondering whether or not to take the publishing plunge, my advice is - just do it!
Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks
Nic's previous BAP blog posts