Book publishers go hyper-local and flourish in South Carolina

Writers visited Hub City Bookshop during the Hub City's annual creative writing conference in July.

In early 2010, attorney and Charleston native Tom Tisdale called author-editor Stephen Hoffius to figure out how to get a couple of important books back in print.

By the numbers

83 percent of Americans ages 16-29 have read a book in the past year. Some 75 percent read a print book, 19 percent read an e-book and 11 percent listened to an audiobook.

Among Americans who read e-books, those under 30 are more likely to read on a cellphone (41 percent) or computer (55 percent) than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23 percent) or tablet (16 percent).

Overall, 47 percent of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. E-content readers under 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more these days due to the availability of e-content (40 percent vs. 28 percent).

60 percent of Americans under 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46 percent used the library for research, 38 percent borrowed books (print books, audiobooks or e-books) and 23 percent borrowed newspapers, magazines or journals.

National Endowment for the Arts, 2008

Demographics of literature readers

Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, readers ages 18-24 have seen the biggest increase (9 percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.

Since 2002, reading has increased at the sharpest rate (up 20 percent) among Hispanic Americans; reading rates have increased among blacks by 15 percent, and among whites by 8 percent.

For the first time in the survey's history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. Literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels.

Pew Research Center, 2012

“The Shaftesbury Papers,” a volume first published in 1897 by the South Carolina Historical Society, contained documents concerning the settlement of Carolina in 1670 and the early character of the Lowcountry. “Led On! Step By Step,” the autobiography of the Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter, was first published in 1898 and contained a fascinating account of an essential figure: an Episcopal priest and planter who became an abolitionist and worked during and after the Civil War for reconciliation. He established the Porter Military Academy to educate children orphaned by the war. (It merged in 1964 with the Gaud School for Boys and the Watt School to become the Porter-Gaud School.)

South Carolina's book publishers

At least 12 book publishers are active in South Carolina. All are focused on local and regional people and topics.

Coastal Villages Press, Beaufort: coastalvillagespress.com

Warbranch Press, Central: www.warbranchpress.com

Evening Post Books, Charleston: www.eveningpostbooks.com

History Press, Charleston: historypress.net

Home House Press, Charleston: homehousepress.org

University of South Carolina Press, Columbia: www.sc.edu/uscpress

Ninety-Six Press, Greenville: facweb.furman.edu/~wrogers/96Press/home.htm

Arcadia Publishing, Mount Pleasant: www.arcadiapublishing.com

Sylvan Dell Publishing, Mount Pleasant: www.sylvandellpublishing.com

Sandlapper Publishing, Orangeburg: www.sandlapperpublishing.com

Hub City Press, Spartanburg: hubcity.org

Joggling Board Press, Summerville: jogglingboardpress.com

Both titles no longer were sold commercially, so Tisdale and Hoffius searched for a publisher that would reissue them. They were not successful, but they were determined.

“So we went ahead and published them,” Tisdale said.

Home House Press is one of at least a dozen book publishers operating in South Carolina. Half of those companies are based in the Charleston area. They produce traditional books — printed on paper, bound and shipped to stores and customers. They do this in a digital age when printed materials such as newspapers, magazines and books face increasing competition from other media platforms.

They are succeeding, more or less, even as larger publishers — typically divisions of multinational media conglomerates — are struggling to cope with growing demand for Web-based products and electronic books. They are flourishing even though powerful retailers and distributors like Amazon and Ingram demand discounts and high fees.

What's the secret? Specialization, South Carolina publishers said. And a strong emphasis on local topics and people. Oh, and coffee table books.

All of the state's book publishers, including its biggest and most venerable, University of South Carolina Press, have found a niche for themselves.

Arcadia Publishing, established in 1993 and based in Mount Pleasant, has a catalog of about 8,000 titles. Most are short histories of cities and towns across the U.S., but Arcadia's books also cover such topics as sports, entertainment, religion, parks and the military.

Sylvan Dell Publishing, also Mount Pleasant-based, produces educational children's books. The History Press, located in Charleston, is committed to “preserving and enriching community by empowering history enthusiasts to write local stories for local audiences.”

Evening Post Publishing Co., which owns The Post and Courier, launched Evening Post Books in 2008. It specializes “in high-quality literary fiction and non-fiction written by authors hailing from and writing about the South Carolina Lowcountry.”

And Sandlapper Publishing, based in Orangeburg, “(celebrates) South Carolina's rich heritage with books that promote and preserve the people, places, history, cuisine and culture of South Carolina.”

Reading
A widely held assumption is that people are reading less these days, that the heyday of book publishing is forever relegated to the past, that competition from other media platforms is signaling the end of print.

In an interview with The New York Times' Charles McGrath last month, famed novelist Philip Roth said the novel form might not be finished but “the readership is dying out. That's a fact, and I've been saying it for 15 years. I said the screen will kill the reader, and it has. The movie screen in the beginning, the television screen and now the coup de grâce, the computer screen.”

But Susan Kammeraad-Campbell, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Summerville-based Joggling Board Press, said not so fast. Sales of children's books and young-adult titles (published in traditional print formats) are on the rise. Small independent bookstores are making something of a comeback. And trade paperback sales are increasing. What's more, she said, more people are reading, not less.

She's right.

A study published in 2009 by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that the overall rate at which adults read literature (novels, short stories, plays and poetry) rose by 7 percent, or 16.6 million readers, over 10 years. The increases followed significant declines in reading rates since 1982, the NEA explained.

The biggest jump is among young readers, according to an October 2012 Pew Research Center report.

“More than eight in 10 Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in 10 used their local public library,” the report states. “At the youngest end of the spectrum, high-schoolers in their late teens (ages 16-17) and college-aged young adults (ages 18-24) are especially likely to have read a book or used the library in the past 12 months.”

Interdependence
Kammeraad-Campbell said the symbiotic relationship between publisher and bookstore has evolved over the decades but remains as essential as ever.

The independent book shop thrived through the 1980s, but then barely survived the onslaught of big-box stores such as Barnes & Noble, she said. Today, superstores are struggling to compete with digital retailers, and this has created an opening for small local stores.

“The dynamic may be that out of the ashes of the big boxes are emerging the small community bookstore,” she said. What goes around comes around.

Critically acclaimed novelist Ann Patchett is more famous as a business entrepreneur since she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville two years ago.

This doesn't surprise Kammeraad-Campbell.

“Hyper-local is the only growth area,” she said. “That is what national publishing houses cannot do, nor big box stores. ... I think what we're seeing is the trend that people are craving” — despite the ease of online shopping — “something that is personal, that is familiar, that is intimate. People like a neighborhood experience,” for which they are willing to spend more.

In Spartanburg, Betsy Teter knows just what her Summerville colleague is talking about.

Teter runs Hub City Press and the Hub City Bookshop. The store is the epitome of hyper-local, small and independent. It's located on the main square downtown. Teter raised $300,000 from the community five or six years ago to renovate the abandoned Masonic Temple. Now Spartanburg residents lounge, read, sip coffee and eat pastries, chat and listen to readings in the space.

Hub City Press got its start in 1995.

“There are a lot of writers in Spartanburg, because we have a lot of colleges,” Teter said. “This was a way that writers came together to figure out how to publish each other.”

In the beginning, Hub City forged a partnership with the S.C. Arts Commission to publish fiction and poetry, concentrating on emerging North Carolina and South Carolina writers, as well as a few authors who've made it, such as Ron Rash and George Singleton. The two organizations introduced the South Carolina First Novel Prize in 2009.

Hub City, a nonprofit, had its best year ever in 2011, Teter said. The book store did especially well.

“It's all about events,” she said. “Authors do a lot of events. People still want to meet authors. People still want to get signed books.”

Hub City also organizes writers' workshops that match aspiring authors with established mentors, and it pursues other programming that generates incremental revenue so the organization isn't only depending on book and coffee sales.

Kammeraad-Campbell of Joggling Board Press said local publishers and markets are essential for cultivating new talent.

“Do I work with authors to give them a national exposure? Yes. But you can't expect an unknown writer to gain a national audience suddenly. The way to get there is to start local.”

Joggling Board, which once partnered with Evening Post Books on some titles, publishes fiction and nonfiction, along with coffee table books. While sales of traditional bound books are still going strong, some publishers nevertheless are embracing digital formats and finding creative ways to support local writers.

“Several of our novels are available as e-books, and more are in the offing,” said John Burbage, editor and publisher of Evening Post Books. “We also publish books on a contract basis. These include family histories, individual memoirs and self-published, on-demand histories and novels.”

The coffee table book market is expanding, Kammeraad-Campbell said. “The reason it's growing is because they can't reproduce in digital form.”

Starting in 2013, Joggling Board will begin the process of launching a new imprint, Joggling Board Chronicles. Working with libraries and schools, editors hope to find local people with interesting life stories to share — “pearls, small vignettes of defining moments that illuminate something in their lives,” Kammeraad-Campbell said.

To help connect with new writers and generate those stories, the publisher will organize workshops, she said.

“I think the future of the small independent press is exquisite.”

Demand
During the last couple of years, Home House Press has produced seven books, all devoted to South Carolina history. Tisdale and Hoffius act as publisher and editor respectively, and they have one part-time assistant who helps with distribution. “It's a low-key operation,” Tisdale said.

Recently, they signed a deal with Ingram, one of the largest book-distribution companies in the world. That will help, Tisdale said. So will a distribution arrangement with University of South Carolina Press. Home House Press is part of the Barnes & Noble network, which gets the books into shops nationwide.

It's a for-profit venture — technically. “The immediate business plan is to try not to lose too much money,” Tisdale said.

He's not too worried about the digital revolution or changes in reading habits.

“We're operating in a very specialized area,” he said, referring to his low-volume, high-quality niche business. “There will always be a demand for books.”

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Like him at www.facebook.com/aparkerwriter.

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