An E-Publisher That Specializes in Original Short Works

The digitization of publishing has spawned many new presses and publishing models, and one of them is 40K Books. 40K takes advantage of the e-book format by specializing in novelettes and focused original essays. Based in Milan, Italy, they handle world rights, translating and selling their e-books in different languages (English, Italian, Portuguese, French and Spanish).

What follows is a chat between Livia Blackburne and 40K editorial director Giuseppe Granieri, several months after their launch. [Full Disclosure: Livia has published an essay with 40K.]

You focus on short stories and essays. Do you have any more specific criteria beyond that?

Our fiction and our essays have the same nature (they entail 40 minutes to more than an hour of reading), but they come from two totally different logics.

Our novelettes are the result of a need that the print market cannot satisfy:  e-books create a new market for relatively short fiction. I’ve always liked this form of fiction because it’s more difficult than novels. It’s a great challenge for a writer. Novels can have pauses, faults: a long story wins by points. A novelette, as Julio Cortazar wrote, needs to win by knock-out.

Our essays, relatively short and strongly focused, are a solution for another functional limit of paper. With digital books you don’t need to fill hundreds of pages with the same concept, and you can better filter the information you give to your readers. It’s a matter of value: you can transmit a strong concept while requiring a lower investment from the readers in terms of reading time. Time is always valuable—in many cases, more valuable than the price. Nobody can read everything; we have to choose. So if you can explain a complex concept while requiring a manageable time investment, it’s a very good thing.

How do you find your writers?

We apply a mixed criteria to select our authors, balancing award winners (including Hugo and Nebula winners Bruce Sterling, Kristine Rusch, Mike Resnick, etc) or famous thinkers (Derrick de Kerckhove, Peter Ludlow, Tom Stafford) with a selection of young authors we believe in.

But it’s more complicated than that when working in different markets. For example, we were the first to translate Jacob Appel into Italian. And in the future we hope to introduce American readers to authors they currently cannot appreciate because these authors write in other languages.

What challenges have you faced since the launch?

The big thing is that the publishing market still isn’t as global as readers want. For example, Amazon gives the publisher a royalty for e-books sold “geographically” in the USA and UK. So, if you live in Italy, you can buy the e-book because we own worldwide rights. But you will be charged more (for international wireless delivery) and our profit is also cut by 50%.

It’s a paradox: we sell Italian e-books on Amazon, but we need to discourage Italian Kindle owners (and there are many of them) from buying our e-books directly from their Kindle. The majority of Kindle owners in Italy buy .epubs from our Italian storefront and convert the file with Calibre to Kindle format.

In simple terms, the market works with old rules that do not match the actual reality. Or, to quote Paul Biba, the current sales model is just not adapted to the current purchasing model.

But I think it’s only a matter if time. Old models, built on the functional limitations of paper books, will soon be updated. It would be foolish for the market not to follow the readers’ needs, starting from geographical restrictions.

Your contracts are subject to renewal after 3 years, rather than for the duration of copyright. Why that approach?

Our perspective is to build a partnership-in-profit with the authors. In the actual landscape, both the author’s platform and the publisher’s work are important. Our goal is to build a collaborative work, a system that can share opportunities. Then, if the contract period works for the author and for the publisher, we can contract again.

What else do you want to know about 40K Books? Leave your questions in the comments! (You can also join 40K on Twitter or GoodReads.)

Yes, 40K Books is open to queries.

About the interviewer: By day, Livia Blackburne is a neuroscience graduate student at MIT. She also writes fantasy for young adults. She explores the intersection of neuroscience and writing in her essay, “From Words to Brain,” (published by 40 K books), as well as at her blog.

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