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In June the Associated Press reported that Barnes & Noble’s future may be bleak. Its stock dropped 17.1% from the previous quarter. It reported a loss of $118.6 million with a 7% drop in overall revenue. William Lynch resigned as CEO and the company announced the end of Nook production.  Will Barnes & Noble, the last remaining large scale book store, survive the current retail climate?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Grilled Cheese

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Grilled Cheese

Far beneath the surface, in the tunnels underneath the Wild Hunt, we contemplated the fate of Barnes & Noble. There was more at stake here than just another superstore filing for chapter 13. Personally speaking, I bought my first witchcraft book from a Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue in New York City. For many people, book stores are access keys to the world. Sometimes that key is even accompanied by a cappuccino and good conversation.

So, here we are discussing the possible end of Barnes & Noble, the last of the large scale book sellers. What would a future without the bookseller look like? Would our access to metaphysical and holistic literature become limited? Would the publishers of such texts disappear without large scale distribution?

In order to get a clearer glimpse at the situation, I took the question directly to industry professionals working within the metaphysical book market. I spoke with Bill Krause at Llewellyn, one of the oldest metaphysical, holistic and spiritual book publishers in the industry. Based in Minnesota, Llewellyn has been successfully operating since 1901. Then I contacted Candace Apple, the owner and operator of Phoenix & Dragon, the largest metaphysical book store in the Atlanta metro area.

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I asked publisher Bill Krause the question at hand, “would the loss of Barnes & Noble affect Llewellyn and, if so, how?”  He responded:

Barnes and Noble is an important trading partner and we are happy for the relationship we have with the people there. They are certainly feeling the changes and challenges of the publishing business but despite the prognostications of the “doomsdayers” we don’t see them going away any time soon.  

He continued on to say that:

We already have experience with the demise of a major trading partner. Borders and particularly Walden [were] big customers for Llewellyn. There is no denying it was a blow but the reality is the market for the kinds of information we provide does not die with the bookstore chain. It moves to where people are most comfortable shopping. It can be on-line at Amazon or Llewellyn.com or a host of other websites.

If Barnes & Noble did falter, Llewellyn would certainly feel a lull or a dip in its revenue stream but over the long haul, it would be able to compensate, as it did with the loss of Borders.  Krause explained that Llewellyn is more adaptable than any of the big six publishing houses. Why? Llewellyn serves a niche market with a focused output. As such it can readily, “move to where people are more comfortable shopping.”

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Photo Courtesy of Elysia Gallo, Llewellyn

Krause also explained that Llewellyn’s ability to thrive for over 100 years has been rooted in its “history with the small stores.” He notes:

Llewellyn is fortunate to have long-standing relationships with the many fine metaphysical and independent stores across the country. Many of these relationships predate the advent of the superstore. We have seen this business grow by double-digits since Borders was shuttered. 

The publisher prides itself on these relationships. Not only does it keep in close contact with the stores, it also offers mutually-beneficial marketing programs such as Llewellyn Week. This particular program, for example, brings renowned Llewellyn authors to the stores for various events. This serves the author and publisher while also driving traffic into the store. It’s a win-win-win situation. The most recent Llewellyn Week was held at Namaste in New York City and the next will be held at Mystic Journey Bookstore in Venice, CA.

After speaking to Krause, I turned to Candace Apple, one of these local shop owners.  Phoenix & Dragon has been in business since 1987, supported by Apple’s hard work, time, heart and money. I asked her the same question:  How would the loss of Barnes & Noble affect your business?

Candace Apple

Candace Apple

Her answer was unexpected. Apple explained that brick-and-mortar superstores, like Barnes & Noble, are not competitors. Where those type stores are generalists, she is a specialist. When a reader can’t find a specific metaphysical book in a Barnes & Noble, the store clerks send them to Phoenix & Dragon. The superstore’s local presence benefits her and other independent, specialized book merchants.

Like Krause, Apple lamented the loss of Borders in 2011. The superstore played home to many Pagan meet-up groups who would then shop Phoenix & Dragon for their needed reading material. Now those groups don’t exist and Barnes & Noble hasn’t picked up the slack.  Despite the loss, Phoenix & Dragon only suffered a small dip in revenue.

Apple emphasized the need for versatility in the changing market. She saw the “writing on the wall” years ago.  She said:

Some 20 years ago at the American Booksellers’ Convention…I attended one of the early discussion panels on online sales. As the floor opened for questions, a publisher got up and stated, “With the internet, we won’t need bookstores anymore because we will be able to sell our books directly to the consumer.”  Then an author raised his hand, “Well, with the internet, we will be able to sell our books directly and we won’t need you publishers or bookstores anymore.” I [as a store owner] raised my hand and said, “My customers come into my store to experience that serenity and energy they receive there.  They want to take that energy home with them.  Perhaps I will be selling them rose quartz hearts to take home to hold that energy and will not need either of you.”

She added:

As it came to pass around 2009, many [independent] bookstores around the country experienced a 50% decrease in book sales. Online discounted sales were going strong. By that time Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore had expanded into numerous categories of transformational tools and when my book sales dropped by 50%, I only lost 15% of my overall sales.

That 15% loss was to Amazon, Apple’s biggest competitor, even to this day. Consumers visit her bookstore, use her bathrooms, enjoy her air-conditioning and then leave to purchase a book online for a discounted price. As Apple said, when they do that “they [are making] a choice of what they want their community to become.”

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore

Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore

Krause also lamented this popular consumer behavior. Llewellyn values its small retailers which it sees as its backbone. He noted that many of the metaphysical shops like Isis in Denver have actually turned to online sales as a result.

Apple and Krause both recognize the continued instability in the publishing industry. But they are lucky. Their companies are flexible due to the almost grass-roots nature of their business models.  Both will continue to thrive with or without Barnes & Noble.

However, there are other complications and difficulties that plague the publishing world. One of these is the increasing popularity of self-publishing. For Llewellyn, it’s a brand new type of competition and for the independent retailer it presents a marketing challenge. Tomorrow, I will return to this discussion to look closer at self-publishing with comments from Bill Krause, Candace Apple and several published Pagan authors.

In my late teens and early twenties I worked at a couple different book-selling chains, and after that I was a regular visitor to, and prodigious buyer at, a number of different bookstores. Throughout those years I remember often voicing a common complaint: “Why are books about Pagan religions shelved next to crystal healing and channeled hidden masters instead of in the religion section where they belong.” I felt, as many others did, that it created a two-tiered hierarchy: “real” religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and those religions relegated to what was once known as the “occult” section. Now, my complaint has seemingly been answered, as Elysia Gallo at Llewellyn explains in her excellent run-down of the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) new BISAC Subject Headings List.

A partial listing of BISAC codes in the Body, Mind & Spirit category (Image: Llewellyn.)

A partial listing of BISAC codes in the Body, Mind & Spirit category (Image: Llewellyn.)

“Obviously much has changed in American society at large. These are recognized religions in the eyes of the IRS. They are religions in the eyes of the US Army Chaplain’s Handbook, and, since 2007, the Veteran’s Administration. These are religions in the eyes of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Pagans are taking an increasingly larger role in interfaith efforts, working at legitimizing our various paths or religions even if we continue to operate as decentralized, individual groups with no organizing body or imposed tenets, tithes, institutions, hierarchy, or dogma.

So here’s the news – Wicca, in the eyes of the book selling industry, is now a religion. It crossed over from OCC026000 Body, Mind & Spirit / Wicca and Witchcraft, to two separate BISAC codes. One remains in the occult section – OCC026000 is now simply Body, Mind & Spirit / Witchcraft. But Wicca itself is now REL118000, or Religion / Wicca. […] there’s more. The BISAC code that used to be OCC036020 Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Paganism & Neo-Paganism (a relatively recent addition on its own) is also now listed in Religion, as REL117000, or Religion / Paganism & Neo-Paganism.”

I have often pointed at links here at The Wild Hunt and told you to go read the whole thing. This time, let me emphasize, Elysia Gallo is the first person in the Pagan community to write about this development, and you really should take the time to give her work its due and go read her entire post before continuing on here. She has an insider’s understanding of these developments, and no one should move forward in commenting on this matter without hearing what she has to say.

This is clearly a momentous decision, one that, as Pagan scholar Chas Clifton points out, comes after the Library of Congress moved books on Wicca out of “Abnormal Psychology” and into “Other Beliefs and Movements” back in 2007.

“In 2007, the  news was that books on Wicca were re-categorized by the Library of Congress from BF (psychology, abnormal) to  BP 600, a sort of catch-all for “other beliefs and movements.” A new Dewey Decimal number was assigned as well, for libraries using that system.”

So the occult section (hence the “OCC” prefix code), which in time became known as the “New Age” section, and finally, the “Mind, Body, Spirit” section, will soon see an exodus of Wiccan and Pagan books to the religion section. For most of us who still visit brick-and-mortar stores that most likely means your local Barnes & Noble (or possibly Books-A-Million) will soon be seeing some changes. How quickly these changes will happen remains to be seen, and it may take some time as stock rotates in and out of the stores. In addition, Elysia points out some sticky problems with the new codes moving forward into this new era.

Interior of a Barnes & Noble store. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Interior of a Barnes & Noble store. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

“Let’s not even stop to think about what a headache it will be for me to decide whether any given book should go into the occult “Witchcraft” end of things or the religious “Wicca” end of things. Sometimes this distinction is made crystal clear by its author or its content, but much more often it’s a very blurry line. […] There is still no code anywhere for Druidry (we usually use Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Celtic) and no code for Heathenry or Asatru, which will just be lumped together with Paganism. These things might not matter much to book buyers, but they matter to the end consumer.”

Elysia also wonders if some Pagans will balk at their books being put in the religion section, but I think her most salient concern will be the effect religion-section buyers might have on the range and quality of selections. What if the buyer knows nothing about Paganism? What if they are actively hostile to Wicca and Paganism? These aren’t unheard-of scenarios. Additionally, simple economics might push Pagan titles out of stores in favor of religions with more buying power. 

“If the Religion buyer has only X amount of budgeted dollars to spend across their entire category, they will choose to spend it on mainstream religions, because hey, there are simply more of them, and more potential for greater revenue. It’s a business, folks. And yes, I can see how that could be potentially disastrous for book sales. If we were pushed out of the chain stores, we’d still have independent metaphysical shops to fall back on, but not everyone has access to one and they operate on very limited budgets, meaning we simply wouldn’t be selling enough books to survive. Amazon and ebooks would become our main lifeline if chain bookstores stopped buying our books.”

So my teenage (and twenty-something) dreams have come true, but the victory could turn out to be Pyrrhic in nature. Pagan religions take another step towards being normalized, but at the potential cost of us seeing even fewer Pagan books in physical book stories. The destabilizing effects of Amazon and the growing ebook market (currently around 22% of the book market) mean that the future of Pagan publishing is only going to become more uncertain. Still, even with the circumstances, this is an important moment in our history, one that could have far-reaching ramifications.

Links:

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

- T. Thorn Coyle has issued an appeal to help raise money for the American Magic Umbanda House of Oakland, to help rebuild their sacred Lubisha, destroyed last year in a devastating fire. Thanks to generous donations, including one from Thorn’s Solar Cross Temple, they’ve already reached their modest goal of $450. However, I think they could use a cushion, don’t you? Any money above the goal will be used towards House related expenses, including their famous Pomba Gira ritual at PantheaCon, so let’s help out. “May the sound of drumming rise.”


- In other fundraising news, Datura Press, a small esoteric publisher that publishes the work of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Gareth Knight,  Alan Richardson, and W.E. Butler, is in the midst of a campaign to buy advertising and discounted copies of their own titles so they can expand and make a better profit. Owner-editor Debbie Chapnick says that, quote, “the company is at a crossroads. People want these books. I have been contacted by distributors and bookshops from all over the world. All I need to really get this going is to have enough books in stock to fill the need.” The goal is $10,000, with 12 days left to go.  Any money raised over the goal will be donated to the New Alexandrian Library Project.

- Humanist-officiated weddings are on-track to receive full legal status in Ireland, a classification that only Health Service Executive registrars and members of religious bodies previously received. While Pagan Federation Ireland has permission to legally marry couples in Ireland under the Civil Registration Act of 2004, the new changes could allow any “philosophical and nonconfessional body” to also perform legally binding ceremonies. Starting in 2007, Ireland allowed State-recognized weddings in the venue of the couple’s choice, instead of having to hold two ceremonies.

- A teenager in Britain was convicted of religiously harassing a McDonald’s employee who is Pagan. The youth repeatedly returned over a period of two months to engage in verbal abuse, despite being told to stop by the employee and management. Barrister Laura Austin, who mitigated on behalf of the teen, said he “did not realise paganism was a recognised religion,” and that this was “this is the first case of its kind,” so far as she knew. The teen was sentenced to community service, and a restraining order was issued.

- The 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released this week by the Association of Religion Data Archives, has some interesting data for those who are following the shape of (non-Christian) religion in America. While the data is skewed towards congregational models, it did show that “Buddhist congregations were reported in all 50 states, and Hindu houses of worship in 49 states.” All together, “the number of non-Christian congregations – synagogues, mosques, temples and other religious centers – increased by nearly a third, from 8,795 in the 2000 study to 11,572 in the 2010 census.” Meanwhile, Mainline Protestants “cratered,” Catholic numbers decreased overall (with a growing disconnect between “active” and non-active adherents), and non-denominational Christian houses of worship exploded.

- Oh, did I miss the National Day of Prayer this year? Maybe because it’s almost exclusively focused on “Judeo-Christian” modes of worship and conceptions of deity. As CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero put it, “how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?”

- Out & About Newspaper in Tennessee profiles author Christopher Penczak in advance of his visit to the fifteenth annual Pagan Unity Festival. Quote: “I think of witchcraft, rather than just Wicca, as a vocation and tradition that springs up all around the world, not in any one culture, there is a mystical, healing, cunning tradition in most cultures. The inner experience of the mysteries is the same, and I like the hunt for all wisdom around those mysteries.”

- SF Weekly looks at David Talbot’s upcoming book “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love,” which charts the shifts in San Francisco’s culture and politics between 1967 – 1982. Author, actor activist, and former Digger Peter Coyote is quoted as saying “I blame Mick Jagger for f***ing with black magic,” when asked about the disaster that was Altamont. Sounds like an interesting read.

- It looks like the recent attention paid to infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio may have had an effect. It seems the witch-hunter canceled her March trip to Texas, and a scheduled May visit as well. Ukpabio claims the the cancellations were due to death threats from Stepping Stones Nigeria, a charity that aids children accused of witchcraft, and is highly critical of her. Blogger Richard Bartholomew is highly skeptical of these claims, pointing out that Ukpabio’s church has been slandering that organization for some time now.

- In a final note, I’d like to recognize Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who passed away yesterday after a years-long battle with cancer. Yauch was an adherent of Tibetan Buddhism, famously commemorated in the song “Bodhisattva Vow,” and worked for the Tibetan independence movement. However, for most members of Generation X, the Beastie Boys were a game-changing Hip Hop group that shook off their earlier party-boy lunk-headed image to release amazing albums like “Paul’s Boutique,” “Check Your Head,” and “Ill Communication.” Praised as “revolutionary MCs” by Chuck D, the Beasties helped define what Hip Hop would become, and oversaw its entrance into the mainstream. My consolation in this tragedy is that MCA has left behind a lot of awesome music, and that he’s now a Hip Hop Bodhisattva watching over all those who suffer.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Well-respected esoteric publishers Scarlet Imprint, producers of high quality limited-edition volumes on such topics as the cult of Pomba Gira, Palo Mayombe, and magical grimoires, has announced that they are going to start releasing their titles as ebooks.

A selection of Scarlet Imprint titles.

A selection of Scarlet Imprint titles.

“The e-book hopefully means more people will read books. That can only be a good thing. It also means that we can create affordable versions of our work so that readers can take the risk on new authors and unfamiliar subjects. You can dare to read and enrich yourself outside of your field, perhaps you haven’t encountered Pomba Gira or Palo Mayombe before, or you want to see if the poetry cuts it. It allows you to travel with a library rather than dislocating your shoulder with a satchel full of books- as we often do. It makes unwieldy reference texts quickly searchable for research. To this end, we are issuing all of our future paperback Bibliotheque Rouge titles in epub and mobi format.”

The move is part of their Bibliotheque Rouge line, which made cheaper paperback editions of their high-quality collectors editions available to the general public, and this latest expansion is being made in hopes that by “embracing the digital revolution” they can “get these relevant voices of modern magick to the new generation.” How are small metaphysical booksellers reacting to this move by Scarlet Imprint? I spoke with David Wiegleb, owner of Fields Books in San Francisco, about the new digital turn, and he expressed support and optimism for Scarlet Imprint’s new initiative.

“I applaud Scarlet Imprint for making their materials available in a variety of formats. They have fine editions available for the collector, nicely designed standard editions for those who want a copy for their permanent library, Bibliotheque Rouge unlimited paperback edition for the curious, the budget conscious, and future readers, and now ebook editions for those that want them. And the ebooks probably substantially help their bottom line. As a bookseller (and as a reader), whenever I see a publisher pursue a strategy that helps them not only survive into the future, but do so in a way that honors their commitment to good material and well-produced physical books, I will celebrate it. It looks to be a strategy other publishers should emulate.”

Also enthused by Scarlet Imprint’s new digital editions is poet, performer, and writer Ruby Sara, who edited the publisher’s recent collection of esoteric poetry, “Datura,” and is currently working on their new poetry collection, “Mandragora.”

“From a publisher that has amply demonstrated its continued commitment to the fine-bound book, I think the decision to offer digital editions represents an excellent, relevant, and holistic approach to the entire project of book-making. It simultaneously affirms the important place of the bookbinder’s art while ensuring that the words themselves – the blood, sweat and tears of the writer/occultist – are accessible to all. I’m personally very excited that the poetry in Datura, and the forthcoming anthology Mandragora, will be even more accessible through a variety of mediums, from the tactile beauty of the physical books to the economy of the digital editions.”

All digital books can be purchased directly from Scarlet Imprint, and are being released in EPUB (Nook compatible) and MOBI (Kindle compatible) formats. In addition, the company says they’ll “replace lost files for you free of charge as long as the lights stay on.”

While other Pagan and esoteric publishers have made digital editions of their releases available in recent years, I think Scarlet Imprint’s move deserves special notice for making limited edition works accessible to a larger audience. Like it or not, e-readers are here to stay. Millions of people use iPads, Nooks, and Kindles to read books in a variety of contexts. While there will always be a place for traditionally published books, digital editions offer a cheap(er) and convenient way to  experience works that may not be easily acquired otherwise. It can also act as a deterrent to those who would pirate their books, removing the excuses of price or availability from normal rationales. Here’s hoping more specialty publishers make their works available in electronic formats, creating real options for those who prefer using e-readers. Our thanks to Scarlet Imprint for “offering a free and unfettered choice.”

Minnesota newspaper the Star Tribune does a profile of local business Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest publisher of Pagan and metaphysical books. In the article owner Carl Weschcke addresses the recent collapse of Borders, which cost the company half a million dollars, saying they’ve managed to stay profitable.

Carl Llewellyn Weschcke with author John Michael Greer

Carl Weschcke with author John Michael Greer

The company has weathered the Great Recession despite losing $500,000 in the Borders bankruptcy, Weschcke said. He credited stringent controls put in place by his wife, and company president, Sandra Weschcke, for keeping the company profitable despite the Borders loss. Their son Gabe Weschcke is Llewellyn’s vice president. The company ended its 2011 fiscal year June with $15 million in sales. “For every change, there is opportunity,” Weschcke said. “The main thing is to recognize change and be flexible and say that change is not bad. The only things that are bad are taxes.”

The article also discusses plans to expand more into fiction, and the central role the business plays to metaphysical booksellers. Quote: “Joseph A. Amara, vice president of business development and an owner of Magus Books in Dinkytown, said that Llewellyn is “one of the great pillars” of its industry.” Considering how close-lipped the company is about its finances and internal workings (they wouldn’t talk on-the-record to me about the Borders closure), its nice to get some news from a company that’s so central to the Pagan economy.

The publishing industry is in flux right now. The Borders chain has closed down, Amazon is continuing to expand from mere retailer to high-profile publisher, smaller booksellers continue to struggle, and access to ebooks is increasingly becoming something large book retailers and publishers will fight over. In this climate of uncertainty it is more important than ever for authors to have control over their intellectual property, or trust the ones who do. As digital rights become more than a mere afterthought bigger publishers are trying to force increasingly draconian contracts on writers desperate to break through. In some cases publishers are outright refusing reasonable requests for the reversion of rights on out-of-print books.

“After three weeks of silence and unreturned phone calls, [SFWA] GriefCom sent a different kind of request, giving Red Deer forty-eight hours to either revert the book or provide proof that it was being sold via regular trade channels, and asserting that after that, I would be forced to take additional steps. Early the next day, I heard from the GriefCom chair that he had received a phone call, and that the unidentified caller took him to task in no uncertain terms–claiming harassment, declaring there would be no reversion on the title, and warning that she would “report” us to [prominent Canadian SF writer #1] and [prominent Canadian SF writer #2]—all before hanging up on him.”

The above quote is from fantasy/romance author Doranna Durgin, who finally had to go public to try and shame her publisher into honoring the very clear reversion of rights clause in her contract. Why is Fitzhenry & Whiteside being so obstinate? Because as the ebook market continues to grow, publishers know they are now sitting on potential goldmines of out-of-print, but technically not-out-of-contract “backlisted” material. The last thing they want is their “midlist” authors defecting en-masse and selling directly to their now-established audience of fans (like Stephen “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Covey has done). Indeed, a number of digital middlemen have emerged to cater to authors who want to have more control (and money).

“Arthur Klebanoff, chief executive of RosettaBooks, said that Mr. Covey would receive more than half of the net proceeds that RosettaBooks took in from Amazon on these e-book sales. In contrast, the standard digital royalty from mainstream publishers is 25 percent of net proceeds. […] His move comes as publishers ratchet up their efforts to secure the digital rights to so-called backlist titles — books published many years, if not decades, ago. These books can be vitally important to publishing houses because they are reprinted year after year and provide a stream of guaranteed revenue without much extra marketing effort.”

This phenomenon has already hit the esoteric/occult/Pagan sphere with the launch of the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press e-publishing imprints.

“Their first release is “The Magick of Qabalah” by British author Kala Trobe and is currently available via Amazon, with more platforms to be rolled out shortly. Future releases from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press e-publishing imprints include works by  T. Thorn CoyleDiana Paxson, and Shen-tat. With the large number of Pagan and occult works that are out of print, this is an exciting and useful first step in using the power of digital publishing to rescue lost classics and important developmental works in the history of our communities.”

For the past thirty years publishing books has been one of the main methods Pagans have gotten the word out about their teachings, philosophies, or ideas. In the days before the Internet publishing a book was one of the only ways to make an impact outside your geographic region. The history and spread of modern Paganism would look very different today if it were not for authors like Margot Adler, Stewart Farrar, Starhawk, or old Gerald Gardner himself. Today, in a world of blogs, smartphones, and ebooks, having your work available on popular e-readers (iPad, Nook, Kindle) is becoming increasingly essential. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of out-of-print books by a number of Pagan and occult authors. Imagine if they were all available for purchase, and under terms where the author, not the publisher, got the bulk of the profits from each sale.

I know for a fact that some publishers of Pagan books have very stringent reversion clauses in their contracts, so I urge all Pagan authors to look at those old papers, and initiate the process of reverting the rights of out-of-print books back to yourself. Even if you decide to do nothing with those rights immediately, it still means that you, or your decedents, can someday sell your work again should you so choose. There is no reason, in this digital age, that your books should be unavailable. You have little to lose, and everything to gain by making all your works available again for sale under terms that you control. You don’t even have to go through Amazon if you abhor their business practices.  Services like Smashwords offer ebook alternatives that favor content creators. Heck, you could create a cooperative with several other authors and do it yourself! The options are endless, but only if you control your own work.

In the era of digital content, who controls your copyright is more important than ever. If you have a book, or several books, that are out-of-print, don’t wait for your old publisher to decide when they are worthwhile again. Start the process of reversion of rights now, because in some cases that process could take years, and will often include clauses that allow publishers to put your work back in print to avoid losing control over your copyright (they may even try to charge you money). If you’ve never thought of your digital rights, now is the time to start.

Top Story: Solar Cross, a non-profit religious organization dedicated to pan-magical practice, worship, education, research and outreach, co-founded by T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Robert Russell, has announced the official launch of their organization’s e-publishing venture.

“Solar Cross is pleased to announce the official launch of our e-publishing venture with the release of the formerly out of print Magick of Qabalah. This is the first in a line of magickal, esoteric, and Pagan books to be issued from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press imprints. We are committed to bringing forth both original and out of print books as well as shorter works on practice and craft.”

Their first release is “The Magick of Qabalah” by British author Kala Trobe and is currently available via Amazon, with more platforms to be rolled out shortly. Future releases from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press e-publishing imprints include works by  T. Thorn Coyle, Diana Paxson, and Shen-tat. With the large number of Pagan and occult works that are out of print, this is an exciting and useful first step in using the power of digital publishing to rescue lost classics and important developmental works in the history of our communities. I’m hoping this is the start of a far larger trend.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

On July 22nd the bookstore chain Borders started the process of closing its 399 remaining locations. This move was long predicted by industry watchers as the once-mighty chain wobbled in the face of Amazon.com’s rise (a company it once outsourced to) and costly missteps in non-book merchandise. The last few weeks of media coverage has featured a mixture of fond reminiscences, 20/20 hindsight analysis,  and predictions for the future of the book-selling industry. Many of the predictions haven’t been too cheery, for example, the investment site The Motley Fool predicts that Barnes & Noble will ultimately suffer the same fate, noting that “just because B&N will be the last one standing doesn’t mean that it will be standing for long.” Even if the Borders closure is the last domino to topple as the retail book market restructures itself for a post-ebook and post-Amazon world, that development alone could have far-reaching and possibly disastrous consequences for businesses that cater to modern Pagans.

The Borders Closure and Pagan Publishers

One of the most obvious ramifications of the Borders closure is the elimination of bricks-and-mortar booksellers willing to carry Pagan, occult, and metaphysical titles. At the beginning of 2010 Borders operated 508 superstores in the United States, plus several more “Borders Express” and Waldenbooks outlets in malls and airports. As more than one reporter has pointed out, in some areas Borders was the only significant bookstore within driving distance. Or as a recent NPR report put it, “an entire arm of book sales has been amputated.” No matter how healthy or solvent a publishing business is, that much reduction in retail space is going to hurt. Worse still, at the time of the Borders bankruptcy filing they owed nearly 300 million to its creditors. One of those creditors was Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest publisher of Pagan and metaphysical books. In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing Borders revealed that it owes Llewellyn over half a million dollars.

As large as Llewellyn may be to the Pagan community, it’s still relatively tiny compared to the larger publishing houses, and losing that much money has to hit hard. I contacted Llewellyn for comment, but there has been no official response. However, I was able to speak with author Donald Michael Kraig, who has worked extensively with Llewellyn, and speaking solely as an individual, offered his take on what some of the ramification of the Borders closure may be.

“As an author, I don’t get paid until my publishers are paid. I probably won’t directly see the loss in “take backs,” although my royalties will undoubtedly be smaller. Those who self-publish may have a different experience and to them (and small publishers) I hope your losses, at best, are small. My guess, however, is that this will hurt the “bottom line” of some publishers and may have a worse effect on a few very small publishers. This is what happens in business.”

The second-largest Pagan and metaphysical publisher, Red Wheel / Weiser, is also owed money by Borders. Though less than Llewellyn, it is still over $200,000. Again, not insignificant for a company their size.

Jan Johnson, Publisher at Red Wheel / Weiser, responding to my questions via email, says that little should change at their company due to the closing of Borders.

“We’ll, of course, miss the stores and the sales from the books they’ve been carrying. Borders supported many of our titles. We don’t expect it to have a direct affect on the number of titles or authors we sign. Borders closure is another indication of the changing way people find and buy books. In order to succeed as publishers, we need to communicate even more with our reader communities.”

A third Pagan publishing company, BBI Media, which produces the popular magazines Witches & Pagans, SageWoman, and Crone, has also been hard-hit by the Borders liquidation. Publisher and editor Anne Newkirk Niven bluntly explained to me how hundreds of outlets disappearing directly impacts the company’s bottom line.

“The cataclysmic news of the final bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders bookstore chain (resulting in an immediate and pressing gap in our cashflow) rocked me back on my heels just as I was setting down to write the editorial for the 25th anniversary issue of SageWoman. In an additional irony, just as Borders was announcing its liquidation, copies of the current issue of Witches&Pagans were rolling off the presses — thousands of which are now sitting on the dock at our printer, with nowhere to go.

The immediate loss — due to the six-to-ninth month gap between distribution and payment of newsstand copies — caused by the Borders collapse is likely to come in between $18,000 and $30,000. Like many other independent titles, this is a clear and immediate threat to our continued existence. Our plan — identical to the one we rolled out in 1997 when magazine distributor Fine Print went bankrupt owing us a similar amount — is to go directly to our readers, and ask them to donate enough to get us over the hump. In 1997, our readers generously donated to keep SageWoman going, and we hope that when we roll out a full-scale fundraising effort in September, our readers will respond again.”

Niven called this event a “body blow” but seemed optimistic that readers and supporters would rally to help save periodicals like SageWoman, which have become an institution to many in the Pagan community. The company also sounded a hopeful note in their recent initiative to branch out into digital editions of their magazines. The Wild Hunt will be following up on BBI Media’s fundraising initiative, checking back in with Anne Newkirk Niven once it launches.

Assuming that the two largest publishers of Pagan-oriented books, and the largest publisher of Pagan periodicals, are able to weather this storm and come out largely unscathed, there are some troubling forecasts ahead. Science fiction and horror author K.W. Jeter recently pointed out that the prevailing lesson some are taking from the Borders closure may be that it carried too many books, and spent too much time catering to the “long tail” that the Internet thrives in accommodating. This is echoed by another genre writer, J. A. Konrath, who predicts that the “midlist is going the way of the dodo.” For those not up on the publishing-world lingo, “midlist” books are titles that are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication. Should Barnes & Noble decide to cut back on its midlist in a post-Borders book market, that could mean metaphysical/New Age sections that are dominated by titles like “The Secret” and  Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth,” and little else. For many Barnes & Noble stores, this is already nearly the case.

Can Independent Stores Bridge the Gap?

While some are mournfully singing eulogies for Borders, others point out that it wasn’t too long ago that the chain was seen as a villain that many wished doom upon. During their ascent in the 1990s book superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble put many small independent bookstores out of business, and many more nearly so, by offering convenience, big selections, and oftentimes deep discounts the smaller (often niche) stores couldn’t match (illustrator/cartoonist Alison Bechdel famously fictionalized this process in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”). Now that Borders is closing, many are wondering if independent booksellers will benefit, or even grow, in this environment. Jan Johnson at Weiser, when asked about the future of the esoteric bookselling market, said that  “we love it that there are still independent shops who specialize in selling esoteric books, and we’ll continue to support them. We also really like getting feedback and ideas from them.” Will we see independent Pagan and esoteric bookstores rise to fill the gap(s)?

I asked David Wiegleb, current owner of Fields Book Store in San Francisco, an esoteric bookstore that’s been a fixture in the Bay Area since 1932, for his perspective on how the Borders closure will affect business.

“In the short term, we’re seeing some new customers as well as customers returning who we may not have seen in a while. In San Francisco, not only are the Borders stores now closed, but there are no longer any Barnes and Noble stores. This recent uptick for us is certainly welcome, but because of the larger economic and cultural effects our business is still down from prior years. Our challenges are by no means past. There is an opportunity for us to market ourselves to the larger neighborhood as a place people can special order books in any subject and get them usually in only two days. We already carry the Bay Area Bestsellers, and a fair number of customers use us as their “special order” store now. In the medium term, I’m concerned about the ripple effects on publishers and distributors. I’m sure the losses they have incurred with the Borders closing will hit many of them hard, some perhaps fatally, and will impact past and future title availability, as well as pricing. Amazon has already driven list prices up with their demands for deep discounts. This will certainly impact what we can offer.”

Wiegleb also expressed concern that the “next generation will lose the basic cultural experience of browsing in a brick and mortar bookstore,” noting that “more than 1200 Borders and Waldenbooks” have been closing since 2003. Wiegleb’s experience of a recent increase in customers isn’t isolated, other news reports have noted this experience from independent bookshops across the United States. Linda Bubon, an owner at Women and Children First in Chicago, admitted to having “a little happy bookseller who’s jumping up and down” now that “we have this behemoth off our backs.” However, the concerns brought up by Wiegleb are also present. A recent Sacramento Bee report zeroed onto the challenges of growing independent bookstores as more and more people turn to Amazon.com and ebooks,  quoting Mike Barnard, board president of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, who pointed out that “stores that are still left are stressed,” and that “the down economy affects everybody.” Indeed, many reports on metaphysical bookshops I’ve read in recent years have focused on shops trying to stay afloat in a tough economy, in addition to the challenges of the modern bookseller.

One additional issue for those looking to independent Pagan-friendly shops picking up the slack in a post-Borders world is that there aren’t that many robust Pagan/occult/metaphysical bookshops around. The vast majority of Pagan-owned shops carry only a small selection of books, often bought directly from Llewellyn, fewer still carry Pagan magazines. Books are a high-overhead item, and don’t turn the profit that statues, jewelry, stones, herbs, or consignment items often do. I’ve witnessed first-hand how even a single bookshelf full of books can become a fiscal liability for a shop that is barely making ends meet. High-quality esoteric bookshops like Fields Book Store in San Francisco, or independent booksellers like Powell’s in Oregon that are large enough to have a metaphysical/Pagan section, aren’t as common as anyone would like. Creating a new network of esoteric and occult bookstores, along with bigger independents willing to cater to our communities, will take work and commitment from booksellers, publishers, and consumers.

The Bottom Line

The best case scenario here is that some of our largest Pagan-oriented businesses are able to withstand this massive shift, hold out, and recover; that the larger publishing/book-selling world largely stabilizes, and independent booksellers thrive in a post-Borders world, ultimately creating a more diverse and unique marketplace. A worst case scenario would mean that many of the institutions that have  helped define us and support us would cease to be, or exist as a ghost of their former selves. A situation like this would ripple out, hurting many other interconnected Pagan businesses. Economies, especially those that cater to smaller targeted audiences, are like webs. Pull the wrong strands, and the whole thing could collapse. I’m hoping that isn’t the case, and that something approaching the best case scenario wins out. For that to happen, a renewed and concerted effort to invest our time and money in Pagan-owned and Pagan-friendly business should be a top priority.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be returning to this story, for it’s an issue that’s far larger than I can encapsulate here. I want to touch on ebooks, and epublishers, strategies that Pagan businesses are pursuing to survive and thrive, and how these changes might affect other sectors of the Pagan economy.

Resources

Because I was not able to fully quote the statements of everyone I talked to for this piece, I’m attaching them here as PDF downloads so you can read them for yourself in their original contexts. Statement by Anne Newkirk NivenStatement by Jan JohnsonStatement by David WieglebStatement by Donald Michael Kraig.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Summer Festival Season Begins: This weekend the Pagan Summer festival season officially begins! You’ve got Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois and Wisteria in Ohio both starting on Sunday, not to mention Eugene, Oregon’s own Faerieworlds happening this weekend. At the beginning of July the recently relocated Starwood, now in Ohio, starts up. This year, The Pagan Newswire Collective, Proud Pagan Podcasters, and other Pagan media outlets have formed an official “media camp” at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

“In the tradition of the dedicated camping communities at Pagan Spirit Gathering we are forming Media Camp for the 2011 festival. This is a project organized by several Pagan media organizations, but open to all podcasters, vidcasters, bloggers and other folks who are active in Pagan media. As the PNC did last year, we will be coordinating our efforts, sharing our resources and ensuring that all media participants are respectfulof the privacy of PSG attendants. We are grateful that PSG is welcoming us back and we intend to maintain the relationship of trust and respect we have built with the Circle Sanctuary staff.”

2010 was a huge step forward in coverage for Pagan festivals, and I hope the infrastructure being built at Pagan Spirit Gathering can be replicated at other large Pagan events. With a growing Pagan media recording experiences and stories, preserving memories, and sharing this unique culture with a wider audience. An audio and textual archive of Pagans coming together to celebrate and create community. A resource that could be a boon to future historians, academics, journalists, and seekers. I’m hoping to post updates from PSG as the week progresses, and we’ll be seeing plenty of stories and interviews rolling out in the weeks following.

Llewellyn and COVR: A big congratulation to Pagan/metaphysical publishers Llewellyn on being named a finalist in five categories for the 2011 COVR Visionary Awards.

“The Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) is an organization formed by a unique group of businesses that deal in “Visionary Resources,” and who work with and support each other as independent retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and publishers of visionary books, music, and merchandise.”

The titles nominated for awards include Biting Back, by Claudia Cunningham, Planetary Spells & Rituals, by Raven Digitalis, Witchcraft on a Shoestring, by Deborah Blake, and Modern Wicca, by Michael Howard. Llewellyn’s website is also nominated for an award. COVR’s Awards will be presented on June 25th at the International New Age Trade Show (INATS) banquet in Denver, Colorado. Good luck!

Pagan Families is Born: A new website and resource on pregnancy and childbirth, Pagan Families, has just been launched. Founded by Sarah Whedon, the site hopes to “pool our collective wisdom about Pagan pregnancy and childbirth.  Think The Pagan Book of Living and Dying for the childbearing year.” Like many just-starting Internet ventures they are looking for contributors to help build and develop the site.

“Pagan Families seeks carefully written contributions on all aspects of Pagan pregnancy and childbirth.   Examples of the kind of writing we are seeking include: scripts for conception rituals; theological essays on the ethics of reproduction; prayers to mother goddesses; Pagan sensitivity guides for birth professionals; personal essays on the experience of spiritual practice during pregnancy; reviews of Pagan-friendly birth resources; and Pagan birth stories.  This list is by no means exhaustive.”

So far Pagan writers and bloggers like  Sierra BlackLily Shahar Kunning, and Niki Whiting are planning to contribute. If you’d like to submit material, the guidelines are here. Good luck to Pagan Families, I look forward to seeing how this site develops.

Heathens Have Festivals Too: If you saw my top story and perhaps wondered if there were Summer events and festivals for the more Heathen-minded, wonder no longer! Kari Tauring, who recently joined the staff of PNC-Minnesota, is traveling to several Heathen/Northern/Nordic events, things, and moots this Summer and reporting back on her experiences. First up: Northern Folk Gathering.

“The childrens performance was a moment that the entire hall found exceptional. Here we are, modern humans of Nordic ancestry watching our children re-create the story myth of our deepest root. It is this realization that our ancestors are alive in our children that made this moment of the event a sort of pinnacle. Listening to each person in the hall raise a horn to their parents, grand parents, great grands…by name and by deed really marks a huge difference between general pagan events and heathen events. There is a deep understanding that we are creating the world for our children based on how healthy our relationships with our ancestors are. There is a sense in each raised horn that deep healing is going on in the family of origin issues we all face and that there is a commitment to maintaining a high level of functioning for our children’s sake. I find this compelling whether at a small kindred meeting or a large regional gathering. This path is for our ancestors and our descendants, not just for us here and now.”

Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for more updates from Kari, I’m glad we can benefit from her coverage of this often overlooked events and festivals.

Get Well Terry Dobney! In a final note, we here at The Wild Hunt would like to wish Terry Dobney, Archdruid of Avebury and Keeper of the Stones, our best wishes as he recovers from a stroke.

“Druid Keeper of the Stones Terry Dobney who traditionally leads a Pagan greeting to the rising sun will be missing from the Summer Solstice celebration at Avebury on Tuesday. Mr Dobney, 64,who lives in West Kennett and has who has been involved in the solstice celebrations at Avebury for more than 30 years, suffered a stroke and is currently recovering in the Great Western Hospital, Swindon.”

Dobney was recently embroiled in a tabloid scandal in the UK concerning welfare fraud. Luckily, the Druid was cleared of all charges, and was able to return to his life and spiritual duties. Here’s hoping he’s back on his feet and able to lead ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Solstice at Avebury.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Technoccult uses Google’s new Ngram Viewer, which searches for trends among various corpus of books Google has scanned, to track a seeming explosion of interest in the occult and “magick” in the mid-1980s. So I decided to do my own search, and compare the terms “Wicca”, “Paganism”, and “Magick.”

Both Wicca and Magick, as terms in published books, experienced a dramatic period of growth starting around 1985, not starting to decrease again until around 2003. Paganism, as a more general term used in many different contexts, also saw a rise of interest, but didn’t experience the downturn of the other two. This could be because of the non-religious contexts, but also because many books targeting the modern Pagan community started using “Paganism” in titles instead of “Wicca” or “Neopaganism.”

Searching for the terms “Asatru” and “Heathen” you also see growth, though not as dramatic in nature.

In the case of “Asatru” it’s the 1990s where you start to see growth, and then seems to level off around 1995 and stays there. For “Heathen,” again a general term used in many contexts, it also rises in the 1990s and seems to have enjoyed a resurgence of use since then.

So it does seem something sparked in the publishing world in the 1980s, not only within Pagan/occult publishing contexts, but, as Technoccult points out, with the “Satanic Panics” pushing up interest as well. Anyone involved in the Pagan publishing world in the mid-1980s, perhaps you can shed some more light? Another interesting question is the rapid decline in mentions of “Wicca” and “magick” starting in the mid-2000s. Is this an artifact of the books Google has scanned, or a larger trend in an ongoing downturn?

I encourage my readers to use the Ngram Viewer to check for other terms of interest, and see if they can spot any pertinent trends for our communities.