You could count on one hand the number of publishing houses devoted to putting out books specifically about atheism, science, and critical thinking, but Prometheus Books (founded by the late Paul Kurtz in 1969) is arguably the best. Their biggest titles include Atheism: The Case Against God (George H. Smith), God: The Failed Hypothesis (Victor J. Stenger), and The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist (Neil deGrasse Tyson).
Prometheus just entered into a major agreement with Random House Publisher Services (RHPS) that will broaden its reach while still allowing the mid-sized publishing house to remain independent:
RHPS will provide exclusive sales and distribution for all physical and digital titles in the United States and internationally [for Prometheus Books].
“Prometheus Books has been self-distributed for our entire existence, nearly forty-four years,” says Jonathan Kurtz, Prometheus Books president. “Over the years distributors have expressed interest in representing our line, but we knew we’d only make that change if the partner could truly offer us significantly more than we’ve achieved on our own. Aligning our press with the services and resources of the world’s largest general-interest trade-book publisher is the kind of move forward we simply cannot pass up. We are invigorated by the possibilities this relationship opens to us.”
Yesterday, I spoke with Prometheus’ Director of Publicity and Vice President of Marketing Jill Maxick to get some more insight into what this partnership will mean for authors, readers, and the company itself (emphases mine):
Hemant:How long was this in the works and who approached whom?
Jill: The Random House deal has been four or five years in the making. They approached us, and they tell us that influential publishing executives had pointed to us as one to watch. Other distributors had sought our business over the years, but we’re an unusually self-contained company, with very little outsourcing overall. We’d never felt they could offer us substantially more than we did for ourselves, until now.
Hemant: What does this [partnership] mean for authors?
Jill: It’s a best of both worlds scenario. Authors continue to get the specialized attention a mid-size press like Prometheus can offer, and the opportunity to publish more niche content as well as mass-appeal work, while benefiting from the sales and distribution economy of scale that Random House Publisher Services brings to the table. Also, RHPS is extremely selective in taking on new clients. It’s a stamp of approval for our imprints.
Hemant: Will you get wider distribution?
Jill: We expect to. Our books are sold through most major booksellers in the US and worldwide, but there are some holes that have historically been tough to fill. For example, there are accounts that have been tough to crack because we may only have one or two perfect books for them in a year. Buyers may not meet with a supplier than only has one or two products to pitch. That limited our effectiveness. But now, as part of the RHPS client roster, we hopefully can have that opportunity to be sold directly to such an account.
Hemant: What does Random House offer Prometheus that it couldn’t get on its own?
Jill: As a very self-contained independent press, we’ve managed to achieve incredible growth over the last 40 plus years. Our books are sold all over the world and can often be found on the New Release displays at national US chains. However, a company our size can never match the resources of the world’s largest general-interest trade-book publisher. Their Publisher Services sales team has as many people as our entire company. They come to the marketplace equipped with the leverage of enormous sales successes. They have different bargaining power with big players like Amazon than we do alone. They can execute a one-day laydown at retail. We also get access to a brain trust of experienced publishing professionals. That kind of routine knowledge-sharing is very valuable, especially to a publisher that’s based in Amherst, NY and not Manhattan. And we’ve learned already that they are not just some moneyed machine but a group of extremely passionate book people. They are very excited about the books we publish, and that’s extremely gratifying.
Hemant: Will this allow Prometheus to take on more authors?
Jill: We already publish a good amount of books for a mid-size press, 100-110 new titles every year. The goal is not to publish more but sell even more of what we already publish. Reach even more readers with our exceptional product.
Hemant: Does this mean there will be layoffs on the Prometheus staff?
Jill: Hopefully, no. For quite a while there’s actually more work, not less, as we integrate with their timeline, schedule, and requirements. And the relationship opens up many new marketing possibilities for us, so we expect to repurpose some employees as opportunities and needs arise. We’re investigating ways to put our warehouse and distribution capabilities to use in new ways. It will be quite a while before we see for sure how it all shakes out, but we’re certainly aiming to minimize or avoid layoffs as much as possible.
The official partnership will go into effect (no joke!) on April 1st.