Sunday 3 November 2019

Indie Spotlight: Dollarbird - Monsoon ventures into hybrid publishing

Apologies for the late posting of the October Indie Spotlight. This month we're taking a look at an exciting new development from leading independent publisher of books on Asia- Monsoon Books who have recently launched a new imprint, venturing into a new business model - hybrid publishing. Over to publisher, Phil Tatham for the detail...

Monsoon Books launched its second imprint, Dollarbird, in late 2019 with half a dozen exciting new titles in the pipeline or already in stores. The first title to be released, The Scent of Frangipani by first-time Singaporean author Anjana Rai Chaudhuri, will be officially launched at Singapore Writers Festival 2019 at an event moderated by award-winning author Suchen Christine Lim.

Although Dollarbird continues Monsoon Books’ specialism in concentrating on books set in Southeast Asia, what differentiates it is the business model. Dollarbird is a hybrid imprint, a business model fast gaining ground amongst independent trade publishers in the UK and US. The hybrid model pays authors royalties of 50% of the publisher’s net receipts in return for an upfront payment to help subsidize the publisher’s production costs.

The benefit for Monsoon Books is that the financial risk of producing the book is mitigated, meaning we can afford to widen the net and publish quality manuscripts by new authors or in new genres that we would otherwise have rejected for financial reasons. Like most other indie trade publishers, Monsoon Books is constrained by financial resources and, with some exceptions, tries to publish what it hopes will become profitable for publisher and author. Monsoon typically publishes 12 to 15 new books a year and, increasingly, we are only accepting works in existing series or standalone books by existing authors. It is hoped that Dollarbird will enable us publish more books by new authors and in new genres.

The Scent of Frangipani, Dollarbird's first release.
Although Dollarbird was launched in late 2019, we have been mulling over the idea of a hybrid imprint for many years. Only recently, however, has the hybrid model been gaining ground. In December 2018, trade journalist Brooke Warner wrote in Publisher’s Weekly, ‘Hybrid publishing, despite its unsexy name, does have clear appeal. It’s getting attention. The industry is writing about it and therefore further codifying and validating it.’ The Independent Book Publishers Association took an important step in 2018 to formalise hybrid publishing by laying out nine criteria that publishers must meet to be called hybrid publishers. These criteria are important as they require hybrid publishers to act like traditional publishers in all respects except for the business model and to therefore conduct the same level of gatekeeping. This means that although Dollarbird is able to accept works by new authors and in less commercial genres, it still rejects the vast majority of manuscripts received, which are simply not good enough for publication. As with traditional publishers, hybrid publishers select and curate their projects and they consider the market potential of manuscripts before accepting them. Hybrid publishers that take anyone and everyone are no different to a self-publishing service.

Our desire to accept new authors and more unusual manuscripts is already becoming a reality as Dollarbird has accepted for publication several new authors and some very exciting works, including a biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey, a 17th-century maverick merchant-mariner, an ‘independent’ trading on the fringes of the East India Company, who amongst other things wrote and published the first ever English-Malay dictionary, a seminal work that even a century later would be used by the likes of Thomas Stamford Raffles and John Leyden. Such a niche biography would have struggled to see the light of day but we are very excited to be able to publish it in the spring of 2020. It is early days for the new Dollarbird imprint but we are confident of buiding not only an exciting list of books but also one that will compete with our traditional imprint, Monsoon, and that will be attractive to authors.

Dollarbird’s launch of The Scent of Frangipani at Singapore Writers Festival 2019 marks a new dawn for Monsoon Books so do join us for the launch and watch this space for more exciting Dollarbird titles in the new year.

Posted by Ann Bennett, author of recently released The Planter's Wife ; also A Daughter's Quest and A Daughter's Promise, all novels set in SE Asia during WW2.