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Interview: We're about streamlining the publishing process says Joel Naoum of Momentum Books (part I)

momentum books logo Interview: We're about streamlining the publishing process says Joel Naoum of Momentum Books (part I)

This post is part one of a two-part interview with Joel Naoum, publisher at Pan Macmillans digital-only imprint Momentum books. Part two can be found here.


I'm no stranger to press releases, but last year one in particular piqued my interest: the announcement of the establishment of Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan Australia's new digital-only publishing imprint.

A quick glance at Momentum's line-up shows that it's an imprint willing to take a risk. In large part its new authors, and local authors at that, who are dotting its shelves. Not to mention the fact that those shelves are virtual.

Publisher Joel Naoum says that this risk-taking approach is exactly what underscores the imprint's market position: Momentum provides an opportunity to 'try something a bit bold' in an industry that is known for being reactive and risk-averse.

'With the shrinking market there's been less room to float new things,' says Naoum. Because of this publishers are becoming more conservative in the projects that they'll take on, the result being a homogenisation of the market and, worse, of ideas.

'It's really risky to put out a debut author,' he says. 'In fact, it's not even a riskit's almost a guaranteed failure.'

Naoum adds that there's always the concern within the industry that such projects won't be picked up by large chain stores such as Big W. These shops need highly commercial material to cater to their customers, and given that they're chasing a larger share of the commercial pie because of the diminishing numbers of local bricks-and-mortar bookshops, are highly influential when it comes to the final decision made on a particular project.

'It's a huge problem bearing down on us,' says Naoum.

And that's where the Momentum model comes in. By bypassing the traditional distribution outlets by focusing on digital distribution, Momentum can take risks on new authors in a way that isn't possible for larger publishers. It further mitigates risk by keeping overheads lowalthough we do have a funky new office in the Sydney CBD,' says Naoumdoing away with costly returns, and offering a royalty-only payment schedule.

'It's very exciting,' he says. 'It feels like a start-up. We do have a little bit more of a budget to play with because we're linked to Pan Macmillan, but I think we fall somewhere between a big publisher and a start-up.'

Naoum believes that Momentum's focus on streamlined publishing processes, an approach necessitated by both budgetary reasons and market response ones, will help the imprint make an impressive headway into the digital publishing arena, an area that is, according to Naoum, about to blow wide open.

'I think this Christmas will probably be the turning point for ebooks in Australia,' says Naoum. 'We're at about 5-10% now in Australia, and I'd say that by Christmas we'd probably be double that if not more.'

He estimates that by next year ebooks will account for roughly a quarter of all industry sales: 'a really big chunk'.

However, although Australian ebook sales trends seem to be following on the heels of those in the UK and the US, there's also the added issue that unlike in the US where print sales are being cannibalised by ebooks, in Australia the print market is simply dwindling.

'Ebooks are something that's coming whether we like it or not.'

Part of the huge boom in ebooks is due to publishers and authors being able to quickly make content, both new and old, available online. Bookseller/distributor-turned-publisher Amazon, of course, is also a major competitor.

Because of this Momentum strives for a fast to-market approach.

'We want to be able to bring books to the market quickly,' says Naoum, who notes that although Momentum keeps a fairly conservative production time-line, it has the capacity to move fast if required.

'With previously published authors where we just need to digitise we can work quite quickly.

One notable case is Momentum's recently published Lindsay Chamberlain autobiography, the publishing schedule of which was moved forward to coincide with a new court inquiry.

'That was a really big challenge, from deciding 'yes we'll do that' to having to get it out there. Eight weeks. It was already published, already edited, but we had to digitise it.'

Of course, larger houses can move quickly when needed as well, but the costs can quickly add up, and with sales success difficult to predict it can be a risky endeavour.

'Sure, you can do anything if you throw enough money at it, but it needs to be financially viable,' says Naoum.

Working with new material can take longer depending on the editing that needs to be done, but the production timeline is still massively streamlined. For example, Momentum's staff are trained to insert their edits directly into an ebook file rather than working with third-party systems that can be unwieldy and time-consuming.

'It allows for really quick feedback. That kind of thing sums up the Momentum approach: we're about streamlining the whole process. We're going to be in a strong position in twelve months' time when ebooks are increasingly viable.'

But despite an emphasis on ebooks, Momentum has positioned itself not as an ebook publisher, but rather a digital publisher.

'We've been calling it digital publishing because all of the processes we use are digitalincluding print on demand, which is a digital process,' says Naoum.

Momentum's print on demand processes are identical to that of an ebook, except the print-ready PDF is sent to a print on demand company who can then print a copy.

'We don't print in volume and send it on.'

Naoum says that Momentum's print on demand element is important to bear in mind in terms of how people buy books.

'Publishers need to think less about the threat of ebooks and more about the threat of online sales in generalabout consumer behaviour and how consumers want to buy books. If people like it, they're going to buy it in whatever format: you don't need to print in volume just to get a book out.'

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Click here for part 2!

One comment

  1. Im really looking forward to what Momentum has to offer