Iyar 5772 / May 2012
Is This the Right Time to
Start a New Jewish Publishing House?
When I announced last fall that I intended to start a new Jewish publishing house, the reaction I received was far from encouraging. The industry was still in shock from the recent closure of Targum Press, and there was a general feeling that the business wouldn’t be a profitable one in the near future (if ever). Since then Feldheim Publishers filed for bankruptcy, further fueling the already gloomy atmosphere.
The fact is that this attitude is not without any foundation. The world hasn’t yet recovered from its global recession, sales revenues have been in decline for several years, and the book market is flooded with new titles.
However, after carefully studying the industry by interviewing many experienced professionals from several major Jewish publishing houses and magazines, I have come to the conclusion that the future is really not as bleak as it seems. I would say that, to some extent, the opposite is even true. What we’re witnessing these days isn’t the end of an industry, but rather a change in direction. Some of the old, accepted practices have become obsolete, and new methods are required. The “winners” will be the ones who best adapt to the new realities.
These are some of the facts that I discovered in my investigation:
- Some Jewish publishing houses are still making a profit.
- Some major Jewish publishing houses are not able or willing to offer contracts with appropriate royalties to many of their authors.
- Many published authors have had bad experiences with established publishing houses and are seeking alternative publishers.
- Many rabbanim would like to have their Torah published but don’t know to whom to turn, or are suspicious that their Torah won’t be portrayed according to their wishes.
- The old-fashioned business model where the staff travels on a daily basis to work in a central office is out of style in the modern technological world. The overhead of running such an office creates an overhead expense that immediately puts the company at a financial disadvantage. The modern solution is the “virtual” office whereby the staff communicates mostly by email.
- Traditionally, the staff of a publishing house is comprised of full-time or part-time employees. This further contributes to the financial stress of the business by committing itself to pay all of these salaries. Another downside to this practice is that the publisher is limited to work with this staff alone. Today’s solution is to hire freelancers according to the needs of the company. Anyone familiar with the industry knows that most of the top professionals do some freelancing on the side. So, a publisher that works with freelancers has the advantage of hand-picking some of the best professionals in the business and tailoring his team to the specific needs of the particular author and manuscript.
In light of all this, I believe that it’s really the ideal time to enter the Jewish publishing market. While the established publishers are struggling to keep financially afloat and are therefore unable or unwilling to properly invest in their new titles, we, as a fresh new company, can step forward and hire the best staff, pay top royalties, and give personal attention to the talented writers we choose to work with.
Based on this assessment, I have decided to go forward with my quest to establish a new Jewish publishing house—one that will iy”H be among the leaders in the industry.
My first two titles will iy”H be released before this coming Rosh Hashanah. One is called Prime Suspect, a spellbinding thriller by the experienced author, Dovid Sussman (author of Alter Ego and more). The other is called Izzy and Ezzy and the Winning Play, a children’s book by a new, talented writer, Shani Brown, accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations of the renowned illustrator, Shiri Cohen.
Prior to this coming Chanukah, I plan on releasing three new titles. One is entitled It’s all in the Angle. It’s a collection of over 100 thought-provoking and entertaining essays by the famous columnist, Rabbi Avi Shafran. The subjects covered in this book are anti-Semitism, morality, science, Shabbos and Yom Tov, and general Torah hashkafah. Another (tentative) title is From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries. It’s the work of the well-known rav and columnist, Rav Yirmiyohu Kaganoff. In it he answers real-life sh’eilos while capturing the reader’s interest and explaining the halachah with tremendous clarity. Along the way he teaches the reader many more valuable lessons about being a Torah Jew. The third title is a sequel called Izzy and Ezzy Enjoy a Snow Day.
I have noticed that when I tell people of these planned releases they are shocked. They seem to be thinking (some have even verbalized it), “How could a new, unknown publisher start off with such a fabulous selection of new titles?” The truth is that it is a case of siyata d’Shmaya, for which I am very grateful to Him. At the same time, it demonstrates what I wrote above—there really are a lot of good opportunities available today in the Jewish publishing business.
Rabbi Eliyahu Miller
Publisher and General Editor