Osprey recently took the decision to launch a digital only list. We are very fortunate to receive a vast array of proposals daily, both from existing authors and new, unsolicited submissions. Not all books are suitable for publishing, but of the books that are eligible for publication, what makes some more suited to digital formats than others?
When considering any proposal for publishing the audience has to be the centre of a commissioning editor's focus. Osprey has a loyal readership that is interested in different aspects of military history, and predominantly in very niche subjects. The move to digital plays directly to this core, enabling us to publish titles on subjects that don't necessarily sell well enough in print to make them commercially viable in the current economic climate, but are important subjects nonetheless.
When commissioning a new title, I'm more likely to consider a niche subject for an eBook than for print. The Korean War, for example, is a vital part of military history, but the market is limited; the digital list gives us the chance to publish a well-timed book for the anniversary of the end of the war that we otherwise would not have been able to produce. Similarly, an essay collection on Napoleon's 9th Light Infantry Regiment is too niche to print, but is perfect for a digital product.
Still on the theme of audience, when commissioning I have to consider those who haven't read an Osprey book before, and how we can publish something that they want to read. This is more suited to digital commissioning which allows us to widen our audience, reaching outside our existing market and targeting new customers without taking too much risk. This is very much tied, for Osprey in particular, to format.
Another consideration when commissioning either a print edition or eBook is the specification – Osprey primarily publishes highly illustrated series titles, with set styles and formats. While the general trade list allows the company to publish a wider range of titles and larger histories, there are numerous proposals that do not fit into either the series or general lists. In these cases, digital commissioning is an ideal way to produce a variety of books, unimpeded by the parameters we've established for the series books or the expected length of a trade title. Digital commissioning gives us the freedom to try new approaches, for example personal histories, diaries and collections or blogs and essays.
What excites me about the move to digital and the new list is the chance to bring back out of print titles and revive them in a new format. We often receive submissions from authors seeking to get their work back in print, and digital publishing is a perfect way to do it.
There is nothing to say that if the eBook sells well, publishers wont then consider a print edition – one of the first books I proposed for the digital list, Helmand: The Diaries of Front Line Troops, produced so much excitement from the sales team that we commissioned it as a print edition as well – but digital commissioning is a strong way to start.
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