Power of Story
Publisher Robert Underwood Johnson created Yosemite National Park
In the late 19th century a publisher named Robert Underwood Johnson set out from Boston by train to California in search of a new writer who could make an impact. When he arrived in San Francisco he began asking around for where he might find a man by the name of John Muir. He was directed toward a remote valley to the east in the Sierra Nevada mountains where he set out by horse and wagon. He found Muir in Yosemite Valley, camped with him and invited Muir to start writing articles for Johnson’s Century Magazine. Johnson was understandably inspired by both the valley and the man. A powerful and effective friendship ensued. Johnson was well connected, introducing Muir to such names as Theodore Roosevelt, John Burroughs, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Rudyard Kipling. Muir’s articles captured the nation’s thrilled attention and Johnson began to turn them into books. Johnson then took Muir to Washington D.C. were both men successfully lobbied Congress to create Yosemite National Park. Muir subsequently founded the Sierra Club. Continue reading
We started Torrey House Press in 2010 with the tag line “Love of the Land” and with an objective to promote more grass on the mountains and water in the streams in the West and to do so via literature. We set out to get on the front lines of the very idea of literature and the environment. We are a publisher with a cause, to conserve the fragile environment for its own sake and upon which we depend.
Successful conservation is a challenge. Compared to the 1960’s and 70’s there is less public interest in conservation. Driven primarily by the intense lobbying of the energy industry, it has now become a belligerent Republican policy plank to do whatever possible to undermine the environment and, sadly, this month the Republican’s overran the U.S. Senate. What was already difficult, protecting the environment, has become more so. Energy industry money has succeeded in making conservation equate to being anti-people. Quite strange.
Like conservation, successful publishing is a challenge. Like conservation, the obstacles to success are mounting. Amazon’s growing monopsony means an ever larger slice of the revenue pie goes to them. And although Amazon makes millions of titles available, they are best at herding readers to the best sellers so that more than ever winner takes all. The growing internet produces infinite reading for free. Since the iPhone came out during the Great Recession readers are ever less available to something as demanding as a book. Smart phones and apps like FaceBook help readers find out what each other are reading which also amplifies the effect of winner takes all. People want to do what other people are doing and it is possible today to know where the buzz is in an instant. And with digital technology there is an ever increasing number of new titles per year, millions if self-published titles are included in the count, making any new title amount to a snowflake in a blizzard.
Four years in at Torrey House Press we have yet to figure out how to make our publishing venture sustainable and viable. We have learned more about the financial mechanics of publishing and what it will take to become profitable enough to continue. We see, for instance, that producing titles that sell less than 5,000 copies will never get us there. Our average copies sold per title is well less than that. We are considering our options. Help from conservation organizations might make sense. Going nonprofit might be necessary. Adding more nonfiction titles that address a specific market might help. Attracting mid-list authors with a substantial following helps. We are going to poke around at exploring all of these options and try to hold our eyes and minds open to other solutions at the same time.
A regular (ad)venture.