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How to Publish in a Recession: Chelsea Green’s Margo Baldwin

Margo Baldwin—President, Publisher, and co-founder of Chelsea Green Publishing—looks ahead to the future of the book industry in this interview with Conversational Reading‘s Scott Esposito.

They talk about what smaller bookstores will need to do to survive in the recession, and look at just how—with the bigger publishers and the book industry in general falling on hard times lately—Chelsea Green was able to boast its best year ever in 2008.

Margo Baldwin is the president and publisher of Chelsea Green Publishing.

Scott Esposito: Chelsea Green is a little different than the presses that most readers of this blog will be familiar with. To give us an idea of what you do, what are some of your strongest backlist titles and what are your lead titles for 2009?

Margo Baldwin: We’ve had 3 New York Times bestsellers in the last 4 years, Don’t Think of an Elephant! by George Lakoff (2004), The End of America by Naomi Wolf (2007), and Obama’s Challenge by Robert Kuttner (2008). Those titles represent the politics part of “The politics and practice of sustainable living.” The practice part includes backlist bestsellers such as The Four Season Harvest and New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman (over 100k copies sold of all editions), The Straw Bale House (over 150k copies sold), The Man Who Planted Trees (300k copies sold), Wind Power, The Passive Solar House, Natural Beekeeping, Wild Fermentations, Gaia’s Garden, Limits to Growth. For 2009, our lead titles will be Eliot Coleman’s new book Winter Harvest Handbook, Tom Greco’s The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, Deirdre Heekin’s Libation, a Bitter Alchemy, and Living above the Store, a sustainable business book about triple bottom line business practices.

SE: In the past couple months we’ve seen reports of a sharp decline in book sales and a sharp increase in literary reading (although not of books in general). And this has taken place against the rise of Amazon/decline of books-and-mortar stores, Jeff Bezos’s championing of the Kindle, and a definite trend toward ebooks on the part of publishers big and small. As someone who has been publishing for quite some time, do you think the industry is at a crossroads?

MB: Indeed I do. It needs to reinvent itself: get rid of returns and huge advances and all the waste inherent in the system. Amazon has perfected the ordering to demand systems and other booksellers need to do the same. It’s no longer feasible to push lots of books out and then take them all back; way too wasteful. E-books and digital content will continue to grow, but will remain relatively small compared to printed books for awhile. Bricks and mortar stores will need to reinvent themselves into community activist centers with a mission in order to keep their customers. Chains will become less important except for the megahits and brand name authors. Backlist will continue to migrate to the internet.

SE: What parts of the publishing industry do you think will look different in a few years?

MB: Everything! Publishers will be more niched and using POD and e-books for penetration into certain markets. Bookstores will be transformed as above. General trade stores will stay afloat by being linked to Amazon and other Internet sites to gain commissions on backlist sales from their customers, while concentrating on frontlist titles. Many general trade publishers will have gone out of business or drastically reduced in size. More content will be published online and by subscription. More user-generated content will be sold. As the industrial culture crashes, how-to survive and thrive self-sufficiently will gain in importance.

Read the whole interview here.


Note: Some of the links in the preceding article have been changed. Rather than re-direct to, book titles now re-direct to

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