Why this book startup is taking a page from Glossier and Allbirds
Every year, publishers release thousands of new titles, but the vast majority don’t make a profit. Most authors spend years working on a book, only to see it languish, unable to find an audience.
Amy Snook thinks there’s a better way. She just launched a new publishing house called Parea whose goal is to publish books by new authors and then help find an audience by targeting the influencers and communities that each title will resonate with. It’s the latest effort to shake up a sleepy, old-fashioned industry.
Snook has spent his career thinking about how to use the internet to help brands find consumers. She was one of the first employees of makeup brand Glossier before taking on the role of COO of alcohol brand Haus. Either way, his job was to use social media to find and create passionate communities. Amid building these businesses, Snook has always had his head in a book. “I’ve always been a voracious reader, but I couldn’t help but notice that the publishing industry works so differently from modern brands,” she says. “It seemed like most of the books never found an audience, which seems like such a waste of resources.”
Today, the industry is dominated by five major publishers that have been in operation for over a century: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan. (That will shrink to four if Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster goes through.) Although these companies publish thousands of books each year, they’re building their business around a few bestsellers that will sell millions of books. copies and will help pay for everything else. . While publishers invest a lot of money in marketing the books they hope will be hits, they invest very few resources in smaller books or by unknown authors. “Authors are expected to market books themselves,” Snook explains, “which is why publishers tend to favor writers with an embedded audience, like celebrities. But many authors lack the skills to market their own books.
Snook’s business model, on the other hand, begins by identifying communities of readers that are currently underserved. While the person most likely to read a book is a black female college graduate, black female authors are still underrepresented, despite a string of recent books by these authors. Of the first six books Parea has under contract, four are written by black women.
Snook also focuses on the category of “self-help” (or in his words “self-expanding”), which tends to generate a lot of bestsellers. She defines these books as nonfiction that helps readers think about a problem or learn something new. The first book, The hours before dusk, is by sustainability journalist Jenna Matecki, who profiles 25 different cities and challenges readers to find joy in their daily experience of city life. The second book on the record is written by an African-American death doula; the third is from a black hotelier in Morocco. To edit the books, Snook tapped Alyea Canada, who has spent her career editing books for independent presses and was until recently the editor of an online literary magazine. Asymptote log.
When Snook begins work on a book, she reaches out to a community of readers she thinks might be a good fit for the title. With Matecki’s book, Snook scoured TikTok, Instagram and popular reading blogs for book influencers who love travel and cities, giving them early drafts of the manuscript and inviting them to provide feedback, which has sometimes leads to changes in the manuscript. The idea is to help influencers feel invested in the success of the book.
She then works with those influencers to get their communities excited about a new release. The hours before dusk officially releases in August and has already sold several thousand pre-order copies. Snook considers this a success because most newbie authors only sell 2,000 copies in total. Parea’s books will primarily be available on the brand’s website, although Snook is partnering with select retailers that may reach the target audience. And while Snook won’t pay authors upfront, they will receive 20% royalties on each book, double the industry standard.
Snook uses a playbook similar to how DTC startups often create trails. Glossier, for example, reached out to beauty influencers (and their followers) who would understand the brand’s minimalist, natural aesthetic and help garner pre-launch support. The brand has gained millions of followers on its social media accounts, enabling it to sell directly to its community.
Jane Friedman, a publishing analyst with more than three decades of industry experience, agrees that publishers tend to focus their attention on a few titles that they believe will sell well. But they also hope there will be some surprise hits. The problem is that, historically, a few influential gatekeepers are tasked with “discovering” new authors or hidden gems. “The DNA of traditional book publishing is that it caters to tastemakers – like librarians, booksellers and book reviewers at big publications like the New York Times,said Friedman. “And unlike other consumer companies like Coke and Maybelline, publishers don’t do rigorous, systematic market research. Publishers don’t really seem to care what readers want; they’re guided by the instinct of editors and keepers.
Traditional publishers have started to understand the power of Instagram and TikTok, and some imprints have marketing teams reaching out to TikTok influencers to promote new releases. But given the sheer volume of books, it’s still impossible for all titles to get equal billing. Snook wants every book in her portfolio to grab attention, which is admittedly easier since, to begin with, she only publishes a dozen books a year. And Snook isn’t the only one trying to shake up book publishing. Over the past few years, other startups have tried to find creative new ways to market books. Zando, for example, was founded in 2020 by former Crown editor Molly Stern. Stern does not primarily rely on bookstores and advertising to market new books, but instead partners with celebrities and brands to promote the books to their fans and customers. Zibby Books, founded last year by book influencer Zibby Owens, will publish non-fiction and memoirs from a variety of voices. Owens has developed a unique way of compensating authors and employees, dividing 75% of all net profits each calendar year between each employee and author (in addition to paying them traditional royalties and advances). This financial structure is designed to allow all authors to benefit equally.
Friedman thinks it’s a good thing that new independent publishers are coming up with creative ways to help beginning writers emerge. But for now, these startups are still small and probably can’t affect a broader shift in the industry. “The question is, can this be scaled?” she says. “That’s where the rubber hits the road.” Friedman points to public relations firm Open Road Media, which focuses on publicity for new books, as something that has the potential to be more disruptive. “They’ve created a digital marketing engine that’s exactly what big publishers need to market their books at scale, which seems a lot more interesting and sustainable,” she says.
Snook realizes she’s starting small, but she believes Parea and the other startups in this space have the power to pressure the bigger players to change the way they operate. And ultimately, it gives readers more opportunities to find talented authors and great books. “I hope traditional publishing looks at this and realizes that it missed something by not trying to understand who its readers are, what they want, and how to engage them in the acquisition process and marketing books,” she says. “I don’t believe publishing is a zero-sum game. If more of the world reads more often, we’ll be in a much better place.