Independent publishing in the modern age

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In the fast moving world of publishing, Coffee House Press has adapted to the digital age while still remaining true to its original artistic vision.

Coffee House Press is on the eve ofcelebrating its 25th anniversary as an independent publishing house. Just making it this far is quite an accomplishment; senior editor Chris Fischbach can count on his hand the number of other independent presses that have lasted this long (two of the other top independent literary presses in the nation are based in Minnesota – more on that in a bit). But Coffee House Press has not just survived – it’s doing well.

Fischbach credits CHP’s success in part to technology:

The internet has allowed us to reach more people and tell them about our books. In some ways the internet levels the playing field. Our books are on Amazon in the same way more or less that a big house’s books are.

While the financial crash that occurred in the wake of 9/11 has had a lasting effect on publishing houses, CHP has managed to end the last few years in the black, and in this past year has been able to erase its deficit, thanks to a bestseller (Sam Savage’s book “Firmin“).

Fischbach says the press is poised to get even stronger in the coming years. It’s just received a Bush Foundation grant which will allow it to both revamp its website and work with a distributor to release its books as “e-books” available for download.

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Coffee House Press associate publisher Chris Fischbach

Fischbach says the key to Coffee House Press’ long term success has been a combination of staying true to its vision (strong design, new voices and compelling stories) while remaining nimble when it comes to new means of doing business.

Our primary focus now and in the foreseeable future is the printed book, and the other things are extra experiences around the book, such as author interviews on the website, podcasts,etc.

Coffee House Press founder and publisher Allan Kornblum has been both savvy and pragmatic in his running of his company. While he still prints broadsides (limited edition prints that usually draw from CHP authors or poets), he was quick to embrace computers. And now he’s gradually transferring the running of the press to Fischbach.

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Coffee House Press publisher Allan Kornblum stands next to a Gem paper cutter, a stack of broadsides in his arms.

Fischbach says while he doesn’t expect e-books to be a significant part of CHP’s revenue for years to come, he does imagine that changing reader habits will force the literary industry to evolve. He imagines in decades to come the printed book will become more rare, and as a result, more precious:

Publishers like us have an opportunity to further establish [printed books] as objects of worth. We’re showing the work respect, by giving it a design that’s worthy of the content. And that’s what we want to do going forward, wherever the book goes.

Coffee House Press is not the only Minnesota publishing house to celebrate a major anniversary this year. Milkweed Editions turns 30, and Graywolf Press turns 35. The three are co-celebrating their anniversaries with a literary scavenger hunt.

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