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Interview: Ebooks can stay on the shelves forever, says Joel Naoum of Momentum Books (Part II)

momentum books logo Interview: Ebooks can stay on the shelves forever, says Joel Naoum of Momentum Books (Part II)

This post is part two of a two-part interview with Joel Naoum, publisher at Pan Macmillans digital-only imprint Momentum books. Click here for part one.

Pan Macmillan's new digital imprint Momentum books is making waves not only for its focus on ebooks and digital technologies, but also commitment to working with new local talent.

'The editorial side is exciting,' says Joel Naoum, publisher at Momentum. 'You get to sign people who would otherwise have never got a book deal.'

These are authors who are clearly talented and with a strong product, and who in another economy would have been picked up. Unfortunately the current market is highly conservative, with publishers often unwilling to take risks on debut authors, particularly those with less commercial titles.

'We want to share the risk with the author, and authors are fine with that. They want their book to get out there, and we want to to help their book get out there.'

But though Naoum emphasises Momentum's progressive editorial approach, a quick assessment of its current list shows that this approach stems from some solid market research. The imprint's titles largely fall into genres that have a tradition of strong sales in the ebook market: romance, fantasy, and biography, for example.

'These are all genres that readers actively seek out,' says Naoum. 'These aren't hobbyist readers who might only read a book or two a year.'

Of course, there's more to it than the bottom line: Naoum is very clear that Momentum is working with projects that it believes in rather than cynically chasing budget dollars.

'Fantasy is something I love, but I'm in the happy situation where it also sells well online,' he says. 'We do also have some autobiographies of well-known peopleChopper Reed's books, the Lindsay Chamberlain autobiography, but they're timely and a part of the Australian culture.'

Naoum adds that these books will resonate with the audience, rather than being a book for a book's sake.

'They're books that people want to read, so I don't think we'll be flooding the market with crap just because we can.'

Momentum is also seeking to fill some notable gaps in the Australian market, with romance in particular being a focus.

'There's a very vibrant romance writing scene in Australia. At the moment these authors are getting snapped up by overseas romance publishers, some of which don't even have a presence in Australia.'

With its digital emphasis and global reach, Momentum believes that it can give local romance writers everything offered by the large romance publishersand do a better job of it.

However, there are some genres that remain a no-go zone for a digital publisher.

'Literary fiction doesn't do well,' says Naoum. 'It has a strong fan base, but those readers aren't reading online. They still want their copy of The New Yorker, or a print book.'

Not to mention detractors like Jonathan Franzen, who has likened ebooks to the 'downfall of civilisation.'

Naoum is optimistic, however. 'Perhaps we'll start to see that change in the next couple of years, particularly with brand literary authors. The really experimental authors who will move into ebooks, meaning the readership will have to follow, whether they like it or not.'

It's not just the readership that's following, however. Despite Momentum keeping its up-front costs low by foregoing advances and paying only royaltiesalbeit higher royalties than a standard print book as is typical in the ebook marketit's being courted not only by authors, but by agents as well.

This is surprising as agents work on a commission basis, a large portion of which is received from the payment of the advance.

'We have quite a few agentsit's a strange horse. They're finding that publishers aren't willing to take a risk on their authors for these books that they love. So they're either sitting on their laurels until the market turns, or they're looking to models like ours where they can take a royalty-only commission.'

Naoum notes that the current royalty split means that these agents won't receive much up front, but in the longer term have the potential to do quite well.

'Ebooks can stay on the shelves forever, so you can get that long tail of sales. It's a small long tail, and there will be more and more competitors, but they will still sell. The trick is to focus on books that won't date, things that people might always be curious about or issues that will be hanging around for a while.'

But in the vast online world, getting the word out there is key, and Momentum is striving to build its global networks. Part of this approach involves keeping a strict editorial to marketing ratio.

'We want to emphasise marketing. There's only so much you can do within Australia in terms of networking and publicity, and to build that network out requires huge amounts of work.'

Presently Momentum's market push involves offering review copies to book bloggers and reviewers, and carefully researching niche audiences, particularly those in the US and the UK.

'We're really pushing the foreign markets in order to make Momentum work: foreign sales are a must. We can't rely on Australian market to prop up the prices we're offering for the books,' says Naoum.

Fortunately, Momentum does have another factor in its favour: the way that people purchase their ebooks.

'Print readers and e-readers have entirely different purchasing habits. When it comes to ebooks, it's a sort of serendipity thing. If people read up on or hear about something, and if they can find it immediately, they'll buy it, even if they don't read it straight away. In print that's not happening.'


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Click here for part one of this interview!


  1. I think its essential for Momentum to be able to market their books globally, I really think gllobal distribution is the way forward for publishers. Im looking forward to the expansion of what Momentum can offer

  2. Kathryn /

    Thanks for the great interview here and I am sure most people can relate to this.. Thanks for the great job!