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World Poetry Day and new ebook platform Bookgrail

20 March 2017

World Poetry Day has been marked by the publication of some encouraging sales figures from the UK, showing sales up 16% on last year in the first quarter. But a lot of these sales seem to be driven by social media and to feature poets who are appealing to a young female audience. Rupi Kaur's self-published Milk and Honey, which was mentioned on WritersServices last September in link to an article entitled How To Sell Nearly a Half-Million Copies of a Poetry Book, is a case in point and her sales spiked after International Women's Day.

These poets are frequently accessed through social media and do not come from traditional poetry publishers (Milk and Honey was originally self-published but now is published by Kansas-based Andrews McMeel, better known for its gift book publishing). Warsan Shire, a young Somali-born poet based in London, broke through to a wider audience through her collaboration with Beyonce on Lemonade.

More traditional publishers have not proved so successful at cracking this market and throughout poetry publishing reaching the audience continues to be a major challenge. Small British publisher Penned in the Margins is sharing in this success through its very lively approach to events and sales last year were up 40%. Their bestselling poet Luke Wright is a mesmerising performer and does around three events a week. Bookshops often stock only a small selection of bestselling poetry and it is difficult to find a good range. Online purchase is an alternative but how can you reproduce the browsing effect, so important to poetry sales?

A new venture offers an interesting way forward. Bookgrail is a platform which enables anyone to become an ebook bookseller. Users - who might be publishers, agents, booksellers, authors, or readers - can set up their stores through the platform, embedding BookGrail links on their own sites and social media feeds. Currently they may select their stock from a catalogue of 80,000 titles.

Bookgrail has been set up by Nicholas Cheetham and Paul Peters. Cheetham says:

‘I think it is nearly impossible to compete with the big guns if you take them on on their own turf. Rather than trying to do ebook retail from the top down with a discount-centric, algorithm-driven everything store, we hope to crowd-source bookselling expertise from hundreds... thousands... millions... of tiny stores. We have indie authors, why not indie e-booksellers too?"

Authors can get a better deal from BookGrail than even Amazon KDP's highest royalty: up to 77.5% of the digital list price. If an author's publisher sells via BookGrail, the author gets 17.5% of the proceeds, and the publisher gets 60% - from which the publisher also pays the author, at their agreed royalty rate. Cheetham says that this deal is worth more than double the standard ebook royalty rate of 25% of a publisher's receipts.

This approach offers interesting possibilities for indie authors and perhaps it's no surprise that one of the first publishers on the new Bookgrail site is poetry publisher Carcanet.