In my last post, I provided some background on our current "problem". The consultants got a one-pager that I go back to from time to time now; I like seeing the situation condensed into 190 words.
The 3+ hour long brainstorm yielded some insights specific to Versal, but many of them probably apply to most literary journals which run independent from an institution (or without some kind of external funding). I'll continue this series with the ideas we threw out, and move on in my next post to those which we're either considering or planning to implement.
The ideas we threw out (at least for now)
1. Increase retail price:
The consultants were convinced (and still are) that Versal's high quality production values far exceed the price we slap on the cover (€14.95 as of Versal 9). They're right that it's worth more than you pay for it. But it wasn't hard to benchmark the American literary journal community to find that Versal is at the higher range of cover prices out there. The average, from the sampling I took, is around $11.40.
2. Increase scale:
This follows the economies of scale theory that you may or may not be familiar with. Basically, the theory is that if a company increases the number of units produced, then the cost per unit decreases as fixed costs (production costs) become shared over a larger number of units. In Versal words, we would print, like, 2000 copies, the cost per copy would go down, and we would focus our efforts on hardcore, professional distribution. Why are we not doing this? Right now, I am the proud storage space for boxes of Versals new and old, and I have no desire to house whatever 2000 copies will look like. Until we get an office or a real distributor, scale increase isn't really an option. But for some journals, it could be.
3. Switch to POD:
For those of you who are familiar with the look and feel of Versal, it will be obvious why we're not doing this one. POD is standardized territory, and high quality POD is still territory being charted. Maybe this is where things will go one day, but for now, turning Versal into a POD book would be like me writing a romance novel. Or something like that.
4. Adjust wholesale pricing:
The consultants were appalled that most bookstores only take literary journals on consignment, and were additionally floored by the standard 60/40 split. They encouraged us to renegotiate all of our contracts with bookstores, an action I would very much like to take -- if I thought it had any way of going anywhere. Changing our own practices is one thing; changing industry practices like the consignment tradition and the heavy price tag just seem out of our current galaxy of influence. A situation I may look into harder in the future, but I want to focus my energies elsewhere for now. And our small distribution list is just that, small, so the impact of that much work would be minimal.
5. Initiate crowd review of submissions:
To be honest, we didn't really explore this idea in much detail because it didn't really address our major problems, and I wouldn't consider our editorial team a problem area on any level. I think the idea came during a discussion of engaging the greater community better, and thus leading, in theory, to more book sales. I think this could be an interesting MO for a journal, but it's not an experiment I want to conduct with Versal. You can call me on all kinds of old-school, old-boys, old-washed-up things for this, but you can't really, because I'm in my early 30s (started Versal when I was 23), I'm a woman (and a dyke at that, whoa), and I don't have an MFA. And I love my team and I love putting Versal together with them (c.f. Versal 9's editorial).
In my next installment, I'll share the ideas we like.