Pressed For Survival
Watsonville's Papier Mache struggling.
Thursday, October 8, 1998
Independent book publishers-- and book sellers for that matter--are a small, yet passionate niche in a media-driven society that often overlooks individual effort in the race for business.
The story of Watsonville''s Papier Mache Press is unusual in that the woman who began it all, Sandra Martz, left an executive position to start the woman-centered publishing company 10 years ago, and sold 1.3 million copies of When I am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, an anthology of poems and essays published in 1987.
Despite this huge success and having published more than 50 other titles, Papier Mache is now struggling. In August, Martz sent a mass mailing to her faithful clients and supporters, asking for their continued support in light of tight financial times and dwindling book orders from stores.
The response, although gratifying, hasn''t been overwhelming, "We received a lot of support from women locally and at large," says Martz. "But it wasn''t as good as we expected. We got about a 2 percent return on the mailing. Emotionally, it was satisfying, we got letters of support and a heartwarming response, but financially, it wasn''t as good. I think one of the problems is that people are inundated with appeals for help from so many groups but they can''t support everyone."
Martz has been expanding several projects since the decreased sales of Papier Mache books. "We''ve been reaching out to community writers--and there''s lots of talent here--and we''ve been doing successful creative writing workshops and publishing seminars. They''re full right now but we plan to start new ones early next year."
A second side project she has been considering is the concept of "print on demand" books (essentially self-published books), which is not a new idea in textbook publishing circles, but is new in the way Martz wants to approach it.
"I''ve been thinking about how to put the power in writers'' hands without them becoming publishers themselves and having to deal with everything. The Internet provides some of that accessibility and could do more. I''m talking with people about how this technology could be adapted by writers to print their own book. It''s still brainstorming at this point."
As for the future of Papier Mache Press, Martz says it will continue to look at how to achieve its mission, which has always been to support women and themes of aging.
"We continue to look for product ideas to place in small retail stores. As we all know, it''s hard to stand out in huge bookstores, with thousands of other books, so we''re concentrating on small gift books. We''ve just shipped small, abridged versions of our three most popular books to stores, we hope they''ll be great for gift baskets or as something special you want to share with friends."
Papier Mache also recently published a new anthology, Generation to Generation, and the humorous Heads of the Masters--a look at toilets the way artists like Pablo Picasso or Georgia O''Keeffe might have drawn them.
Pondering both her company''s successes and its current difficulties, Martz borrows a line from a popular Papier Mache selection. "If I had my life to live over," she begins, "I would reach as far as I could without growing so fast. For a few years, we had double and triple our first sales. People want to own their own business but not have the corporate pressure once they succeed. You have to get a bigger staff and more computers and keep up sales. I would''ve tried to stay smaller, but I am glad that we reached so many, who continue to send us stories of how they''ve been touched and how differently they see life." cw