Friday, July 29, 2011

Is There a Disconnect with The History Press?

This past weekend I attended the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) Annual Seminar. I purposely reserved time to look at the Jonathan Sheppard Books booth. Typically I go to conferences, run out of time and never get to look at any books, never mind buy them. On this occasion I skipped the last lecture of the day to browse books.

The booth had many books that beckoned and tempted me to buy them.  I resisted as best I could but not completely.  What struck me about the display was that there were a whole bunch of interesting new books from The History Press.

There was a book called Lexington, Massachusetts: Treasures from Historic Archives by Richard P. Kollen (which I did end up buying) and Maynard, Massachusetts: A House in the Village by  Jan Voogd (which I didn't buy but sorely wanted to).  There were other books too whose titles have slipped my mind at this point.

I was struck by how many interesting titles they offered that I had never heard of.  Of course, that got me thinking more about The History Press.  Come to think of it, I can't really recall seeing too many of their books in book reviews appearing in genealogical publications.

I did a quick scan of my personal library.  The predominant publishers I found were the Genealogical Publishing Company, Ancestry and NEHGS.  I did have three books published by The History Press. They include Marblehead in World War I at Home & Overseas by Margery A. Armstrong, The Slaves of Central Fairfield County by Daniel A. Cruson, A Brief History of Old Newbury from Settlement to Separation by Bethany Groff and now also the one mentioned previously.

Next I went to The History Press website and checked out what they have on offer. Since my geographic area of focus is southern New England I searched first for books on Connecticut. I found no less than 21 books focusing on individual towns, ethnic groups, ghost stories and a hidden history book.  A search on Rhode Island revealed 19 interesting looking books.  And lastly a search on Massachusetts showed 25 books of interest. I would imagine that genealogists researching ancestors from specific towns in these states would find the books to be very useful.

The thought that crosses my mind is that perhaps The History Press doesn't target genealogists in their marketing.  That seems like a real shame. Genealogists are probably one of the larger book buying contingents, particularly of history books.  If I hadn't taken the time to look at the Jonathan Sheppard Books display I still would never have heard of some of these books much less bought them.

I know I would be happy to review books by the History Press on my blog as I'm sure other genealogists would be too.  And publications like Family Tree Magazine, Family Chronicle, American Ancestors and the National Genealogical Society Magazine to mention just a few publications would likely welcome review copies for consideration.

So where's the disconnect?  I hope The History Press gets the word and starts telling the genealogical community about their publications.  It's a shame that it's such a missed opportunity.

[post script: Please be sure to read the last comment below.]


  1. Marian,

    I took a look at The History Press website and saw numerous interesting titles for Texas and Louisiana, not much in western states in California. I think I've seen their Civil War series advertised in Civil War periodicals.


  2. Interesting point, Marian. I have an archivist friend who frequently delves into both genealogy and general history, and is a major consumer of such books. I'm curious if she's noticed any lack of marketing focused toward her own professional demographic, as well, so I will ask. Hopefully, some one in History Press marketing will notice this post! :-)

  3. History Press seemed to have settled on a marketing plan that is similar to that of Arcadia Press and the now-defunct Windsor Publications. It goes something like this: Select “local expert” author. Commission small-ish book that fits the series’ “cost-effective size formula.” Print very short runs. Market through targeted “local” sources – newspaper stories, radio talk shows, bookstores, author talks. Let the author and “locals” promote book to each other. Then, find “new” author someplace else and repeat.

    Most publishers like this find that locality-specific titles are hard to market outside of the locality and the time and resources ($$$) it takes to market to wider audiences is a drain on resources. Plus, experience has shown that by the time magazines and journals get around to reviewing “freebie” review copies, the book has already gone out of print.

    It's tough out there!

  4. When I was working at Borders I was in charge of the "local interest" section. I was pretty aggressive with it and we were in the top ten stores in the company for sales of local history
    books. I agree that History Press has some interesting titles but I found Arcadia was easier to deal with in getting their authors to appear at our store. I had one author stand us up twice, but luckily his book sold well so I wasn't stuck with a lot of copies for long.

  5. Thanks everyone for all your input, especially from Mel's publishing point of view. I can understand their need to focus their marketing plan but it seems like with very little effort they could have far greater reach. It's marketing plans like this that make it so hard for me to obtain certain books just a few years down the road. I think it's time for a paradigm shift. They obviously created this plan before the internet domination of bloggers! LOL

  6. I have to provide an update. The History Press contacted me after reading this blog post. They were very interested in learning how to reach out to genealogists. We have exchanged some dialog back and forth a few times now and I believe they truly would love to learn how to reach out to genealogists and are going to see what they can do to change that.

    Yay for social media bringing change!

  7. I've just published my second book with The History Press. Between the first and the second, their promotional help to authors improved; they provided me with more tools to use...and listened to my preference for giving illustrated talks rather than simple "sit and sign" sessions. I think there's room for improvement in this regard, but I see a big change over the past two years.

    . One thing I urged them to consider is that I wrote my own book to have appeal beyond the immediate region, and pointed out is about the larger American 19th century culture, not just Salem...and tried to encourage some marketing direction in that way. Not much success with them there, but I do have sales across the country and in the UK too, so I think I am right.

    As with everything, though, it falls to the artist to do the real promo stuff. (I'm a musician and an author, so I kinda know where the deal is here).

    As founder and Prez of the Salem History Society, I can also add that our 675 members come from around the world...pretty nice "regional" group, eh?:-D.
    PS Lots of people interested in genealogy in our membership, though we do not provide that kind of service; we do, however facilitate folks finding each other in our online community.

    Maggi Smith-Dalton