Haute Culture Press

Haute Culture PressWe came across a very interesting story that we want to share with you. Everyone knows that, to one extent or another, the publishing industry is dying. What does that mean? To authors, it could mean that it’s getting more difficult to publish. To commuters, it could mean that fellow travelers have their noses buried in tablets rather than in paper. And to the publishing world’s employees, it could mean greater challenges to find and keep their jobs. But ultimately, the death of one form of the industry is transforming into the birth of a new approach to the distribution of and engagement with words.

So now, back to this interesting story. We got an email at the end of 2013 from someone named Simon. He represents a publishing company called Haute Culture Press. He wrote to us about something called “Book Angles” and challenged us to explore a “new publishing model” with the potential to change the publishing world for the better. The UBR is based in Silicon Valley so, needless to say, we’re already familiar with angel investors, but angels of the book kind, not so much.

We asked if Luis de Miranda, founder of Haute Culture, could expand on the concept of this new publishing model, and he was generous enough to allow us to share his responses with you. So, in the spirit of all things uncustomary, here’s a look at a very uncustomary approach to staying relevant in the evolving world of publishing.

Tell us about your publishing company.

It’s a sort of unrealistic experience which is turning real little by little. We’re doing everything the main publishers aren’t: We’re not trying to make money with e-books, but rather give them away for free. We’re not trying to make best-sellers, but rather masterpieces that are not easily read on the average subway commute. We’re not trying to sell the maximum number of each title, but rather make ultra-limited editions. Our books are not easily placed in a jacket pocket either. No please, don’t tell my mother what I’m doing with Haute Culture Books, she might get worried.

Seriously though, Haute Culture Books is a new venture that combines exclusive book publishing and designed artistic pieces. We’re built on an innovative and experimental Felicity according to Flaubert, Haute Culture Pressnew model that combines immaterial donation, craftsmanship and luxury. Our mission is to bring masterpieces of global literature to English-speaking readers around the world. Our slogan is “Digital books should be free, physical books should be sublime.” We do what we say. It’s more of an alchemist activity. We’re quite retro-futuristic in our mindset.

The press creates limited print editions, each a distinctive art object (our new Flaubert volume, for example, comes in its own hand-painted birdcage) and these luxury volumes support the distribution of free e-books for each title. Our ultimate goal is to reach as many readers as possible and share international literary icons with a new, global audience and we believe our ‘Book Angel’ program is the best way to achieve this.

How are you using your website to communicate with your audience? On that note, who do you consider to be your audience?

We’re using our blog mainly, which is also incorporated into our website and trying to give our readers an idea of the journey we’re taking: sneak previews of book prototypes, interviews with our translators and the occasional picture of our book artisans at work.

We’re also using Facebook, although I’m not a huge fan because I don’t have enough friends and the few that I have don’t ‘like’ my posts enough. Yet we’re steadily adding to the people who like Haute Culture Books on Facebook, and therefore I’m glad to have invented something that people like more than me. Our audience is people with taste for unconventional culture, highly mind-blowing classics, discovery and objects. It takes curiosity, elegance and generosity to become a Book Angel.

What’s a Book Angel?

A ‘Book Angel’—or mini-Medici if you like, not to be confused with mini-me—is a benefactor who is able to support the spread of culture while enjoying a luxurious object as a reward. Each of our books is hand-made with fine materials and collectors are assured that no more than 500 copies of each title will ever be printed. Actually for the moment, we’re doing limited editions of 50 copies. I believe this will satisfy both collectors and book lovers alike. It’s the model we’ve invented to translate rare books and give away free e-books without asking my mother to pay the rent.

Where did the idea of seeking out Book Angels first come from?

I’m quite amused by business language. When I created Haute Culture, which is basically a book publisher, people were telling me I was a start-up creator. I had to look for business angels so I thought I might as well look for book angels and rely on a sort of happy few-funding paradigm. You can call it crowd-funding. Also, I toyed with the idea of calling the benefactors ‘Book Gods’ but my request to the Almighty was refused on the grounds that I could not use His name for marketing reasons. The Angels where much more open to new ideas, however.

Why choose Tammsaare’s Truth & Justice as your first release?

Because I’m a masochist and always liked to reach a final destination the hard way.

As a teenager, I would always use 3 pages to do a mathematical demonstration that only needed 3 lines. But the result was always correct.

Our first release is actually a new translation and an ultra-limited bilingual edition of the Flaubert novella, Felicity: The Tale of the Simple Heart. It went on sale at Assouline Boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris just before Christmas. It also gave me the opportunity to become a stock trader in parrot feathers and birdcages.

Volume I of Tammsaare’s Truth and Justice is planned for publication in 2014. It’s a fine example of an un-translated classic. Tammsaare himself is an icon of 20th century Estonian literature. Two museums, a monument, and a park in the center of Tallinn are all dedicated to him, yet he is quite unknown outside Estonia. Unlike some traditional classics, which are widely referred to but rarely read, his masterpiece, Truth and Justice, still retains its place at the front of Estonian bookshelves and yet this epic work has never been translated into English. I also have personal reasons for launching the press with an Estonian icon like Tammsaare, as I wrote my last novel (Qui a tué le poète?) in Estonia three years ago and I wanted to pay homage to the land that inspired me. You should get my novel when it’s published in English by the way, the translation is ready but I won’t publish it through Haute Culture, of course. At least not until I have a statue of myself in the middle of Paris.

Can you share some other titles you’ll be publishing in the upcoming year and speak to their relevance (i.e., why did you choose to represent these specific works)?

In addition to Truth & Justice, our next publication will be, in a few months, a translation of a Russian mind-blowing masterpiece by the cult novelist Yuri Mamleyev, called Shatuny. We are working with one of the best Russian to English translators, Marian Schwartz, who translated Bulgakov and Berberova. And we already have a quite original idea for the packaging and the book itself. This is really a mind-blowing novel on the quest for truth. Maybe I am obsessed by truth.

What’s the state of the luxury handmade print industry? Is it a growing niche market?

I believe that the spread of digital books will create a symmetrically opposed trend for luxury exclusive books. I don’t know much about markets, otherwise I’d be rich.

Are there any direct competitors working in the same space as Haute Culture or are you the first to introduce Book Angels? How does their offering differ from yours?

I believe we’re the first, but then again the idea of having subscriptions to produce books is quite ancient. I discovered recently that the Folio Society in the UK has been doing limited editions on a subscription basis for a while. But they don’t give away free e-books.

How do you justify putting an investment value on printed books when these artifacts are being quickly replaced by digital books?

How do you explain that a Picasso painting can be sold for a 100 million dollars at Christie’s and the poster of the same painting for 10 dollars? But we’re not in the business of speculation. The investment in the printed luxury editions allows us to translate and give away the digital editions. Without the limited edition there won’t be a digital one. The chicken comes before the egg, for sure.

What’s the value of book design in today’s electronic world? How does your team of book makers add value to the end product?

That’s a very good question. But again, we’re not using one technique against the other. You could consider our books as a kind of machine that looks like a physical object but is in fact a multiplicator of digital masterpieces in a world that isn’t translating as many masterpieces as it should because mainstream publishers think people just want to read Scandinavian thrillers—our designer is Swedish, by the way. We also use very rare materials just as a real author uses rare images, metaphors, phrases, and emotions.

You explain how Book Angels support the distribution of free e-books. When the e-book is finalized, is the cost of distribution high enough to justify the buy-ins you’re asking for from the Angels?

It’s not just the distribution, it’s also the translation and the others costs associated with book production. And Book Angels are also paying for the exclusivity of having a rare object that increases in value year after year. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet managed to include a financial retribution for myself in the process. But don’t tell my mother.

Can you give us some examples of the individuals, organizations, or institutions who are receiving your free e-books?

Well Stanford University Library is the most recognized name at the moment.

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