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Concord Free Press Pays It Forward

Its moniker is not a misnomer: Concord Free Press really isn’t trying to sell you anything. Founded in 2008 by husband-and-wife writers Stona and Ann Fitch in Concord, Massachusetts, the experiment in philanthropic publishing distributes limited-edition books at no cost, upon request. Anyone can obtain titles directly from the press’s website or at select independent bookstores in the United States and Canada, and in return readers are encouraged to make a voluntary donation to a cause they believe in or to a person in need, chart their donation on the press’s site, and then pass the book on to a person who will keep the giving going.

“Our entire approach goes against all the traditional tenets of publishing,” says Stona. “We’re interested in engaging with readers in new ways, not just in selling them a book. And we’re a bunch of writers, not publishers—Concord Free Press is an author-led endeavor.” The press’s advisory board, which scouts and selects authors to publish, includes notables such as Russell Banks, Joyce Carol Oates, and Francine Prose. So far Concord Free Press has released eight titles (two are slated for publication each year), including, most recently, a reissue of Lucius Shepard’s 2004 novel, A Handbook of American Prayer, published last fall, and the story collection Round Mountain by Castle Freeman Jr.

The books are typically available for a period of a few months online, as well as through a network of over sixty independent bookstores, depending on how quickly they’re snapped up. “We print three thousand copies and when they’re gone, that’s it,” Stona says, “though most of our books end up having second commercial lives with traditional publishers.”

Each title is subsequently released as an e-book, currently compatible only with Amazon’s Kindle, though an expansion to other platforms is in the works. Sale of the digital editions provides a portion of the funding for the press (after authors receive royalties of 50 percent), with additional support coming from donors and grant-giving organizations.

Each Concord Free Press title has generated between $45,000 and $50,000 in donations to charities and people in need, according to the numbers reported by readers on the press’s website. As of this writing, the press says readers worldwide have donated upward of $270,000 to an array of organizations and individuals. The reading community’s embrace of the press’s grassroots mission comes through in the list of donations, with entries such as “forty dollars to John, father of six, who was laid off from his job a year ago,” “one hundred dollars to a friend recovering from a house fire,” and “five euros to a young guy trying to get enough money to stay in a hostel for the night.”

At the press itself, however, no money is distributed. “No one gets paid—we’re clear about that. We’re all volunteers,” says Stona. “We’re here to remind publishers—and authors and readers—that there are many different ways to create and distribute books. Traditional publishing wants to make a profit. We want to inspire generosity. We’re not suggesting that all books should be free—that would be stupid. But our seemingly crazy idea works. And it shows that radically different publishing models can thrive.” For more information on Concord Free Press and to request a copy of Round Mountain, visit www.concordfreepress.com.

Alex Dimitrov is a writer in New York City. His first book of poems, Begging for It, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2013.

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Concord Free Press Pays It Forward (May/June 2012)
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