By Calvin Reid

April 15, 2011

Launched in January as an independent digital venture headed by Karen Hunter, publisher of the Simon & Schuster imprint Karen Hunter Publishing, First One Digital Publishing is an ambitious digital-first venture looking to create a new model for book publishing. Focused on releasing a list of fiction and nonfiction written by both veteran and emerging authors, First One Digital Publishing has released 11 e-books so far as it gears up for a new set of e-book releases and the launch of a major marketing and promotional compaign for its titles.

A Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, bestselling author and publisher, Hunter has authored and coauthored more than a dozen bestselling nonfiction titles. She teamed with S&S in 2007 to launch Karen Hunter Publishing, an S&S imprint focused mostly on popular nonfiction aimed at the market for African-American titles and she has published bestselling works by such authors as Patti Labelle, Janet Jackson and novelist E. Lynn Harris.

However, Hunter is quick to emphasize that she is not a “black” publisher, and her books and indeed, this new First One Digital venture are aimed at a broad market for consumer reading. In addition to heading the digital publishing venture, Hunter is also a First One investor and is starting First One Digital Publishing as part of a venture owned by Mgmt-One, a Cincinnati business advisory firm that is also launching online ventures aimed at entertainment and sports.

“I got my first e-reader in 2007 and I didn’t like it,” Hunter said. “I’m a book person; I like the feel of the page the smell of a book. But as I started to use it I realized that this is going to be a game-changer.”  While Hunter said she has discussed the venture with S&S, First One Digital Publishing is completely separate from her work at Karen Hunter Publishing. Indeed despite being the publisher of a mainstream publishing imprint, she sees FODP as a way around the restrictions of traditional publishing.

“Publishers tend to follow trends,” Hunter said, “but I like to set trends and make things happen. Everyone knows that if you’re an author and you don’t have an agent or if you have an unusual book, you don’t get published.” Hunter said she’s sees manuscripts by first-time authors that she can’t publish through her S&S line that she intends to publish through First One. But FODP also has some significant authors and launched with a digital edition of former comedian and social activist Dick Gregory’s 1963 autobiography Nigger—Gregory had retained digital rights and this is the first e-book edition of his bestselling autobiography—which was released in January with a new introduction.

But FODP has also released Good Cop Bad Money, a memoir by first-time author Glen Morisano, a former officer in the NYPD that Hunter calls, “an American hero.” Morisano was a 9/11 responder, worked in drug enforcement and was brought in to clean out and reorganize the NYPD's notorious 70th precinct where Abner Louima was sodomized in 1997. Beginning in May, Hunter said FODP will begin releasing a series of “faith-based” titles—Hunter is quick to note that she is religious and that that is reflected in her publishing—including books by LaJoyce Brookshire, a doctor whose inspirational memoir, Faith Under Fire, Hunter published at S&S. FODP has released Ask the Good Doctor: Detox, the first in FODP’s Ask The Good Doctor series that will focus on a variety of health issues.

The FODP line features e-books supported on laptops, desktops and mobile devices; a website feature video interviews with authors, a first-time author contest slated to start by the summer; online book clubs and a line up of book bloggers that includes A.C. Riley, a journalist who plans to read 150 books this year and blog about the experience. And while the FODP is a digital-first publisher, Hunter said that she has inked a deal with B&N to do a print run of Good Cop Bad Money to sell in its stores and will selectively offer print editions of certain FODP titles where there is a demand.

Promotion will gear up in the Spring with social media promotions on Facebook for Dana Chandler’s Is It Really a Dream: Discover your Destiny While you Sleep; and aggressive promotion through the Adspace Digital Mall Network, a network of 1500 “smart-screens” located in 113 class A regional shopping malls. The campaign will feature 15 second spots and Hunter said the network is particularly effective reaching young adults and women of all ages at an affordable price.

“The book business model is broken,” Hunter said, “38% of the books we publish come back. Digital publishing means no returns and we can offer print titles when we need too.” Hunter acknowledged that so far sales of FODP titles, “are not what I would like; of course nothing goes exactly like you plan, there are always growing pains.” But she said, “We’ve done a lot in four months and book publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a numbers game. All you need is a hit and every book we’re putting out is a good book. So it’s only a matter of time.”

Originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

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