Down the Long Tail
“Getting Serious” About Publishing
Oak Knoll Press emerged out of Oak Knoll Books in a fairly organic fashion, according to company Founder and President Bob Fleck. Beginning in the antiquarian trade, Fleck, a chemical engineer by training and book lover by avocation, got into publishing almost by accident. In the course of striking a distribution deal with British-based New Holland Publishers, he was offered the opportunity to co-publish the reprint of a classic work of 19th-century bibliography.
“If you scratch the backs of a lot of rare booksellers, we’re the people who know what out-of-print books are really in demand,” Fleck says. “It makes such sense [that] people in a special field like mine will reprint books.”
In the ’90s, Fleck made a corporate decision to, as he puts it, “get serious” about publishing on a larger scale. “It really made sense to me to get more involved … because I had, over the years, developed this fabulous mailing list of people interested in the subject of books about books,” he says.
He could sell both to this existing customer base, he realized, and find new customers by marketing his backlist of reprints to those interested in new releases. By hiring experienced publishing directors, Fleck was able to navigate the challenge of finding quality manuscripts.
At this same time, Fleck notes, many university presses were losing their subsidies, and scaling back or closing their publishing operations, creating a need for Oak Knoll to take over some of this market. In addition, through distribution deals with a number of institutional publishers in areas such as bibliography, Oak Knoll managed to rapidly expand its catalog.
“There are a lot of really good publishers out there, organizations [that], with a little help, know how to produce a book, but don’t know how to sell them,” Fleck says. “So we approached people … [and] said to them, ‘we will distribute your book.’”