Since Martin Shepard and his wife Judy started the Permanent Press 35 years ago, the two have built a publishing house with a backlist of around 450 titles, including works by about 50 award-winning authors. Earlier this year, as both moved into their late 70s, the Shepards began to think seriously about how to ensure that the press will live on after they retire. They didn’t want to sell the company to a larger house, since that would mean that many of their 450 titles would likely go out-of-print, and they don’t have any children in the business to whom they could hand over the reins. Eventually they settled on a unique way to continue the Permanent Press legacy: they are giving the company away.
Beginning in early January, Chris Knopf, one of Permanent Press’s most successful authors, will work alongside the Shepards to help guide the indie press forward as part of a process that will make Knopf a partner in the house. Martin described Knopf as a well-read person with a love of books “who has the promotional and business skills to take the press to even higher levels of success.” In addition to writing 10 novels published by Permanent Press, Knopf owns, along with his wife, Mary Farrell, the Mintz + Hoke marketing communications agency. Knopf will continue as CEO of M + H, but some of his day-to-day responsibilities will be assumed by other agency partners.
“It’s a buoyant feeling to find someone we feel can step in,” Martin said. He noted, “It wasn’t necessary to [sell the company to] someone to help us keep the tradition going,” and that this might have been difficult, given the uncertainties that the industry faces. Martin added that, for an old hippie, the giveway has “more artistic purity.” Even though Permaent Press is profitable, the couple has enough assets that they don’t need to sell the press. Those assets include 22 acres in Sag Harbor, N.Y., on Long Island, where the Permanent Press offices are located. Martin said that as long as he or his wife are alive, the press can continue to operate from its current property. One of the keys to the publisher’s success, Martin believes, was the decision to handle its distribution from a warehouse on the property, rather than outsourcing it to a third party.
The Permanent Press currently has a payroll of seven employees (including a mix of full- and part-timers). For most of the company’s history, it has released one book a month, but in recent years it has been publishing 16 titles annually. The 2014 list of 16 titles is set, and seven titles have been acquired for 2015. Another reason for giving away the company, aside from the fact that the Shepards want to see the titles remain in print, is that business has improved recently, due, in part, to solid sub rights sales. “We didn’t want to see this thing fall apart,” Martin noted. “We are relieved there is a plan in place to give it away.”