Poetry Press Goes Digital

What’s a well-established university-based poetry publisher to do when it’s got a huge backlist of very old poetry titles it has promised to keep in print, but which don’t have sufficient sales to justify reprinting? Go digital of course! That’s what Boise-based Ahsahta press has done with Forty-five titles from its Modern and Contemporary Poetry of the American West Series, which ran between 1975 and 2000.

Janet Holmes, the press’s director, explained how she decided to digitize these books: “We had huge inventories of books that had not sold a copy in years. These were books largely published in the 1970s and 1980s, and we had quantities of them because the previous director of the press had promised authors (though not, thankfully, in a contract!) that he would keep the books ‘in print for all eternity,’ and reprinted in press runs of 500. At about this time (this was two years ago), the library at Boise State began to digitize some of the titles in the Western Writers Series, a monograph series of scholarly articles, for ScholarWorks, an archive available online through the library. I inquired about the possibility of archiving the older Ahsahta Press series and was encouraged to do so. An Ahsahta intern scanned the books into searchable PDF files during last summer, and the folks in the archivist’s office at Alberston Library put them into ScholarWorks for us. ScholarWorks resides in our library, but its titles show up in internet searches and can be accessed by anyone.”

The archive includes early books by such well-known contemporary poets as David Baker and Linda Bierds. These titles aren’t exactly eBooks–they must be accessed through ScholarWorks, but this is a step in the direction this blogger bets lots of poetry and small presses will move in over the next few years, taking advantage of digital technology in order to publish to the scale of its audience.