In a shock move, sci-fi and fantasy publisher Angry Robot Books announced that it would be shuttering its YA and crime imprints Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately. The publisher, a UK based global imprint, said in a statement released on their website that the two imprints had been “unable to carve out their own niches” due to market saturation, and that they had no plans to do the same with their core imprint. Instead, the sci-fi/fantasy focused Angry Robot will now increase its monthly releases from 2 to 3. It is now known whether the rights of the work by the Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A authors, which included Laura Lam, Kim Curran and Gwenda Bond, will revert back to them, or if Angry Robot will continue to make these titles readily available.
The question also remains as to what this signals for the general publishing market and its ability to thrive in an increasingly difficult business. Much has been made about Amazon’s recent issues with Hachette as well as the struggles at the big name publishing houses as merger after merger takes place. In this particular instance, things aren’t looking good for Angry Robot, even though it remains a profitable company. Osprey Group, which owns Angry Robot, were reported by The Bookseller as “undergoing a strategic review internally following Rebecca [Smart, its former CEO] leaving, and included in that is the potential sale of any part of the business”. Publisher’s Lunch have also reported that Osprey are “quietly” offering Angry Robot up for sale to competitors, with further “streamlining” not off the table. This shouldn’t be too big a surprise given Osprey’s financial losses, but it’s hard not to be shocked by the sheer amount of culls being made in such a short amount of time.
Strange Chemistry stood out amongst an admittedly jam packed market thanks to its unabashedly eclectic catalogue which encapsulated a wide variety of genres and diversity (including arguably the most well-known YA novel featuring an intersex protagonist). Its failure, while painful and disappointing (and our thoughts go out to the authors and staff losing their jobs), highlights the changing pace of the market. Strange Chemistry was founded in 2011, so it feels somewhat unfair to claim the imprint didn’t establish itself in the market when it barely had time to do so. The breakneck speed of modern publishing, in part thanks to the increased popularity of self-publishing and the subsequent saturation of the market, is not one that allows for much breathing space.
The books weren’t selling tens of thousands of copies a week but very few are in this current environment. E. Lockhart’s latest novel We Were Liars has been on the New York Times best-seller list since its debut over a month ago and it will come as a surprise to some that its sales are currently at just over 20,000, according to Publisher’s Weekly. The image of the million selling author is becoming rarer and rarer these days. The industry desperately needs more imprints like Strange Chemistry and more publishers to take the kind of innovative, creative and off-the-beaten-track decisions readers are crying out for, but it’s hard to deny that the game has changed and everyone needs to change with it. Sadly, you can indeed do everything right and still not succeed.