Ex-Objectiva Editor Founds Foz, a Boutique Publisher with Big Ambitions

Foz, a new publishing house created by Isa Pessoa aims to offer between 10 and 20 titles annually by leading writers. The goal is to produce books of high literary quality and innovative digital products, that result in strong media attention and sales. Plans also include digital children’s books and textbook apps for tablets. The first titles are expected to be published this September.

Pessoa announced this news eight months after leaving her position as editorial director of Objetiva, where she had worked for 17 years, and after some time traveling throughout the world. She said the decision to open her own publishing house came right after she returned to Brazil, a few days after the Carnival festival. She established a business plan, editorial schedule and signed the first contracts over the past four months. “I thought a lot about the urge to have a publishing house with a model that, I think, has to be much more efficient and creative, so I could have dynamic, strategic releases without a huge structure,” she says.

The model is based on releasing a limited number of titles per month, by authors strong — or in her words, “powerful” — enough to sustain business. “They will be authors with the capacity to have a performance well above the median circulation in the market,” she says. If an average title in Brazil has a circulation of about 3,000 copies, Isa is projecting 10,000 copies for her releases. “On a bigger scale, it’s possible to reduce the price of each book and make them more accessible,” she said. Foz plans to sell print books for R$30 or R$35 (about US$15–17). All of them will be published as e-books too, but she hasn’t set prices for the digital format yet.

It’s an ambitious plan that will have to prove itself over time. For now, Pessoa has some promising names. Foz has already announced contracts with Ruy Castro, Nelson Motta, Chico Buarque, Tatiana Salem Levy, Marcelo Rubens Paiva, João Bosco and Paulo Scott. Pessoa hasn’t revealed exactly what each one of those authors will publish; there are biographies, novels and essays among them. The first title expected is a collection of essays by Francisco Bosco, entitled Alta ajuda. According to her, they have signed four more books in the last two weeks.

Foz will invest in digital books in the form of apps, which, at first, will be coordinated by the researcher and literary critic Marisa Lajolo. The apps will bring together lyrics from classic Brazilian popular music with text, maps, illustrations and pictures, among other materials, focusing on different themes. The first three titles are O Mestre-Sala dos mares by João Bosco and Aldir Blanc, Morena de Angola by Chico Buarque, and João e Maria by Chico and Sivuca. Contracts for four more are about to be signed, according to Pessoa. Foz will put its main promotional efforts into selling these materials to government programs for public school students.

There is not, however, any concrete indication that the government will buy digital content in the next few years. The only initiative to do so won’t begin until 2014, with the acquisition of DVDs, and only within the National Didactic Book Program (PNLD) — in the National School Libraries Program (PNBE), for example. And there has been no formal announcement on the part of the government that it will invest in digital books.

Pessoa, nevertheless, sees this as likely to change — and fast. “There is a tendency to adopt digital reading at schools, and it is something that will happen in the near future,” she says. She anticipates each app will cost approximately R$90,000 to produce, and while the publisher recognizes that the cost is high, she also believes “it’s not risky.” Foz may also offer a print version of each app, depending on its level of sales.

One of the challenges the publisher faces is finding sufficient time to dedicate to developing each individual project. “Focused work from the publisher, and time to help each project mature, must be preserved to get good results,” says Pessoa. “The difficulty is selecting the projects. There are so many good things, and soon we could put 40, 50, 100 books under contract — but that’s not what I want.”

Foz has plans to work with international authors, but perhaps not right away. “The fact that around 90 percent of my work until today was devoted to Brazilian authors left me with more consistent and closer relationships with them, but we will search for good titles on the international market,” she says.

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