This is more of an open letter to you, the reader, than it is an introduction. After all, I do it that way every year and I don’t see why this should be any different, even though everything else about THE HOT 17 is changing… rapidly.
THE HOT 17′s purpose was and will remain creating new opportunities for local artists in Columbus. It’s how we make these opportunities that’s transforming us as an organization. In order for you to really understand the state of affairs here, it’s necessary that I give you a little history on THE HOT 17. It started with just me, Meghan Ralston. I was a photographer taking lots and lots of pictures for local bands. I was spending an evening at a local bar – I want to say Rumba, but I forget – with some friends, including Fritz Fekete, one of the least known but most influential people in the music scene in Columbus. He and I were drinking and he said, “You know, Meghan, you should really do something with all those photos. Like, make a coffee table book or something.” After waking up the next morning, it still seemed like a good idea – and there it was, I was immediately hooked on the idea of producing a book.
As I thought about what kind of book I would want to produce, I started thinking about the number of amazing local bands in Columbus, and started to feel overwhelmed. Should it be all my photography and writing, or should I include other local artists? What if I can’t get bands, writers, and photographers to help me? Even if I did, how do I maintain the project’s relevancy once the book is published? After making some very tough decisions, I settled on a yearly publication that would feature lots of different writers, photographers, and bands. 6 months and what felt like 2000 shows later, I had a book to show for my efforts. I was, and still am, completely proud of what I produced. The book didn’t sell well, but I didn’t let that discourage me. I thought that once people got the idea of what I was trying to do, the books would sell themselves. And for awhile, it did. We had low but respectable sales for a first year book that was self-published, self-distributed, and self-marketed. A publisher had even expressed interest in printing Volume 2 for me, which was a dream come true.
It was around this time that I started to book shows at local venues – Rumba at first, and now Kobo – in order to have an opportunity to sell the books. The first few monthly shows were slow, but after months of sticking it out through cold weather and thin crowds, people started showing up in stronger numbers and much more often. It was gratifying to see people show up, and even more to see them having a good time.
Before I knew it, a year had passed and it was time to work on Volume 2 – this time, with a lot more help. THE HOT 17 officially had a publisher and was starting to build a buzz over town. 2011 was looking like it was going to be a great year. Then it got real. The publisher was having internal issues with serious consequences on my book’s distribution, and was no longer able to distribute to some of the larger big box stores that they had intended. But being the great company they are, Periodisa stood by us and still published and distributed Volume 2 as planned. Together, we were able to do things with the printed book that I had only imagined the year before. We made it perfect bound, like a regular book, and we included a CD with a track from each of the artists. I was just as proud of it as the first volume, if not more because of all the improvements made to the book itself. Once again, I had completed a gargantuan task and felt that I had a great product to show for it.What’s better was that I didn’t do it on my own anymore. More people had joined the staff, some on their own and others as a product of our merger with Columbus Music Menu.
But again, the book didn’t sell well. In fact, it barely sold at all. Full disclosure on this one – if Periodisa hadn’t printed volume 2, it wouldn’t have gotten printed. This is a very expensive endeavor. I put in at least $1k each year in production costs alone. Then when we go to print, it costs a minimum of about $3k to do it properly. And once we account for all the free books that go to the contributors, we were left with 60% of our original stock to make back the costs of printing. That’s why the price point has been so high on books, because the cost per unit sky rockets when you have to cut your stock by 40%. But giving the artists a free copy was something that I’ve always felt very strongly about, and I was about to bend on it then. So again, in the face of discouragement, we ventured forward and started producing volume 3 under the assumption that it, too, would go to print.
I’m very sad to say that volume 3 will not be available in print. I have tried to work the costs of printing in everyday I could to make the numbers work, but to no avail. With our poor sales on Volume 2, as well as their own issues, Periodisa wasn’t able to print Volume 3. All the other publishers that I courted told me the same thing, “It’s a great idea, but no one is buying books.” One very helpful publisher sent me some very detailed notes with her rejection. She may have said it best, “It pains me to say this, but that’s the challenge in today’s book publishing world: getting deserving books out, not just into the bookstores, but into the the hands of the final buyer, the consumer, who’s busy texting, Googling, and iPadding their hours away.”
Once the realization that my most recent baby, Volume 3, wasn’t going to be published, I made myself cozy in a sort of denial. I shut myself up in my house and my office and worked as hard as I could on this book that was never going to be made. I don’t know why I kept working on what was starting to feel like a hopeless project – I just did. It all seemed so disconnected. Our monthly showcases were blowing up, with at least 100 people each month, yet the flagship book project that birthed these shows was about to crumble. In an effort to not loose the project completely, I started to rack my brain and think of ways that I could convert the project to something more modern – more digital.
I thought if people are intent on Googling and iPadding their hours away, then we’ll just make the it a digital book. However, it turns out digital books aren’t that cheap either. The bare minimum that I was going to have to pay was tallying up at around $500. That may not sound like a lot of money to most people, but as a self-employed photographer, that’s a lot of money for me – money that I don’t have. What made the task even more impossible was that I was still missing a lot of sections of the book, mostly writing and a little bit of the photography. With the June 1st deadline looming over me like some sort of doom cloud, I was about ready to give up. But then I thought of a solution. Maybe not the perfect solution, but one that would work without putting me into the poorhouse.
We are converting all of our books, starting with Volume 3, into absolutely free web content. This solves multiple issues, including price point, access, distribution, relevancy, production costs and time. It also lets me continue to produce the missing parts to Volume 3 on my own, ensuring that the work is done properly because I’m not rushing myself. So, you’ll be able to find most of the band profiles up and finished as of this writing, but they will be continually made better over the course of the year. Despite the initial feelings of being super bummed out, I assure you that this is a good thing.
I hope that you stick with us as we change and grow. I think we’ve got a lot left to accomplish.
Founder & Executive Producer