Unless you are into Manga or technology how-to books, you have probably never heard of No Starch Press. However, in the twenty-two years since its founding, the independent, San Francisco-based publisher has found a devoted audience. It may be a small press, but to its readers, it’s a big deal.
No Starch Press prides itself for publishing “the finest in geek entertainment,” meaning books on hacking and security, Lego, programming, coding, and Manga, to name a few. These topics might seem obscure, but the press has actually published multiple bestsellers, including Steal This Computer Book and The Manga Guides. So, No Starch’s books might not be popular with a general audience, but geeks eat–and buy–them up.
A visit to No Starch’s website might as well be a visit to a nerd’s paradise. The site’s homepage features the press’ new and upcoming titles, all of which fall under the “geek entertainment” category. Packaged with each title is the Manga-ed-out cover of the book and a brief summary of the book’s content. No Starch knows its audience, depending on its books’ cover art and content to grab attention rather than presenting a flashy website design that would feel inauthentic. The site is simple but to-the-point and colorful, much like its artistic audience whose main reason for visiting the site is to learn more about their hobbies and hone their skills.
According to their online catalog, No Starch published twenty-two publications in 2016, which is impressive for a company with a staff of sixteen. In a personal touch, all sixteen employees are listed on the site’s staff page, complete with a short biography, “office pet peeve,” and Manga caricature of themselves. These editors, designers, sales managers, production managers, and publicists are geeks too, just like their audience.
While there are many geeks in the world, there is only a certain number of techie geeks, which is No Starch’s dominant market. Therefore, the press’ market is narrow, and it must find ways to effectively reach its audience. No Starch uses its audience’s interest in technology to its advantage. The company saves money by advertising itself on its verified Twitter and Facebook pages rather than purchasing advertisements. On its social media, No Starch posts quotes, images, and blurbs from its books. Within the same posts, the press provides direct links to purchase said books, making it easy for readers to locate and buy the books that interest them.
In typical nerd fashion, No Starch’s social media pages are not all about self-promotion– they also delve into nerd culture. The pages post technology information and events, answer technology questions, and share No Starch’s community outreach and assistance. The pages’ general tips and images, along with No Starch’s technology community presence, grow the press’ social media followers and, therefore, the number of people who know about and purchase works published by No Starch.
Along with social media, No Starch advertises through the attention it is given in interviews and recommendations. The press’ “news” is listed on the website’s homepage and includes features on No Starch publications in the Wall Street Journal, Family Circle Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and more. No Starch advertises by word-of-mouth–both its own mouth and the mouths of others.
Because it is so small–yet so successful–No Starch’s funding is a bit of a mystery. As mentioned earlier, the press definitely saves money by refraining from advertising, and I imagine they are thrifty in a number of other ways. Like most independent presses, No Starch’s staff appears to take care of all production and distribution. They might have a small staff, but their employees cover all areas of business, from design to sales to marketing to customer service. This way, they avoid the expenses of outsourcing.
The genius behind No Starch undoubtedly provided the funds to get the press started. William–or Bill–Pollack, described as the “Big Fish” of No Starch, started the company in 1994. Before No Starch, Pollack had experience in publishing and was even a co-founder of another computer book publisher, Apress. With his experience and prior success, Pollack probably started the press on his own. However, contracts with larger presses are what keep No Starch in business.
Effective August 1, Penguin Random House Publisher Services will sell and distribute globally No Starch Press. The much larger publishing house noticed No Starch as a market leader in its category, and PRH must have realized it could benefit from selling to an army of geeks. No Starch will also benefit from this sales and distribution agreement by reaching a wider audience.
While the deal with Penguin Random House is huge, No Starch has seen much success in its lifetime. In 2014, its sales jumped 41% over 2012 due to growth in its Lego and children’s programming lines, as well as its backlist of core tech titles. The press’ work has been in demand for years, and its audience is only going to grow through its new partnership.
The only problem with a growing audience is the temptation to appeal to everyone or, in other words, sell out. If No Starch starts publishing books everyone will want to read, it will definitely make more money. However, it will lose its original audience and all it stands for. As the press grows, its staff must remember to stay true to themselves and keep their “geek” audience in mind. Fortunately, Penguin Random House appears to appreciate No Starch for what it is and does not want it to change–probably because PRH wants to reach the geeks, and No Starch will help them do it. As long as No Starch remains a niche press, it will continue to expand and cater to geeks worldwide.