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An unusual publishing venture: take the book, then give

November 18, 2008 | 10:45 am

Giveandtake_1118

In the beginning, there was a book: "Give and Take" by Massachusetts-based author Stona Fitch. "Give and Take" was orphaned at a publishing house when its editor departed, and it didn't find a new home. Fitch just wasn't sure what to do with it. So he decided to give it away.

But there's a catch: He gives you the book for free and asks that you give money to charity.

Fitch has founded the nonprofit publishing house Concord Free Press which operates on this unusual Robin Hood-style publishing model. The press gives away its books, and its readers give away money. Readers, who get the books by requesting them from the website or at bookstores (now, mostly, in New England), are asked to note their donations on the company's website; using its GivingTracker, they can log in the exact numbered edition of their book, how much they gave and to whom.

Nonprofits large and small have received donations, including Amnesty International, the SPCA, Lupus UK, the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and Seeds of Peace. One man "gave away 9£ on the streets of Edinburgh"; another handed "$60 to Billy, a homeless person." It's all kind of wonderful and heartwarming, if not entirely sustainable.

So far, its website says, it's generated 300% of its startup costs -- but all that money has gone elsewhere. To maintain enough income to produce the two books a year it plans to publish, Concord Free Press will have to rely on more than T-shirt sales -- meaning, most likely, that it'll need some donations itself.

All of this would be pretty meaningless if the book wasn't worth reading. But it is. This isn't a review of "Give and Take" -- I've only just begun it -- but I can say that it has an Elmore Leonard quality, slick and slightly nefarious characters sped along by lean prose. "Give and Take" is about a piano player who quietly robs his female conquests, then turns around and gives money to the needy. Concord Free Press' Robin Hood publishing model really did begin with a book.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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