We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind that make them remarkable.
Meet Arina Stoenescu, a graphic designer and owner of Pionier Press, which is a micro publishing house from Stockholm, Sweden. A random meeting at the London Art Book Fair earlier this year, led to an interview in Malmö, Sweden. We sat down for a talk with Arina about bilingual children´s books and their importance in a multi-cultural society, the development of independent publishing from 1991 till today and the growing Scandinavian network of small independent publishers, Publishing as (Part-Time) Practice.
Hello, Arina. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please walk us through the story of Pionier Press from the beginning to today?
Arina: I started Pionier Press in 1991 when I was still a student at Konstfack University of Arts Crafts and Design in Stockholm. By that time, the production means for doing a book were not so democratized and easy as they are today. The purpose with Pionier Press was to have a platform where I could publish things that I was passionate about and wanted to share.
In 1999, I started to work on my first book and introduced the first title of Pionier Press in 2000. It was a bilingual book, Romanian-English, dealing with former political prisoners in Romania during the communist time.
Early on, the profile of Pionier Press turned out to be bilingual children books and young people books. I’m also very interested in publishing typography. It’s a field that I haven´t yet explored to the fullest, but I´m hoping to do that with my recent research work on typography and politics for my PhD studies in book history at Lund University. I am working with a case study and looking at how newspaper typography in Romania and Moldova during communist period (1920–1990) influenced the political message.
The interest in Romanian subjects arises out of my upbringing in Romania, and over the years, my interest in bilingual books has grown, as I think that we are going to see more children and young people raised in families where they speak more than one language. I moved to Sweden with my family when I was eighteen and am a bilingual person as well, and so is my daughter, and being exposed to several languages at a young age makes it easier to adapt to new surroundings and cultures. For example, it has been very important to me to make good quality books for Romanian speakers, as finding good quality children´s books in Romanian after the Communist Breakdown was almost impossible. During the Communist era, there was only one publishing house making children books, but after the breakdown, everything was scattered, and the whole history of the publishing house, Ion Creangă, disappeared. Some day I would like to publish about this Romanian children’s publishing house, which also worked with children’s books of other national minorities in Romania such as German and Hungarian but not interested in children’s stories for Roma speakers.
Besides making books, I’m also a graphic designer, and I find my profession very helpful when being an independent publisher. I can understand the process, both from an artistic perspective, but also from a production perspective. Within the last ten to twenty years, there has been a development in the graphic design industry, and there is a conversation going on about authorship among the graphic designers, which means the graphic designers assume roles as producers of text content as well, which I think is a very good thing to do because as a graphic designer you have to design the solution for a communication problem. The more you get involved with the content, the better results you´re going to have. I´m sitting on the board for the Swedish Association for Illustrators and Graphic Designers, and I’m very interested in working for the rights of having copyright for the graphic design as well, which means that a graphic designer will be credited as creator in the book.
Please tell us about the publishing process from idea to finished publication.
Arina: Creating a new publication is very much based on my interest in the project. It can be self-initiated, or I can be approached by an illustrator or writer. One of the most important aspects in making a collaboration is there has to be a story to tell that reflects the author. Also, it is very important to me that everyone should have something to win in the collaboration. An example of a very interesting collaboration is with Rebecka Mellberg. Together, we have created a series of three called City Fox, Noble Chickens, and The Lab Rats.
The three publications are very nice philosophical short stories about life and death and what we are doing with animals around us but also with our lives. Rebecka Mellberg, the writer, was one of my students, and we actually started the collaboration when she was working on it as a bachelor project at Södertörn University in Stockholm. Then the other stories were so nice and the illustrations from Mimi Furst were really, really lovely, so we ended up doing a series. She got into the Swedish Writer’s Association with those three books.
When going through the publications from Pionier Press, most of them have the same format – what is the story behind that approach?
Arina: There are a couple of reasons for the format selection. First of all, there is an economic aspect to consider. By having the same format, the production costs get lower. Secondly, I really love the idea of creating collections of books that fit together when placing them on a bookshelf. One might argue that having the same format can get a bit boring, but I don’t see it that way because even though most of the publications at Pionier Press have the same format, each book is telling a different story, and thereby creating a diverse expression for the reader. Restrictions can be very stimulating for creativity.
Do you get the books printed in Sweden or …?
Arina: Actually, I used to get the books printed in Sweden, but now I get them printed in the Baltic countries, as they offer something new, are very reliable, and their price levels are much lower than in Sweden. I would love to get the books printed in Romania, but when it comes to the desired quality of the books, they are still not there yet. Moreover, Romania has uprising printing shops now, but the logistics are also a big issue, whereas the shipping from the Baltic countries developed a good infrastructure. All those aspects are playing a key role for a micropublisher
Another thing I´m very happy about as a small independent publisher is the development in the print on demand production process. Here in Sweden, we have a company called PubLit, and they have developed a digital printing and distribution process with good paper quality, laminating and, in general, an easy digital and affordable process. The Felicia book is published with them. You have your ready to print PDF they offer a well designed interface that fronts all the steps behind digital or electronic print and distribution. I wouldn´t print everything like that, but for different kinds of books, I think that this is a very nice way of publishing, publishing on demand at it´s best. You can do more limited editions or work with the book as an object or just print a small amount.
How have you experienced the rapid development of independent publishing?
Arina: I have to say that I´m very happy with its development. The first time that I became more aware of that was when the platform, Publishing as (Part-Time) Practice got in contact with me asking: “We are a couple of independent publishers, and we would like to have you in our platform.” Publishing as (Part-Time) Practice was founded in 2012 by a group of graphic designers in Sweden. It began as a fine art project where they had a seminar followed by different exhibiting activities and events. I really love the concept as we are overall sharing the same interest in independent publishing, but with different interests in the subject matter. Furthermore, doing the exhibitions as a group also provides much more incitement than if you are just doing it on your own, and the promotion and marketing activities are also much higher. For example, we recently had an event where a designer had created a bookcase one could take along when going to different exhibition and fairs, which is a really cool project that everybody can participate in. At Publishing as (Part-Time) Practice, we are always open for new initiatives and collaborations, and I think the platform provides the independent book market with a new opportunity to publish and distribute something that maybe a big publishing house never would be interested in.
Looking back, I think the development of independent publishing is possible to connect with the development of the printing digitalization. I still remember when I started as a student at Konstfack, the Department of Graphic Design and Illustration just got their first copying machine, which were quite elaborate and with a lot of functions, and that was in 1989. Before the copy machine, we were still working with wax machines and had to photocopy the originals, and I still remember the first book I got published. It was about a professor installation at Konstfack and I was doing the typesetting on an electrical writing machine. It sounds so far away, but it was only the end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s. What happened after that was really amazing. I started the publishing house, still had no idea about how my publishing house should work, but I was aware of the process, and new and more developed methods and tools were introduced to the world, such as desk top publishing with Apple computers, Adobe software and last but not least the internet. Technology has in every possible way made it easier and less costly to get started with creating and presenting your own work and ideas.
What is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of being a book publisher in the digital world?
Arina: I think the most challenging aspect of being an independent publisher is having enough money to do the projects you want to. I can keep the cost down by investing a lot of my own time and not get paid myself, but I still have to spend money on the production, and the books need to be printed and eventually distributed.
The rewarding part of it is much bigger, and the reason why I´m still working with independent publishing. I love the whole aspect of telling and sharing stories and especially stories that haven´t been told yet. For example, there is a cap in Romania culture, due to the Communists, where one can find many interesting subjects to look into. I believe that telling stories makes us richer and more understanding, and seeing a child reading a book, is for me, one of the most rewarding things one can wish for. You have the past and the future linked by a child’s present.
How would you define your audience at Pionier Press?
Arina: I’d like to do books for all ages, but when going through the selection of books I have made so far, there is a main focus on children´s books from the age five to twelve and the adults around them, but I would like to do books for toddlers and teenagers as well. I find the segment of teenagers very interesting, based on my upbringing in a Communist country and the fact that changing and developing a society takes time, but the best way to do it is to engage with young people as they are more receptive, curious and open to change. Eventually, they can attract the adults around them as well.
Which market and sales channels do you use to reach out to your audience?
Arina: I´m happy with my website, as I can use it as a sales platform when people are interested in buying my books. I also make use of Bokinfo, which is a platform that gathers information about all published books in Sweden, and then they disseminate the information to all the digital booksellers in Sweden. I also use social media to engage with my audience, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as it is one of the most important marketing tools.
It would be really nice to have a physical place to disseminate the books, such as a small pop up book shop on a short term but I´m working on different ideas to make that happen, and. I´m working on a long term Swedish-Romanian project called Harp Alb which is a house of fantasy, play and children’s books inspired by the model of Junibacken, on Djurgården in Stockholm, that is filled with fabulous stories of Astrid Lindgren and other Swedish children’s books writers and illustrators, famous figures such as Alfie Atkins, Festus and Mercury and Mamma Moo. I am dreaming to step inside a physical world of Romanian children’s books where the last station before going back to reality is to sit down with a book, may be a bilingual children’s book from Pionier Press.
To learn more about Pionier Press and explore their books,
go visit: pionierpress.se