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Small business: An idea lab that hatches niche publications, and not just in print

When the "Antiques Roadshow" needed its brand refurbished, it contacted Stonesong Press, a 32-year-old New York City company specializing in book development and packaging.

Stonesong created the idea for “Antiques Roadshow Behind the Scenes,” an illustrated insider’s guide, authored by the show’s executive producer, that’s become the go-to book for treasure-hunters.

It’s one of many high-profile projects conceived by this under-the-radar company. Others include reference books for The New York Public Library and National Geographic as well as New York Times bestsellers such as “How Not to Look Old” and The Sisters Grimm series for young readers.

“We are really an idea lab,” said Ellen Scordato, partner and co-owner, along with Alison Fargis, whose father founded the company in 1978. The women purchased the company wholesale in 2003, and now have a staff of six.

While Stonesong acts as an agent and sometimes a custom publisher, its book development comprises about 60 percent of the business. The company develops book ideas, outsources the creative staff and packages the books for major publishers and brands. And now, that increasingly includes creating interest beyond the page.

“Our challenge is staying one step ahead of what our clients need, so we’ve been super-concentrated on digital,” Scordato said. “We have to envision how our titles will be read—and we go in with fully formed ideas on how this can be translated digitally.”

Added Fargis: “Everything changed this spring, and the iPad was the gamechanger … No matter what the book, we ask ourselves ‘Can this property become a television show, movie, video game, Facebook game, enhanced e-book, or interactive community-driven website?’ ”

Stonesong averages 12-24 titles per year, most of those falling in the prescriptive nonfiction category—topics such as cookbooks, nutrition, DIY. Another growing category: middle-grade fiction, not just for the print readership—which numbers in the millions—but for the digital extensions that young readers demand. Stonesong also works in the blog-to-book space, seeking out pop-culture titles such as “People of Walmart: Shop and Awe,” based on the popular website.

Such fast times has meant keeping ahead of the legalities, too, said executive editor Judy Linden. “All boilerplate contracts have changed in the last six months and most are out of date the minute you negotiate them.

“The publishing landscape is now a land grab.”

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