First men on The Martian
Canada’s Podium Publishing beat the world in discovering bestseller turned blockbuster
Only slightly less exhausting than the search for intelligent life in the universe: uncovering readable selfpublished novels online. Yet before The Martian was a bestseller or a blockbuster film, it was a serialized novel that author Andy Weir had uploaded after a year of rejections from traditional publishers.
“It was one of the worst websites I’d ever seen,” says 34-year-old James Tonn, co-founder of New market-based audiobook label Podium Publishing. “Just hotlinks on a white background. You click the word ‘The Martian’ and your screen just populates full of text.”
But Tonn’s 37-year-old business partner, Greg Lawrence, was over both of Mars’s moons for the serialized novel. In 2013, their year-old audiobook publishing house had 10 non-fiction books covering such lowhanging-fruit as how to charm women with texting (titled, appropriately, Text Appeal). They were looking to expand into fiction, and Lawrence thought The Martian’s small but enthusiastic cult of readers had found something.
“Are you sure?” Tonn asked. “We are trying to get into fiction and we are trying to make a big splash.”
Lawrence was sure. “This guy’s a genius,” he said.
History, of course, has sided with Lawrence. While audiobook retailers don’t release sales figures, The Martian hasn’t left Audible.com’s Top 10 since it started releasing the chart in March. In July it became the first title with more than 38,000 re- views. Today, it’s past 80,000.
“The film is what put it over the top,” Tonn says.
Podium had originally bought the print rights to The Martian as well, but cannily agreed it would revert back to Weir if he landed a deal with a major publisher. They kept their word when he struck a $100,000 deal with Crown.
“Best decision we ever made,” says Lawrence. “It’s easy to say, ‘If you guys held on to that, what could you have done?’ But that’s just the point. We made a decision to focus on what we were doing and where we could bring value. And that’s in audio.”
Now that The Martian has gone from unknown novel to Matt Damon blockbuster, would Podium recruit the A-lister to narrate the book? Tonn says that hiring a celebrity narrator is most often a loss leader meant to draw attention to an audiobook service, unless that star wrote the book themselves. “If it’s not broke you don’t fix it,” he says. In other words, keep your day job, Damon.
“The film is what put it over the top.” JAMES TONN ON THE MARTIAN’S POPULARITY AS AN AUDIOBOOK