“The independents got fucked by the Enron of publishing.” — Richard Nash, Soft Skull
Although there has always been a certain amount of attrition in the small press world, the recent bankruptcy of Advanced Marketing Services, the parent company of Publishers Group West, which distributed books for more than 130 independent book publishers, has caused a mass kill off ofsmall press literary magazines and independent books publishers. Indie-credo aside, small presses depend on at least one corporate middleman, a distributor or wholesaler, who takes the book from the publisher and delivers them to book retailers, even independent book retailers like the Elliott Bay Book Company or Powell’s World of Books.
There has long been an effort to create a small-press-friendly distributor. Some of them exist, such as the great SPD in San Francisco. Sadly, SPD Books are often difficult for independent book retailers to find. My theory is that it is the reliance on the BookSense Database instead of the more comprehensive Books-in-Print Database. This is probably due to the fact that the BookSense Database comes from the giant wholesaler Ingram.
To add insult to injury, Time Warner recently, successfully lobbied to have the bulk postal rates increased in a postal service policy that dramatically increase the rates of small-time mailers (i.e., the indie media).
Some of these publishers, such as McSweeney’s, although they are taking on water, will probably figure out something. Other publishers such as Soft Skull Press have found arrangements by getting bought by larger publishers. But for many publishers this is it. Salon has a comprehensive analysis of the story. Punk Planet recently announced it closing. It also posted Eulogies of the dead presses.
This naturally affects writers. Editors of the surviving presses (who weren’t associated with the collapse) are most likely inundated with both queries from writers who have lost their publishers, and the sudden restriction in places for new writers to send their work. Unlike large, commercial houses small presses depend on unagented writers sending them their work. To say depends is kind of funny because they generally receive hundreds of manuscripts a week already. Now they are likely to receive even more. But they still need these to select something, even if they are is a lot of something to select from. All of this leads to a restriction of traditional publishing options for writers and put more pressure on figuring out other ways of making it work (such as print-on-demand, short run printing, xeroxing books, and selling them on the street.)