May 9, 2018
A Canadian publisher finds surprise success with handmade “high-end promotional protest literature,” Against Amazon
by Simon Reichley
At Publishers Weekly, John Maher has written up the inspiring tale of a Canadian bookstore-turned-publisher that’s taken a distinctly old-school approach to confronting the galactic menace that is Amazon.
As Maher reports, Biblioasis began life as a bookstore in Windsor, Ontario in 1998. In 2004, owner and founder Dan Wells expanded his bookish enterprise and began publishing what any self-respecting, independent minded, craft-oriented word-nerd would: hand-bound chapbooks. Of course, success is a demon, and in a few years Wells found himself a fully fledged trade publisher with a staff, a separate office, and international distribution. The whole shebang.
Meanwhile, two thousand miles to the west, a vicious little computer dork with too much money for his own good was building an ugly website that would—in two decades—completely upend the way people bought, sold, and read books.
As fate would have it, Biblioasis survived Amazon’s onslaught, and a growing number of people are waking up to the idea that maybe—just maybe—saving a couple bucks on piles and piles of crap isn’t worth the wholesale devastation of the retail economy.
As part of this rising tide of anti-Amazon sentiment, Biblioasis are returning to their roots, and publishing a hand-bound chapbook titled Against Amazon: Seven Arguments, One Manifesto by Jorge Carrión. The project began as a kind of marketing campaign to promote Carrión’s cultural and historical survey of the bookstore, Bookshops: A Reader’s History, published in October 2017. The essay was originally published by Jotdown in Barcelona, and Carrión suggested that Biblioasis translate and circulate it as a tie-in to Bookshops. Wells and his staff decided to make it up as a chapbook and distribute it privately in Canada and at the Frankfurt Book Fair. But as the chapbook got passed around it began to build buzz, to catch fire, to go viral. It was kick-ass propaganda, and as Wells tells Maher, “Booksellers started to almost demand that they be able to carry it — they really wanted to do so.” In December, they acquiesced and immediately received hundreds and hundreds of orders. They have now been through 2,500 copies. Wells adds, “We’re basically producing it at cost. We still see it as a high-end promotional protest literature.”
The heightened volume hasn’t drawn Wells and his team away from their roots. “All are hand bound — some by staff here in the office after hours and some by my children around the kitchen table… as things have picked up, interns and other staff members, whenever they have an extra half hour, go upstairs and sew 30–40 copies.” The revolution will be saddle-stitched.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.