January 30, 2009

Indie publishers notice everyone’s been reduced to their level


Indie publishers walking the streets of the big city are hearing it a lot these days: “You guys are the ones who are going to survive this thing.” The idea seems to be that indie publishers have some form of lessened exposure to the financial collapse than the big conglomerates — you’re smaller so you’ve got less to lose, so, um, er … if all the bookstores go out of business you’ll still be able to … uh, eat your books … or something. In any event, as Scott Esposito observes on his website Conversational Reading, no one is really examining how the crisis is impacting anything other than the giant houses.

So Esposito has launced a series of talks with figures from the small and independent press world, starting with this interview with New Directions senior editor Declan Spring, who tells him, “the greatest damage due to the economic downfall this year has been due to the fact that the chains aren’t buying as many books up front, they’re reducing their shelf life … and in response to the climate, they’re returning more books. That’s incredibly damaging for a small company like New Directions. It effects not only our sales, but how many we decide to print off the bat.”

So how is New Directions responding? “We have made significant changes: we are absolutely making sure that on each list we have important backlist reissues that will have a guaranteed sale; while making sure we have plenty of stock of our backlist, we are being careful about excess reprinting; we’re needing to cut back a little on acquisitions and costs so we can pay our basic expenses and royalties; every meeting we’re brainstorming how we can cut costs on every level, from editorial to production, publicity, and marketing.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives