Publishing and the Small Press

An interesting short article/interview quote in The Bookseller, where the chairman of Pluto Press argues against the need for small, independent publishers to take money from the state in order to stay afloat. As ever, the model held up as the great exemplar of how to manage a thriving literary culture is France, a country which takes this sort of thing very seriously and certainly seems to have a greater degree of plurality in its publishing and bookselling industries. (Shamefully, beyond Michel Houellebecq I don’t really know anything about contemporary French writers.) Anyway, the article follows the link:

Small presses can survive without subsidy, says Pluto Press | theBookseller.com.

I have no settled opinion about the rightness or otherwise of publishers, writers, booksellers, taking money from the state, so won’t jump in quite yet with any ill-judged and badly thought-out opinions of my own. I agree with Roger van Zwanenberg that small publishers should specialise rather than stretch themselves too thin if they want survive, and I would argue that this should probably go for bookshops too. The continuing travails of my former employers, Waterstone’s, points to the inevitable demise of the national chain bookshop. This would be a bad thing in many ways, not least in the numbers of booksellers who genuinely love their jobs (stop! There are some, I swear!) subsequently losing them. If there was to be a side benefit, then I hope it would be in the growth of independent shops, and shops that would once again specialise in particular types of books. When I lived in London in 2002/2003, I remember seeing the tail-end of the specialist bookseller as a viable operation, something I had not really seen in any other British city. Murder One, the famous crime booksellers, closed down in the last couple of years though, so perhaps I’m being premature in assuming this model could return in the same robust health it once enjoyed. Perhaps also we would see a resurgence of the regional chain, as opposed to the national chain. In Scotland, it was with something akin to disbelief that I saw James Thin’s collapse, and John Smith’s (another former employer of mine) almost go the same way, but I think a regional model based on one or two major cities could soon seem the most effective way of bringing back large, well-stocked bookshops after Waterstone’s inevitably bites the dust – in its present form anyway.

My bookselling days may be well behind me (my liver at least is thankful), but I will never be sanguine about the state of the industry, and not just because I hope soon to earn the bulk of my income through it.

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