I’d like to add profiling publishers to the mix because as I’ve worked in books my consciousness of individual publishers has opened up a new dimension to my reading. When it comes to independent publishing vs. the imprints and houses owned by the major media conglomerates, my loyalties will always be with the indies. That’s not to say that the major houses are some kind of evil empire, because they do put out some great stuff. But the consolidation of culture into the corporate structures of just a handful of companies is inherently problematic. None of this is news or remarkable, but I feel like it is part of prefacing where I want to go with this site as well as articulate some ideas that just won’t fit into any other discussion because so much has already been said. And because before I got into the industry, the distinction wasn’t immediately apparent. So I’ll presume there might still be some soul for whom independent presses are actually a new concept (or any distinction of Publisher A vs. Publisher B at all).
Major houses (i.e., Random House, HarperCollins, etc.) obviously operate on profit motive more than an intent to enrich society by bringing out good books. Particular imprints and divisions might focus on a higher level of editorial acumen and can include books with a profoundly radical outlook. But the truth is that these publishing entities, on principle, want to sell as many copies of their books and make as much profit as humanly possible for the enrichments of their executives and shareholders. Problems arise when by virtue of their scale and influence, they too often become the default outlet for books and ideas in our world. They usually pay more, have a greater reach, and offer a larger audience. For a someone who has written something that is an important contribution to our culture, it is understandable, and arguably better, that they trade their labor for the profits of a multinational corporation in order to reach that audience. The most revolutionary and inspiring writing doesn’t revolutionize or inspire anything if no one knows about it, no one reads it. Also, for someone that looks to write for a living, that larger paycheck can mean the difference between paying rent and having the time to write versus poverty and the inability to work on their writing and ideas.
This kind of compromise is a regular part of any radical’s life. We are trapped in a capitalist system and must weigh the ethics and economics in almost everything we do. Do we support independents/cooperative endeavors or do we begrudgingly contribute to the multinational corporations? It is something we each must decide based on where and who we are in life.
But to bring this back to books… Independent publishing operates outside of the large multinational publishers but in principle have the same aim: to sell as many books as possible. The motivations behind this are as varied as the individuals who runs these presses. They compete for the same shelf space in bookstores, for coverage by media outlets, for the same snatches of our attention. They may be motivated by profits, the contribution to our culture, or the desire to educate and engage people’s minds in a positive way. Or, in fact, a combination of all three (and others). An “independent” publisher could in fact be a sizable company with many titles and millions of dollars in sales. One could just as easily be someone who has put out a single title and garner modest, if any, sales.
The publishers I want to profile concern themselves with the latter two of the above goals: to contribute to our culture and to educate and inspire people towards a better society. Look forward to more about them later.