The role of independent publishers

Image: Spring sunrise captured by Jan Ubels, Creative CommonsTake a look at the output of the Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, along with their multitude of subsidiary imprints) and you’ll see a tendency to spend big on a few titles in the hope of getting enough big hits to cover losses on the rest. Like the Hollywood studios, the Big Five gamble on their reading of the mass market to move volume, on an International scale, and not cater for the full spectrum of audience tastes.

You hear about blockbuster advances for prospective blockbuster books, then equally large marketing and distribution budgets, all aimed at establishing or continuing a brand, hoping to build repeat sales. Sometimes in the mall or online, it looks like every seller has the same twelve books for months on end in every format possible.

That’s the big business of big publishing; one that doesn’t leave a lot of room for lesser known or niche authors. Which is where the independent publishers come in. There was always a place for publishers prepared to take a gamble on talented, promising but lesser known (or unknown) authors, funding short print runs just to get books in front of readers.

The independents are now as important as ever to counter the corporate publishing juggernaut. Thankfully the barriers to entry are lower, thanks to digital technology, print-on-demand and e-books.

Small publishing houses are much more agile than the Big Five. they can afford to speculate and patronise more abstract, creative and innovative books, push the boundaries or give minorities a voice.

Yes, there has always been an Indie fringe peddling some wacky, pretentious, dogmatic material (and that’s just the marketing, ever mind the books themselves); that shouldn’t undermine the valuable work of the independents at wide base of the publishing pyramid on which the ‘mainstream’ industry rests.

Image credit: Spring sunrise captured by Jan Ubels, Creative Commons