The final countdown is on to our inaugural conference 2020: A Publishing Odyssey. So, we wanted to know what people thought different areas of the publishing world will (or should) be like come 2020. Gill Tasker looks to the future of indie publishing.
Indie Publishing: The ‘Silver Age’ and Beyond?
In February it was announced that the Hachette Book Group has reached an agreement to buy the Perseus Book Group’s publishing business, prompting Mike Shatzkin to state in the New York Times that “[i]f you take the long view, I’d be so bold as to say we’ll have two big trade publishers 10 years from now, and no more.” The concept of bibliodiversity, originally coined by independent publishers in Chile in the 1990s, refers to an ecosystem whereby a range of titles are published by a varied range of presses and the resultant environment is therefore balanced and healthy. In emphasising the increasingly globalised and conglomerate nature of publishing, Shatkin’s prediction made me think a little about bibliodiversity and where the indie sits in today’s complex publishing landscape.
While bigger publishers keep getting bigger, independent houses play a central role in ensuring that bibliodiversity remains in publishing at both local and international levels. Indeed, in Scotland there is an impressive and long-established culture of independent presses, located nation-wide across the central belt, the Highlands, Hebridean islands, and elsewhere, ranging in operational size and scale, and publishing a diverse and dynamic array of titles across fiction and non-fiction.
There is no doubt that the publishing business model is multilayered and at times difficult. The marketplace is also increasingly competitive. But as smaller enterprises, independent presses have the opportunity to be agile. Rather than a super-sized corporation unable to change course quickly, the indie press has the ability to change direction efficiently and can act on new opportunities in a timely way. In a recent interview with The Bookseller Black and White’s MD Campbell Brown revealed that their success with Kindle has shaped the company’s wider business strategy by catalysing expansion of their fiction list. Brown explains that ‘the Kindle revolution has levelled the playing field a little bit for a business our size’ by offering more exposure for their fiction coupled with a more rapid route to market in comparison to before e-books.
Speaking at the Publishing Scotland/Booksellers Association Book Trade Conference in Edinburgh in February, Katy Cattell of Egmont UK emphasised the importance of continually revising both publisher and product branding to ensure that they remain relevant to ever-evolving readerships. Indie presses are able to lead the way via swift, responsive, and inventive experimentation when marketing both online and offline. They are also able to take on the ‘Big 5’ as Canongate recently demonstrated by winning the Waterstones Award at the Publisher’s Publicity Circle Awards for their compelling Reasons to Stay Alive campaign. Moreover, digital marketing, particularly through social media, enables independent presses to reach out to, foster relationships with, and even create reading communities in an exciting way. The digital arena also offers publishers – large and small – invaluable insight about their readers through data and analytics, which can be utilised when planning to significant effect.
Independent publishers also pioneer particular markets and are recognised for their individuality; in early March Barrington Stoke won the Alison Morrison Diversity Award at the 2016 IPG Independent Publishing Awards showing that niche is definitely nice. The status of indie publishing is strong in 2016 following the Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James published by the husband-and-wife-led team at Oneworld. Galley Beggars also notably won the Bailey’s Prize with Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing in 2014. Indie presses have been granted centre stage at the Saltire Literary Awards where Freight Books won the coveted Publisher of the Year Award in 2015 following previous winners Sandstone Press (2014) and Saraband (2013).
In February it was announced that Neil Griffiths, the Costa Prize-shortlisted novelist, has set up a prize for literary indie presses in the UK and Ireland. In an article in The Guardian Griffiths acknowledged that like independent booksellers indie presses can be vulnerable, but he believes that through their high-quality, enthusiastic, and often ‘super-niche’ publishing, their role is unrivalled in the literary world and that this should be celebrated. Called the ‘Republic of Consciousness prize for the best novel published by a small press’ – defined by Griffiths as a minimum of five people of less working fulltime – the judging panel comprises independent booksellers chaired by Griffiths and the winner will be announced in 2017. Griffiths states ‘we need small presses’ and I couldn’t agree more.
Despite some mizzle from the cloud of the 2008 recession still falling there have been murmurs in the publishing press suggesting that indies are entering a ‘silver age’ in 2016 in the UK. Although change is arguably what characterises the publishing industry today it is clear that by being resilient, flexible, and resourceful in business strategy while showing passion and commitment through carefully curated publishing, independent presses can innovate and excite in 2016 and beyond.
Gill Tasker is Temporary Teaching Fellow and Research Assistant in Publishing Studies at the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication. While she enjoys all publishing and thinks there’s room for everyone, as former Joint Managing Director of Cargo Publishing indie presses are particularly close to her heart.
We’ll be hearing from some great indie publishers at our conference on Friday. There are still a few tickets available. Book your place over here.