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“The Small Press World is About to Fall Apart.” On the Collapse of Small Press Distribution

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the sudden and unexpected closure of Small Press Distribution (SPD), one of the last remaining independent book distributors in the US. The closure has had a devastating impact on small press publishers who relied on SPD to fulfill online orders, make copies available to bookstores and libraries, and as a source of income. The article explores the challenges these small presses are now facing, the uncertainty around the dissolution of SPD and the recovery of owed funds, as well as the search for alternative distribution options.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The Closure of Small Press Distribution (SPD)

1. What happened with the closure of SPD?

  • SPD, one of the last remaining independent book distributors in the US, shut down immediately with no advance notice or transitional support.
  • SPD's website went dark, its Twitter account was deleted, and no one was answering calls.
  • This sudden closure has had a devastating impact on the small press publishers who relied on SPD.

2. How did small press publishers react to the news of SPD's closure?

  • Publishers were shocked and angry about the closure, with many expressing sadness over the loss of this important organization.
  • Many small presses are owed significant sums of money by SPD, which could be "devastating" for their operations.
  • There is a lot of uncertainty around when or if SPD will be able to pay back the money owed to publishers.

3. What are the challenges facing small presses now that SPD has closed?

  • Without a distributor, small presses are cut off from their main sources of income and the ability to get their books reviewed or distributed through major channels.
  • Larger distributors may have sales minimums that are not financially viable for small presses, and self-distribution takes them out of the system in terms of reviews and publicity.
  • Small presses are having to quickly adapt and explore alternative distribution options, which is creating additional burdens and uncertainty.

[02] Exploring Alternative Distribution Options

1. What are some of the alternative distribution options being considered by small presses?

  • The Community of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP) organized an emergency Zoom call where two alternative distributors, Bookmobile and Asterism, answered questions from publishers.
  • Asterism was appealing to some presses due to its low costs, but it currently does not offer returns to retailers, which is a concern for bookstores.
  • The CLMP is also exploring options with larger distributors like Ingram and Independent Publishers Group (IPG), though these may be prohibitively expensive for small presses.

2. What are the pros and cons of the alternative distribution options?

  • Asterism's lack of a returns policy has raised some concerns, but the publisher says they are willing to compromise and maintain a dialogue with both booksellers and publishers.
  • Larger distributors like Ingram may be too expensive for small presses, but the CLMP is working to find more robust solutions to make their books available.
  • Self-distribution can be challenging for small presses in terms of discoverability and access to major review outlets.

3. How are small presses responding to the need to find new distribution partners?

  • Presses are exploring all options, but rushing into a new distributor without proper research is not seen as a good strategy.
  • There is a sense of being "in the same boat" as other small presses, which provides some comfort, but also uncertainty about the future.
  • The CLMP is planning to hold future Zoom calls with larger distributors to support the small presses and find more sustainable solutions.
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