The resurgence of the independent publisher and small bookstore is a validated trend. In this era of mega publishing houses, Amazon market domination, and the closing of major bookstore chains; the indie publisher and small bookstore is realizing a swift and real reemergence.
In large metropolitan areas such as Washington D.C., independent, brick and mortar bookstores are booming. The boom is attributed to a few key factors, The Washingtonian Reports: residents spend more on books than any other area, all major retail bookstores have closed their doors, and it is a metropolitan area filled with avid readers. Independent bookstores such as Politics & Prose, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, and Upshur Street Books are widely visited.
American indie presses are succeeding by focusing on remaining small and on creativity and originality over sales. Boding well for indie presses are tailoring to niche audiences, specializing in certain types of books, and not being owned by bottom-line driven corporations.
Indie presses are located and have found success in big cities as well as in out-of-the-box locations such as Tin House in Portland, Oregon. Indie presses allow for more creative, original works and give more opportunity to take risks on emerging and little known authors. In stark contrast is the current reality of the 5 major publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) with their focus on finding and publishing the next Fifty Shades of Gray, or Harry Potter and in this pursuit are paying out astounding amounts in book advances. In the July 2016, The Atlantic, Nathan Scott McNamara reports “Last fall, Knopf—a division of Penguin Random House—paid an unprecedented $2 million advance for the first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire.” This approach allows for investing in just a few authors and crossing their fingers for a mega best seller.
Graywolf, Coffee House Press, W.W. Norton, and Dorothy are examples of successful indie presses that have found a winning formula. Graywolf has published some of the most groundbreaking American nonfiction of the 21st century including both The Argonauts and Citizen. Dorothy is “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women. Run by the experimental writer and book designer Danielle Dutton,… publishes just two books a year, and the books are small, beautiful, and cost only $16.” Coffee House Press published a book set by the horror master Brian Evenson who hadn’t published with a major publishing house in 20 years and prefers to keep his niche readership by remaining with indie publishing. Major publishing houses have left a vast vacuum and have created an optimal environment for the indie publisher to flourish.
While “The Big Five” publish eighty percent of books this landscape is changing. Each year indie presses are growing. For independent bookstores that are members of ABA, sales are up 10% over the past two years. Additionally the number of ABA member independent bookstores increased to 27% in 2016. The stories of the small presses with huge successes grows each year: Health Communications, Inc., which published Chicken Soup for the Soul; Naval Institute Press, which published Tom Clancy’s first novel. Authors can get unique attention and interest rather than being one of a few thousands titles from one of the “The Big Five.”
There has never been a better time to be an indie press or small bookstore. The indie presses and small bookstores are primed to keep benefiting from the vacuum created by “The Big Five.”
“Major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment for indie presses to thrive at the very thing they’re best at: being small.”
American Booksellers Association: