by Rudy Shur
Board of Directors
Fighting to Resolve Bread-and-Butter Problems
What book publisher wouldn’t stand squarely behind such causes as the promotion of literacy, copyright protection, and First Amendment rights? For decades, these issues have been at the forefront of our industry. And rightly so—as an industry, we should be proud of our involvement with them.
However, many other areas of concern escape public attention, even though they are equally vital to our well-being as independent publishers. These work-related issues revolve around the very core of our daily business lives, yet there are few organizations that recognize the problems, let alone advocate on behalf of small independent publishers.
As publishers, we are all too familiar with problems such as intentionally delayed payments, improperly taken credits, unregulated return policies, and chronically mislaid invoices. As if that wasn’t enough, distributor bankruptcies continually occur, jeopardizing or destroying many well-run publishing houses. These economic roadblocks are the bane of the indies’ existence.
Over the last half-century, many drastic changes have taken place in the book publishing industry—some good, some bad. Today, large publishers continue to dominate the trade and educational marketplaces. By virtue of their powerful cash flows, they have clout with their vendors. In contrast, independents have very little influence over the business practices of larger vendors. So while the issues of literacy, copyright protection, and First Amendment rights make headlines, the dilemmas independents face each day seem to be largely ignored—that is, until now.
PMA as Advocate
Over the last few years, PMA, under the able direction of Jan Nathan, has quietly moved to become a staunch advocate for its members, as well as for the independent publishing community at large, in the business-practices arena. When a large firm specializing in repackaged hardcover books for libraries began reissuing its own set of ISBNs to books already carrying publisher-issued ISBNs, PMA stepped in and effectively stopped the practice. When certain online vendors began to sell ARCs and uncorrected galleys, PMA asked that this practice be stopped. Some online vendors agreed to the request; others are still considering it, and a few are ignoring it, but at the very least, the issue has been made public and our objections are being heard.
For many years, Jan Nathan worked tirelessly to create a strong and vibrant organization that would help educate new publishers, raise the standards of the profession, and lift the shroud of mystery that still surrounds our industry. The Independent Book Publishers Association, Jan Nathan’s legacy, is now developing a formal advocacy policy on behalf of its members. We believe it is time for our grievances to be recognized and addressed. As a trade organization representing the interests of independent publishers at large, we believe we can take the lead and make an important difference.
During the coming months and years, PMA hopes to shed more light on the unfair business practices that demean our profession. With the newly formed Advocacy Fund, we will be able not only to raise issues publicly, but also come to the aid of our members when that is appropriate.
It is not our intention to drive a wedge between publishers and offending vendors. On the contrary, we believe that by working with our vendors, we can create a more effective and rewarding relationship in which we all win—publishers, vendors, and readers.
The message is clear. Our publishing industry is not made up of only seven mega-international publishing corporations. It is made up of tens of thousands of small- and medium-sized indie houses that represent the best of our country’s entrepreneurial spirit. They are the mainstays of talented new writers. They are the ones challenging the status quo of conventional publishing. And sometimes they choose substance over profit. By making it harder for independent publishers—for you—to stay in business, the current unfair business practices impede the very creativity that Americans cherish and that other nations can only dream about.
We know that change does not always come overnight. Bad habits are hard to break. But with your support, we hope to represent our members’ interests for the long haul and help create a working environment that evens the playing field.