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President’s Column:
So Big

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A Valentine’s Day story in The New York Times reported on a couple of small, independent literary publishers in New York who have had some nice recent successes. I was chatting about the story with PMA Executive Director Jan Nathan–discussing Overlook, with 18 employees and 45 new titles a year, and Persea, with four employees and a dozen or so new titles a year.

“You call those small?” Jan said. “Those are big!” Well, yes and no, we decided.

They’re certainly big relative to the hundreds of PMA members who’ve published a single title, or just a handful of titles, but they’re small compared to those of you who have published that single title–and sold a million copies or more. (Yes, that’s happened.) Big compared to those of us who might offer a thousand-dollar advance (if we’re feeling flush) and have first printings of 2,500 copies, but small compared to, say, Random House, which might offer some writers half-a-million-dollar advances and bring out some of its new titles in six-figure press runs.

Big, small–there are so many viable business models in the wonderful world of publishing, and size and success are not directly proportional. You can throw a lot of money around, publish vast lists, and lose your shirt; you can focus in tight, mine a niche, watch your pennies, and make a bundle. Or vice versa.

The upshot of my conversation with Jan was that we came up with new nomenclature. Forget big and small. Instead, home in on the world of independent publishers (as opposed to conglomerates and publicly owned giants).

In our independent world, there are micro, mini, small, mid-sized, and yes, even big publishers. And those terms can describe list size, house size, revenue size, or bottom-line size. They don’t, however, describe success, which can come with any size. Which is a big part of why it’s a wonderful world.

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