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Publishers Weekly Meeting of Independent Press Distributors

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Last December, Publishers Weekly hosted at their New York office a meeting
of the major independent press distributors. Many of us who have worked in
this area were very pleased by this attention from PW, even if we felt it was
a few years overdue.

A cynic might suppose that the large number of ad pages regularly purchased
by independent trade distributors, and the large amount of floor space bought
by them at what used to be called the ABA Convention (PW‘s parent company now
owns 100% of the show) may be sufficient to explain this heightened interest.

The truth of the matter is more complicated. Part of it is that news of the
growing importance of independent publishing has finally and definitively
crossed the Hudson River. What we do as publishers and distributors is no
longer just an amusing frill around the edge of the fabric of the publishing
business but a significant part of the main design. PW now thoroughly
understands this fact, and it should be noted that the staffers there are
deeply committed to books as books, not just books as commerce.
But what really gave some edge to PW‘s interest in independent press
distribution is the current condition of Big Publishing, which is in BIG
TROUBLE. “How were we distributors,”PW wanted to know, “attempting to deal
with the catastrophic level of returned books, the closings of the small
stores, the rocky condition of some of the large customers, the general
decline in the volume of trade sales, etc., that are inflicting unsustainable
damage on the major houses?”

It may be that the failure of Atrium Publishers Group led PW to believe that
the prospects for independent publishing were as dismal as those for Big
Publishing. This view, however, was not supported by the distributors present
at the meeting. On the contrary, we, for the most part, argued that while
there certainly were many areas of concern and a need to exercise caution,
our part of the trade market was expanding rapidly.

The editorial as well as the advertising content of PW has also begun to
reflect a higher level of interest in the world of independent publishing.
There is now a regular monthly column called the Distribution Daybook,
written by Bridget Kinsella, which features news about small press
distribution and wholesaling, and the PW regional correspondents are now
convinced that it is an important part of their job to cover news from the
independent publishers in their territories. (See the box below for their
names and numbers.)

The fate of the national book convention, now called BookExpo America, was
also a topic of much discussion at this meeting. The distributors plan to
attend the one coming up and they will encourage their distributed presses to
display as they have in the past — but they all intend to take a hard look at
the costs versus benefits in the future. All agree that they will increase
their presence at the regional trade shows.

I continue to think that attendance at the national show is invaluable,
especially for independent publishers, not because it is a good place to take
orders for books — it isn’t — but because there is no better way to get a feel
for the scope, complexity, and demands of the book business. It should be
illegal to publish a book if you have not attended at least one national

Here is a question that PW did not ask at the meeting. “How can you little
guys hope to compete with the giant publishing houses?” The fact that it was
not asked, that it did not occur to PW to ask it, provides a measure of the
strength of independent publishing today.

Have an Independent-Press News Story for PW?

If you have some news about your company or your book, do not hesitate to
tell the PW correspondent in your region about it. Note, however, that the
publication of a book is not news. There has to be some “man bites dog”
aspect to your information: an unusual publicity tie-in, very dramatic sales,
something out of the ordinary.

  • Midwest: Bridget Kinsella (312/975-0463) 
  • New England: Steve Sherman (603/525-3581) 
  • South: Bob Summer (615/352-4473) 
  • West Coast: Roxane Farmanfarmaian (415/488-4712) 
  • Toronto: Beverly Slopen (415/921-7726)

[This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor February, 1997, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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