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Small press and independent publishing houses

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The term “independent publishing” (“small press”) means all the publishing houses, often small, but not always, not belonging to different groups which together form what some have called specialists have called “network of oligopoly’s publishing and media.”


Pragmatic definition

This first definition, minimum, emphasizes the lack of legal or financial links between independents and majors (or large groups) publishing. But this term tends to characterize the nature of publishing activity of these houses. An independent publisher needs to have in principle, in the words of Isabelle Kalinowski and Beatrice Vincent, “not to publish a book solely because of its profitability, an author on the sole basis of his fame, do not treat a subject under its sole trend”.

If the legal and financial independence thus appear as two conditions of editorial independence, they are not sufficient to express the concept of “independent publishing.” Therefore, it would be better to distinguish between autonomy and independence, if we consider that the editorial policy of separate houses is set without taking into account the commercial imperatives of the type that control the majors. The profit publishing houses can be considered independent as long as their business is subject to their editorial policy.

This definition advanced by independent publishers, is not without its problems as to the criteria of the material, economic and financial or editorial independence. Frédérice Joly asserts that the issue of independence is often wrongly put: “we always depend on someone, banker, diffuser or booksellers.” One can wonder about the possibility of the concrete existence of independent publishers but also unable to drive a publishing policy that meets the criteria set within a large publishing house.

On the other hand, many publishers claim to be independent publisher without forming a continuum. This definition is relative, is it primarily a form of self-worth? However it is more accepted in the common discourse and the polemical claim of independence of some publishers opens a debate on the conditions and the value of the production of the most important publishers.

Independent publishers facing the majors publishers

Independent publishers are often defined in negative, in contrast to the major publishing. André Schiffrin in the Publishing without publisher, and Greg and J Bremond, describe the incorporation process of an oligopoly of publishing, including four or five groups, themselves composed through numerous acquisitions, a multitude of publishers subordinate to the parent company, and whose multiplicity mask the movement of concentration at work. According to André Schiffrin, this process is already advanced enough, if not successful, in the United States, since the mid-1980s, and could be currently being completed in Europe.

According to these authors, based both on the study of several exemplary cases and personal experience, the establishment of the oligopoly results in the affected houses massive imposition, to the detriment of the editorial quality, of a short-term profit-seeking logic that translates the importance taken by companies in these controllers. In addition, majors, due to lower average sales per title, would be engaged in the publications proliferation policy, this multiplication to compensate, precisely, lower profits on average of every book published; the book market would therefore be saturated with an astronomical number of new shares to a diminished if not mediocre quality.

Independent publishers often ask, facing the oligopoly publishing described this way, “resistant” committed to maintaining editorial quality policy against purely mercantilist logic of majors. It can bring some nuances to the table as the independence is not necessarily synonymous with quality, or the one that still exists in the United States of editorial quality production, sometimes even in the majors.

Some publishers are worried about their side of what this focus the analysis on the ongoing process of concentration occult part of other dimensions of the delicate situation of small press. It is certainly difficult to understand how, for example, the decline in average sales of social science literature is related to changes in the cultural and political atmosphere that occurred. Still, it would certainly be wrong to refer exclusively to this kind of phenomenon observed in concentration process. They insist on the consequences of reading practices and the use of textbooks in schools on reading practices and knowledge in relation to the whole of society. They do not hesitate to talk about that “mass production of non-readers.”

Proposals to reform the publishing industry

For several years, some independent publishers advocate the implementation of measures to ensure the maintenance and development of their activity, considered essential to the existence of a critical public culture itself necessary to democratic debate. Among the proposals that come up most often include:

  • strengthening the limitation by law to the concentration in the edition (publishing, broadcasting, distribution, library) and the media;
  • creating a status of nonprofit publisher or limited benefits
  • a reorientation of public support in favor of independent publishing at the expense of majors that already have a significant competitive advantage;
  • finance a fund to assist publishers, booksellers and independent media through submission of works in the public domain to a “copyright” of 1 to 3%;
  • an easing of the tax burden of independent bookstores;
  • the creation by the post office of a specific reduced rate for sending books by mail.

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