Happy Independence Day: The Value of Independent Publishing

Channel View Publications/Multilingual Matters is proud to be an independent publisher. But what exactly is independent publishing and why is it so important?

There are many different definitions of an independent publisher, and starting with the definition offered by the Independent Publishers Guild in the UK, members range from the author who publishes his or her own work, through to companies as sizeable as Bloomsbury or Sage, or indeed Cambridge University Press. The corporate and ownership structures of these entities could not be more different. Some have charitable status, others are floated on the stock exchange, and others are owned entirely by the proprietor.

Tommi at work

Tommi at work

When we publish a book, we put our name to it, and we commit a not insignificant investment of time and money into a book. So whoever controls the purse strings, and the physical resources of the publishing company has a good deal of say over what does and does not get published. It is my belief that a truly independent publisher is a publisher where the people actively involved in making the publishing decisions also have control over the physical resources of the company, and so if they decide to publish a book, there is no outside committee or owner, or shareholder body that can stop the publication.

Why is this so important?

Independent publishing has tended to be at the vanguard of both academic and literary publishing. We publish books for reasons that are not necessarily profit driven, and most independent publishers will have stories of the reckless endeavours they have embarked upon with nothing but a sincere belief that the publication should see the light of day. Often these books go on to be bestsellers, but equally there are those that were valiant failures in a commercial sense, but might have made a significant change in the field. Where independents first tread, the corporates often follow.

In fiction publishing you only need to look at the Stieg Larsson books that were published in translation by an independent British publisher and publicised by leaving copies in taxis and buses around London to see the impact that an independent publisher with a belief in their list can have. This was followed by a boom of interest in Nordic Crime fiction in translation, and the corporate publishers were quick to follow suit. In the academic world it is often the independent publishers who will publish in new and untested fields, and only once the ground is proven do the corporate and large university presses move into these areas. We are able to publish in these areas precisely because we are independent, and if we believe in something then there is nobody to tell us not to do it. None of this is to deny the importance of larger, less flexible publishers, they are able to commit resources into projects of scale like handbooks and encyclopaedias that we certainly would be hard pressed to take on, but without the independent publisher to break the ground in the first place with a risky but interesting monograph, or an edited volume of global scope with chapters by all the people who are pushing the envelope on a certain issue, it is unlikely that those other projects would ever take off. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

The Channel View team

The Channel View team

Similarly, the independent publisher who publishes out of a sense of belief in an area will most likely still be around long after the corporate publishers have moved on to whatever the latest fashion is, and when politically and economically the tide turns against certain fields of study, we will often stick by them because we believe in them.

A major advantage of working with a smaller independent publisher, whether you are coming into contact with us as a customer or as an author, is the stability and transparency of any contact you have with us. It is highly likely that you will have dealt with the same people last time you contacted us, and we will have a detailed knowledge of your past projects, or if there were any special handling requirements for your orders, we will probably know them already.

We do not change staff every 6 months, and we don’t have a revolving door internship policy. When we take on interns, it is always with the hope that they might stay with us long term.

Finally, with most small independents, you are never more than a phone call away from the senior management. Problems do occur in all businesses, and whilst we do our very best to make sure that they are as few and far between as possible, anytime you do need to talk to us,  all you need do is pick up the phone and ask to be put through. You will always find someone with the authority to make a decision, and we will almost always be very happy to talk to you, so long as you don’t call on the day that we are all rushing around getting ready to leave for the Frankfurt Book Fair!

Tommi

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