A Postscript on Independent Publishers

Just as I was posting this morning about the Indie Booksellers Choice Award, the German news site Deutsche Welle was launching a story on independent publishing in the U.S. for which they interviewed me last week. It seems the trend of independent publishers taking the lead on printing literature in translation has now become so pronounced as to attract international notice. Just this afternoon I heard the wonderful Christopher Middleton (about whom I’ll post more soon) pointing out that the first book of translations he ever published, The Walk and Other Stories by Robert Walser, printed in London by John Calder in 1957, would never have seen the light of day if it had not been for a subsidy provided by the Swiss cultural agency Pro Helvetia. And indeed, subsidies from international cultural agencies continue to play a significant role in the promotion of translated literature in this country. In fact, these very subsidies have contributed greatly to the rise of translation-oriented independent publishers, by making it financially feasible for small presses to put out books whose production costs (including translation and copyright fees as well as the costs of editing, printing, distribution and marketing) would otherwise send them directly to bankruptcy court. Meanwhile the rise of social media and the blogosphere has made it easier for smaller firms to spread the word about their books in innovative ways that don’t require huge outlays of cash. This has reduced what used to be – even as recently as ten years ago – an enormous differential in visibility between large and small publishing houses. In this new publishing and marketing landscape, readerships for books by independent publishers can sometimes seem to come out of nowhere, as was the case with the Hans Fallada surprise bestseller Every Man Dies Alone.

With all the talk of book-killing Kindles and mind-numbing reality televsion, it’s good to be reminded of ways in which technology can actually work in the service of literature.

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