[Image description: The picture shows various books and magazines laid on a wooden table, with a blanket on the top left corner.]
While completing two placements for two different publishing houses, I became aware of a common trait: small independent publishers are still struggling.
Over the past year, during and after the many lockdowns we have been through, the UK government allocated various funds (and loans) to small businesses to help them survive during the pandemic. These funds have been received well and have helped to reduce the struggles of small publishers. However, these struggles are still very much present in their daily activities and can include anything from budget restraints to competition with other established and well-known publishing houses. For one, they have to compete with the big publishers, who are actively present in the daily publishing scene. Small publishers had to find a niche to thrive at to avoid being annihilated by the big competition. Furthermore, they have to rely on freelance editors and designers because they cannot sustain the entirety of the costs of having an in-house editor/designer or even afford the translation rights over a foreign book.
When it comes to marketing strategies and finding ways to reach and keep the target audience, indie houses face quite some difficulties. After a certain amount of time has passed, a publishing house has established a certain level of trust with its customers. However, when it comes to choosing between an experienced and well-known publisher and a newcomer, what people choose, more often than not, is the former over the latter. Various initiatives, including the website Bookshop.org, were created to support indie bookshops against the big machine that multinationals such as Amazon have become. But couldn’t something be done to help indie publishers more effectively?
Small publishers, when given the opportunity, thrive and shine. For instance, publishing fewer titles than the big traditional publishers means that all the titles will be given an equal spotlight and promoted more and for much more time. I witnessed first-hand how this small environment allows for a deeper and more nurturing relationship with the authors, supporting them step-by-step, helping to establish themselves in the big world of publishing and develop their social media platforms. Indie publishers are also in close contact with their suppliers, wholesalers and booksellers. Something that a traditional publishing house could not pull off as effortlessly or as naturally. Besides, given their unique position, indie presses can take risks far better than their traditional counterparts. They can push the genre boundaries, changing trends, and publishing books that the bigger publishing houses would usually reject.
I realise that finding a long-term solution might entail an equally long process that cannot be completed overnight, in a week, or even in a month. Nonetheless, I feel strongly for the need for governments and supportive organisations to step in and try to regulate a market that needs the freshness and creativity of small independent publishers, as much as it does the power of the big ones.