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The Rising Stocks of the Small Presses in a Post-Book World

Here at Stairway Press we are slowly moving into making more of our titles available in e-book format. It’s a simple fact that small presses are flourishing in this, the age of web 2.0’s ultimate connectivity, as a result of the ease of distribution and relatively cheap production of e-books when compared to physical books. Huffington Post’s recent article bemoaning the lack of indie titles on bookstore shelves nevertheless cited how over half of the top 20 titles on Amazon’s Kindle ‘Movers and Shakers’ list were small press published. The internet simply allows cheaper and wider distribution of indie titles, a magic combination for small presses with limited resources. As a tool of expression, there’s no escaping the fact that the internet itself has been one of the best and worst things to happen to entertainment publishing ever. Not since the times of the printing press has there been such an explosion of ideas across the known world. Of course, with online distribution came piracy, a plague that is currently threatening the livelihoods of musicians, writers and those involved in the film industries worldwide.


That’s the negative side of digital publication. The positive side: the rise of the small presses. Indie record labels. Production companies. The internet is the domain of the producer, in control of the triple-threat of content, publication, distribution. The internet allows for talented, driven entrepreneurs to take control and start ‘passion presses’, interested much less in profit than in producing quality work that is unafraid to take risks. This is where small presses, labels, and so on come into their own. Let me explain. Imagine your typical large press is a large ship. The profits are in the hull, the bilge, used to weigh the ship down and keep it stable. Such a large craft requires many crew members to keep it running, yet all it requires is an average-sized hole in the hull and it starts sinking immediately. Piracy is that hole. The small presses, by contrast, could be likened to a small yacht: nippy, requiring little bilge to weigh it down, and as a result much easier to turn around to avoid said icebergs. This small boat also requires less crew, and less wages to pay and less politics, equaling more freedom to choose quality works.


The real beauty of small presses is their dual ability to select books they really believe in and to take risks in them. Large corporations simply have too much to lose. They must follow market forces or they die. Small presses are known as a starting point for many authors, nursing and encouraging their talents without placing too much pressure upon the author to make mega-big bucks. If only large presses existed, few books would get published, especially niche titles such as sci-fi, essays, poetry and so on, robbing the world of some great talents. Let’s face it: we all love encouragement. Regardless of whether your first book makes much money, just having it out there in the world is likely going to be enough to encourage you to keep writing. Few people create in a vacuum. We all like a pat on the back now and again. How does all of this link into the increasing availability of small-press books online? Quite well, actually. With the increasing availability of e-books on the internet, an author’s work is becoming more accessible, more portable and, dare we say it, cheaper. Hence, the publishers are able to convert and distribute works easier and cheaper, and authors get their work our quickly, and to a wider public. It’s win-win.


A great diversity of titles are now available online, from bestsellers to literary works, classics to scholarly resources. Prize-winning books are now being released in e-book formats long before the winners are announced, as a matter of course. Both books are available on the Kindle, and in other e-reader formats. When it comes down to it, many people prefer the print version, that much is clear. But it’s about choices. Just like vanilla or chocolate ice-cream, the purchases of the people will drive business. But there’s no escaping the fact that one-in-six Americans now use an e-reader, and one-in-forty British citizens getting one for Christmas, not to mention the dramatic drop in price of the devices in recent years, publishing groundbreaking new content for a reasonable price is now more accessible than ever. Another shocking statistic from Pew Research: the average reader of physical books reads around 16 a year, yet those who read e-books come in at 24 a year. That’s a a huge difference, in anyone’s terms. And that can only be a great thing for independent presses dedicated to producing quality content available worldwide.



Janet Sharpe is a freelance writer from England who believes in freedom of choice whether it’s choosing an organic mattress, comparing a latex vs memory foam mattress or choosing to express yourself free from the shackles of the big corporate media.



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