Over the course of our previous posts, we have discussed the beginnings of the small press and assessed its current position, both by itself (in different contexts) and in comparison to its competitors in the industry. In this post, we will speculate on where we believe the small press is headed and its place in the future in publishing.
Continued Relevance In The Digital Age
Self-publishing has created the question of whether small presses are still necessary to provide opportunities for small authors. While self-publishing technology allows authors to bypass gatekeepers, small presses are not yet (and are unlikely to become) obsolete. Self-publishing lacks the convenience of small presses since it lacks in-house services. In addition, in a time where self-publishing is so accessible, putting a book out on Amazon will result in their book being drowned in a sea of millions of others, whereas small presses help authors distinguish themselves. The small press also confers prestige on its authors. The lack of barriers, one of the most touted strengths of self-publishing, is also perhaps its greatest weakness. Quality control by outside parties contradicts the essence of self-publishing by establishing gatekeepers. Since anyone from anywhere can self-publish their book, the uncertain quality can be a deterrent for readers to risk buying it, and so we believe that small presses will continue to thrive even in the digital age.
Some small presses have already begun integrating more mediums in their publishing, for example taking on audiobooks, but we think that there will be an increase in this. We can track their rise in popularity with mainstream distributors, but we think that there will be more small presses producing through wider mediums — print, digital and audio — in order to appeal to a wider customer base with their niche and innovative work.
As societies become increasingly technological and screen-based, publishers’ revenues are threatened as they compete with television programmes as a source of entertainment. In this aspect, however, small presses might possibly have an edge over traditional publishers. While larger publishers aim to maximise profit, many small publishers are less economically focused and emphasise the spread of ideas and culture. This works to their advantage since they have never been concerned about attracting the largest number of readers. In addition, small presses usually publish in niche areas for niche audiences. While there are, of course, television programmes tailored to suit similarly niche tastes, the majority of television, like in publishing, is meant to satisfy the needs and wants of mainstream audiences. As such, small presses might be able to scrape by relatively unaffected by the growth of the television industry.
Regarding the marketing that many authors have to undertake due to the small press’ limited budget, this is not necessarily as much of a disadvantage as it seems. Many authors with small presses use social media in order to do this, and, due to the growing use of social media within our society and its integration into our daily life, they are actually ahead of the game in doing this. It cannot be denied that larger publishing houses also use social media for this purpose, but the marketing budget is usually reserved for larger, bigger-selling authors, meaning that many smaller authors do not receive the same attention. Through the smaller press’ use of social media and fewer authors, they actually receive greater attention than smaller authors at a larger press, highlighting their marketing networks as being just as effective, if not more so, than those of smaller authors at larger presses. As larger presses strive to cut costs, it is possible that they will adopt the same methods employed by the small press.
Some Thoughts on the Current and Next Indie Trends
With the digital age allowing for easier editing, many small publishers have taken to selling translation rights across Europe. As a result, the Multilingual press is on the up and it is likely to continue.
Modern poetry and post-modern chapbooks have made a revival in recent years with the style being favoured by young adult and teenage readers. We don’t see this going anywhere, with the digital chapbook being easy and cheap to produce, they are ideal for startup small presses.
With a greater focus on our planet and the pressures that it’s under, small presses have taken more of an interest in environmental literature. We think that more small presses are going to continue to focus on printing climate-conscious works as well as focusing on eco-friendly production.
While migrant and immigrant narratives have always existed, they are especially important in today’s world. As we become increasingly globalised, migrant and immigrant stories become especially pertinent. With mass movement also comes tensions between the local people and new arrivals. In the world currently, migration and immigration remains an issue that is not dealt with by many large presses, possibly due to its increasingly political nature. However, small presses have once again filled this void by addressing both the niche topic and the underrepresented voices in order to convey new and shocking stories relating to both topics.
Historical study has long been popular, with many readers enjoying reading about healing, illness, medicine and ancient medicine. At their core, indie publishers’ focus on literary disease is based on diverse experiences and a desire to tell about them. An increasing number of smaller presses have chosen to focus and prioritise fiction about chronic illness in an attempt to educate on different ways of life. Especially during the current climate, there is an increasingly growing interest in the books of healing, illness and medicine that have not been tackled by small presses. This has been exacerbated by the relevance of Covid-19 to our daily lives, and small presses have stepped into the gap left by the mainstream in order to inform both on this and on the larger area in general.
Communities and Representation Going Forward
We have discussed the idea of smaller presses giving a voice not only to the lesser-known authors but also to the non-mainstream subject matters they publish. Without smaller presses, it is unlikely that these subjects would appear in literature. It is from here that they are taken up by larger presses, highlighting their necessity in the exposure of new trends and ultimately their importance in providing new literary experiences. They exist worldwide, emphasising their relevance not only to the English community but to that of the wider publishing sphere.
Within these subject areas, we chose to focus specifically on the LGBTQ+, Feminist and POC Presses. The fact that these presses still exist and appear to be thriving today highlights the fact that they are still relevant in producing minority literature and authors and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future due to their niche subjects that set them apart from, and, in some places, influence the mainstream.
It is clear that small presses give opportunity to these otherwise reduced voices and provide space for community. Our discussion of their presence and importance in local communities highlights the ongoing desire to represent people and their stories, but also their necessity for these groups. Considering over 70% of the industry are white heterosexual cisgender people (Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey 2019), there is clearly room for greater diversification not only in terms of book content but also the people behind the scenes. Going forward, there can only be a greater push to diversify, hopefully with the continued support of larger presses, to boost wider readership of the newest challenges and issues, and pioneer social change.
Small presses also offer an experience that cannot be replicated by larger presses. In their more personal approach to working with the author and the manuscript, they develop a bond that, due to the profit-centered ethos and time restraints of a large press, is not parallelled. Despite their more limited marketing and reach, our posts have shown that, depending upon what an author values and wants out of a publishing experience, small presses hold just as much, if not more, relevance in the current climate.
Ultimately, our research into the small press and our reflections here prove that, whilst the small press is experiencing many challenges in the current climate, the future looks positive. It will be interesting to see if our predictions hold fast as the year progresses.
Publishers Weekly (2019) Wondering Where Publishing Is Headed? Ask Its Future Leaders. Available at: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/78932-wondering-where-publishing-is-headed-ask-its-future-leaders.html [Accessed 19 May 2020].
Lee and Low Books (2020) Where is The Diversity In Publishing? The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results. Available at: https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/ [Accessed 19 May 2020].