In a world where small, independent business owners have been giving way to the likes of Wal-Mart or the seemingly ubiquitous Starbucks, there is one segment of society in which independents are on the rise.
Independent operations in publishing are swarming the market like bees on a honey-drenched hive.
The reason, some say, is due in part to advanced home technology, making the idea of becoming a published writer more accessible to the masses—specifically with the advent of print-on-demand, blogging, e-zines and other venues that allow sometimes even the not-so-literate to become self-described authors.
But high numbers do not translate to success … or books in print. The challenges for small publishers are numerous, and the road is rough. Major houses still reign, leaving independents struggling to overcome obstacles such as distribution and fulfillment, production and financing, and good subject matter.
On the other hand, the little guys' strong suit is in-depth or specialized materials focusing on a single subject—something the big guys won't touch.
Vying for Space
Hands down, the toughest challenge independents face is product distribution. Jan Nathan, executive director of PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, in Manhattan Beach, Calif., couldn't emphasize this enough.
"It's an extreme challenge because most of the major stores deal with a vendor of record, or wholesaler, from which they can place an order and get many different books from many different publishers," says Nathan. "There are just two main wholesalers: Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. Ingram predominantly sells to bookstores, while Baker & Taylor distributes to libraries."
While independents have at least some hope of getting into the library, via Baker & Taylor, Nathan says most cannot get sold through Ingram, which requires a publisher to have 10 or more titles in print.
Ten or more titles is the exception, not the rule, for small publishers, says Donald Wulfinghoff, publisher at Energy Institute Press, in Wheaton, Md.