#2: Small Press Suicide
There are at least two good reasons to stay abreast of Ron Silliman’s Blog, the first being to review the list of 30-60 Internet links he posts from time to time on matters relevant to poets, poetry, and the publishing of poems.
The second good reason is to view the intermittently posted lists of “Books received,” mainly small press poetry publications who are Jonesing I suppose for a review, or at least a mention, on his blog.
Ron’s books received list, paired with the new title listings at Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, is I think the best way to stay informed of small press output in the U.S. (Unfortunately publications from the U.K. are unrepresented, against whom you’d think some kind of small press book blockade must exist.)
The discouraging aspect of both lists is that the reader has no clue about the nature or quality of a writer’s work, much of it coming from new or unknown authors, arguably the best reason for the existence of small presses to begin with. The result is that most poetry books will never be sold, since book shops and libraries won’t take them and potential street customers have no idea what’s inside the book.
Last Thursday (July 22nd) Ron posted a books received list that included 25 book titles and seven journals. As it happens, I don’t recognize the authors, (excepting Alexander Pushkin). Being a small press enthusiast, my only recourse would be so spend $500 (32 titles times an estimated $15 for each), to see if there’s anything I’d like.
Some small presses have websites, but most are sketchy, few with samples of a book’s contents and a Paypal donation option. Small Press Distribution runs a recommended list, but again without informative samples or reviews.
Clearly this situation is ridiculous. You don’t need an M.B.A. to realize that this is a failed business model which defeats its own purposes—to disseminate the writing as widely as possible and gain revenue for publishers and authors.
You’d think that small press operators, progressive in most other matters, would stop flogging a dead animal and learn to make use of the astonishing opportunities available on the Internet.
By posting downloadable .pdf files on their websites with a Paypal voluntary donation button, or linking to the same text uploaded to issuu.com—both options without cost—publishers can make a text available to hundreds of interested readers, rather than sell a couple dozen books of printed matter.
Or you can upload the text and link it to Google Books, checking the option that all of it should be made viewable. If copyright concerns are an issue, the .pdf’s can always be made un-downloadable, as they are automatically on Google Books.
Poets and novelists need to understand that capitalism generally has no use for their texts, and that the only path to salvation rests not in trying to sell stuff, but reaching as many readers as possible. Printing paperback books and sending them in to Ron Silliman is not the way to do this.