Citing financial pressures, Last Gasp, the San Franciso publisher and distributor of books and comics, is getting out of the distribution business at the end of the year. The house will shut down its distribution operations, layoff its distribution staff and focus solely on the publishing side of its business.
In a letter sent by Last Gasp founder and owner Ron Turner to the company’s distribution clients and accounts, Turner said, “After December 2016, we will no longer be restocking items from other publishers or placing orders for new items.” Turner said Last Gasp will continue to “fill customer orders for Last Gasp publications for the foreseeable future.” Last Gasp will also “continue to fill customer orders for other publishers’ books from available stock through the end of February.”
As a result of this change, “much of the (Last Gasp) staff will be laid off,” according to Last Gasp associate publisher Colin Turner, who responded to questions from PW via email. Although he declined to give the precise number of employees affected, Last Gasp has employed about a dozen people. Most of the Last Gasp employees will remain at the firm until the end of February, thereafter, Colin said the company will “continue with a very small staff,” to support its publishing operation.
Last Gasp was founded in 1970 by Ron Turner, who now runs the company with his son, Colin Turner at the helm. In its early days, it published such legendary underground comics titles as Weirdo, Wimmen’s Comix, and later ZAP Comix and artists such as R. Crumb and Robert Williams. Over the past 47 years, Last Gasp has focused on publishing and distributing art books, fiction, nonfiction, magazines, and graphic novels, with a focus on counter-culture, low-brow art and underground comics.
While the warehouse section of the company will close, Last Gasp will retain its offices, which are located in the same building in San Francisco. The building is also filled with Ron Turner’s eclectic collection of art, carnival sideshow banners, and vintage furniture.
Asked if if his father plans to retire, Colin replied, “No, he’s not retiring. I don’t think he wants to.”
The closure of the distribution business will impact “quite a large number of smaller publishers. More than 100 at least – some are single-title publishers,” explained Colin. “Though it probably won't impact their bottom line in a major way, it will also have an effect on larger publishers and distributors whose books we buy and wholesale to stores. It will affect a number of bookstores, comic shops, and other retailers who rely on Last Gasp's wholesale distribution for a mix of titles,” he explained to PW.
Colin said the move to close the distribution business was “a straightforward financial decision: the cost of doing business is high, margins are slim, and there is not enough volume.” He added “the distribution business is extremely difficult, as you can tell from other distributors' closures and mergers. We tried to hang on but it was just not possible.”
On the publishing side, Last Gasp publishes about 10-15 new titles each year and Colin said, “we will probably continue on that pace, or slightly less.” The publisher said LG has “a bit over 300 active titles” on its backlist.
“The silver lining is that we will be able to put all of our attention into publishing. We have a few interesting books planned for 2017 including,” Colin said, pointing to Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson edited by Walter Hinke, an anthology of essays by friends and collaborators of Thompson, and Neverlasting Miracles: The Art of Todd Schorr, collection of the artwork of the contemporary surrealist pop artist.
“Hopefully this change will allow us to develop some interesting projects. We will continue to focus on pop culture, art, and graphic novels,” Colin said.