In a charged political climate that has seen even the Big Five publishers step gently into the ideological fray, a few indie publishers whose bread and butter has always been left-wing publishing are working together, for the mutual benefit of all.
Book publishers Verso Books, Haymarket Books, and Seven Stories Press and socialist quarterly magazine Jacobin—the most widely-read socialist publication in America, with upwards of 35,000 print subscribers and more than a million unique website visitors per month—are the tight-knit center of a small group of independent publishers that consider themselves part of a burgeoning “radical left.” The publishers and magazine have, Verso marketing manager Anne Rumberger explained, pooled their forces and resources in order to reach what they see as a newly radicalized segment of the American book market.
“We most closely collaborate with Haymarket and Jacobin on marketing, and with Haymarket, Jacobin, and Seven Stories on web development,” Rumberger said. “We also share tables at book fairs and festivals with Haymarket and PM Press, and are hoping to collaborate more with Seven Stories and Beacon [Press] on blog content. So we’re all supporting each other in different ways.”
In other words, and in a neat twist of irony, they’re using capitalism to spread economic theories and political ideologies that are rooted in anything but. Rumberger rattled off a number of other publishers in this general orbit, some that Verso works with and some that are simply like-minded: Counterpoint Press and AK Press in the U.S. and, in the U.K., Repeater Books, Polity Books, and Zed Books. Verso, Jacobin, and Haymarket, accompanied by Seven Stories, are at its nexus.
“Since our web developers are also working with Haymarket and with Jacobin and with Seven Stories, we’re sharing a lot of the costs involved in back-end development. We now have the same e-commerce back-end to our websites,” Rumberger said. “In terms of marketing, we’ll share lists with each other—we’ll promote a Jacobin issue along with a Jacobin book, for instance, and we’ll [send to] email addresses from some of their subscribers, while they’ll [send to] some of ours—so we’re collaborating in terms of how we do our online marketing.”
This is helpful for Verso, which, Rumberger said, has never—in spite of its nearly 50-year history and strong financial resources—been featured on an Indie Next bestseller list or nominated for an Indie Next pick. It’s helpful, too, for Jacobin, whose book line, Jacobin Books, launched at Verso in 2014. (Like Verso’s other books, Jacobin titles are distributed by Penguin Random House.)
Another joint endeavor went public a few hours after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. On January 20, Verso, Jacobin, and Haymarket cohosted “The Anti-Inauguration,” an event at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C., featuring speeches from Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill, Princeton assistant professor of African-American studies Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, journalist Anand Gopal, Guardian columnist Owen Jones, and author Naomi Klein. (Klein went on to publish her latest book, No Is Not Enough, with Haymarket, after publishing her previous book with Simon & Schuster.) The event’s speeches were collected in a free e-book, also called The Anti-Inauguration, available on the websites of both Haymarket and Verso.
The presses in this orbit also frequently share authors and editors. “The wager is that there are more people out there who are hungry for left-wing ideas than [there] are currently available [books],” said John McDonald, Haymarket’s academic, conference, and events coordinator—and that cross-pollination will work to the publishers’ mutual benefit. “Amplifying all our voices doesn’t do us any disservice at all—it actually expands the layers of people who are exposed to all the ideas that we benefit from. To use the crude language of marketing, there’s a market out there that is bigger than any of us can saturate by ourselves. It’s not like we’re fighting over crumbs of a pie.”
Jason Farbman, who came from Haymarket last year to Jacobin, where he now runs outreach and publicity, had a similar take. “Broadly, we’re all together on the left, and we have a shared set of politics about where we want to see the world, but we have it in very different spaces,” he said, adding that, for example, while Verso’s strength is on the academic side, Haymarket’s is in the world of activism—so Jacobin writers and editors who go on to work on books for Haymarket, as many have, reach different audiences than does the Jacobin Books line at Verso. “This allows for us to collaborate in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re constantly competing.”
The publishers’ money is where their mouths are, too. In 2016, Jacobin staff unionized. AK Press, which specializes in anarchist literature, is worker-managed. Position Development, which built the back-end for Verso, Haymarket, Jacobin, and Seven Stories, is worker-run.
Even the less ideological of these presses are finding a union fortuitous. Beacon Press associate publisher Tom Hallock, while clarifying that Beacon—which has a religious parent organization—does not identify as leftist, noted that he has seen sales patterns change drastically since the election, with an upswing in backlist books about social justice, race in America, and social movements. As for giving “shout-outs to each other’s books, and awards, and news” via social media and blogs, he’s all for it.
It may seem odd that publishers working in the same intellectual space would band together rather than compete. But for these publishers, one thing is clear: book sales are not an end, but a means to communicate their political beliefs. And working together to buoy all of their books, and the concepts contained therein, can only help on the long-term path to achieving bigger and harder-to-attain goals.
“Generally speaking, it’s pretty hard to look around in American society and find a place where you can get socialist information,” McDonald said. “It’s a fight. If we don’t actually defend what little we have left, it’s going to be taken away—and we happen to believe that we deserve even more than we have.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the year in which Jacobin Books launched.