OR Books cofounder John Oakes is stepping down as copublisher of the left-leaning independent publishing house in May.
Although Oakes is relinquishing his copublishing duties and stepping away from managing day to day operations, he will continue to edit books for OR and plans to remain on its board.
Oakes will maintain his 50% ownership of OR Books. He also plans to continue as publisher of the revived Evergreen Review, an online revival of the venerable countercultural literary magazine originally published by Grove Press under the late Barney Rosset. Oakes and OR Books were instrumental in relaunching ER as an online literary publication in 2017. Oakes will also continue as publisher of Foxrock Books, an imprint of ORB originally founded by Barney Rosset, which serves as the book publishing arm of The Evergreen Review.
Oakes said he plans to use his free time to finish writing “a book-length work of semi-academic cultural history.” This book project, he said, will not be published by OR Books.
He also plans to continue to edit titles for the house. He’s working on the forthcoming Decolonize That project, a series of books OR Books will co-publish with Warscapes, an online publication and book publisher that showcases issues surrounding war-torn regions around the world.
Oakes cofounded OR Books with Colin Robinson in 2009. The name of the house, OR, Robinson said, “stands for the alternative, not just politically and culturally in editorial content, but also in the way it does business.” OR Books has an unusual business model: it uses POD technology and the web to bypass bookstores and sell print and e-books direct to consumers. In 2015 OR Books partnered with Counterpoint Press to offer bookstore distribution. OR specializes in stylishly designed books that address a range of progressive social issues. The house is also heavily invested in the use of video and social media to promote its titles.
Describing Oakes as his "comrade in arms", Robinson told PW that he is “not replaceable.” Robinson said he “intends to move ahead without a new partner.” Robinson acknowledged that Oakes’ absence may impact the number of titles the house releases. “We might publish less books. I’ll have to see how it goes,” he said, adding “I hope to publish books that have a real impact and that’s much more important, in my view, than the number of titles.” He cited forthcoming books by such authors as John Freeman, Patrick Cockburn, Norman Finkelstein, Sue Coe, and Jason Boog.
Oakes also stressed that his departure is amicable. “There’s no breakup. We share lefty politics and ideas. Colin is a great guy and has been very supportive. We’ve been talking about this for some time. It’s a good time to step aside.”
Correction: Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.