Bookstores were the first wave of institutions to turn to crowdfunding to weather the financial fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, publishers, distributors, and literary organizations are doing the same.
Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso, Tex., is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on the celebrations. While the company, which has six employees, managed to get a Small Business Administration loan to cover near term salaries and expenses, the pandemic has imperiled the mid-term viability of the company. On Friday, the publishing house launched a GoFundMe campaign asking for $250,000. Over the weekend, former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke posted about the campaign on social media, and as of Tuesday morning, it had raised $20,300.
"Last year was a great year for us and this year started well," said Lee Byrd, who codirects the publishing house with her husband Bobby. "But we realized we were not going to get through this year—we would not be able to pay our authors and illustrators—without raising money. We are to El Paso what City Lights is to San Francisco. But in the border region, finding support for the arts can be challenging."
The Byrds, along with their son John, are fixtures in the small press publishing scene, and their list has long embodied the very ideas of diversity and inclusion that are at the forefront of much publishing today. Recent titles include Bloody Seoul by Sonia Patel, a YA novel about a teenager in a Korean gang, and All Around Us by Xelena González and illustrated by Adriana M Garcia, a children's book by an author from the indigenous Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation.
"We have great books ready for the spring and fall this year, but we're not sure that we will be able to get them into the hands of readers," said Byrd. "We always have people stop and say “I love your books,' but then I always want to say 'but do you buy them?' So, we felt it was important to go to our community at this time and say 'we know you love what we do, so now it is time to support us.'"
As for the present, Cinco Puntos is offering all its books for sale online a 40% discount and 50% off should you want to donate books to schools under the company's "Shelter in Books" program, which allows people to sponsor books for local classrooms and teacher in need. "So far, book orders and support for the Shelter in Books program have been really strong," said Byrd. "Fortunately, just before this all happened, we had just re-launched our website. So we got that much right!"
Small Press Distribution, which distributes some 300,000 titles from 400 publishers, has seen a 60% drop off in business. The distributor, which dates back to 1969 and continues to ship books from its warehouse, is seeking $100,000 on GoFundMe to cover a month of salary and benefits for its staff of ten and to pay 20% of the royalties it owes to publishers.
"Although it’s true that books can’t help materially, we believe that reading can expand the horizons of our imagination; help us consider the world we want to live in after the pandemic is over, and how we are going to work for it," wrote SPD publicity manager Tricia Low in SPD's online pitch. "We want to get our community the books from which we can learn the most—those from underrepresented writers, queer and of color, activists and artists—and we want to do so as ethically as possible."
As of Tuesday morning, SPD had raised $8,600 of it it goal.
Lambda Literary, the organization that supports LGBTQ authors and the publishing community, has already suspended its annual awards and much of its operations and said on its website that the organization's "very survival is at risk" unless it is able to raise $175,000 quickly.
"Like many arts organizations that serve historically marginalized communities, we do not have deep cash reserves from which to draw. We have reached a critical juncture," said the organization on its website. "Without immediate and substantial financial assistance, Lambda Literary will be forced to cease operations. Our biggest source of support has always been you, our community. We know that there will be no going back to “normal” after this crisis has passed, but we also don’t want to see a world without Lambda Literary."
The group pulled in more than $100,000 in donations in less than a day.