It seems only fitting that small and midsize independent presses should meet at Winter Institute. After all, as Dan Simon, Seven Stories publisher and Independent Publishers Caucus cofounder, says, IPC wouldn’t even exist but for the annual gathering of indie booksellers.
At Winter Institute in Denver in 2016, two incidents caused Simon and Tom Hallock, Beacon Press associate publisher, to form IPC. The first occurred when the ABA presented a report on Amazon’s negative impact upon communities, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” and then strategized with booksellers on how best to make the report’s findings known to their elected representatives, media, and consumers. That same day, Paul Yamazaki of City Lights in San Francisco made an impassioned plea at the Town Hall meeting for more racial and class diversity among booksellers.
Simon and Hallock say that they were struck by the ABA’s aggressive advocacy for indie booksellers, as well as the opportunities the organization provides its members to engage with one another on matters of mutual concern. “We were so impressed by how the ABA supports small businesses,” Hallock says. “They have financial expertise; they have legal expertise. We wanted some of this for ourselves.”
The pair also wanted an organization that could emulate ABA by providing resources and education for its members. IPC’s mission is to raise “our collective IQ as small businesses” and to advocate for a heightened awareness of indie publishing, both within the industry and beyond, with media and consumers. IPC also aspires to be a “more tolerant and inclusive industry” by advocating for more diversity among publishing industry personnel as well as in publishers’ acquisitions. Indie publishing isn’t simply a business, Simon points out; it’s also a cultural endeavor.
Simon says that indie presses tend to be a lot more vulnerable than other businesses: “If Amazon tells us that we can afford to sell our books to them at greater than a 50% discount, we don’t have the wherewithal to say with authority that we can’t. If the printers say we can afford to pay xyz to print our books, we don’t have the wherewithal to say our data says something different. One of my personal goals is that IPC will ultimately provide us with the wherewithal to create knowledge that will lead to us knowing what we can in fact afford to pay our collaborators and partners. We can’t discuss discounts or pricing, of course, but it is still possible for us to arrive at basic sound principles of management that apply specifically to independent book publishing.”
Over the past year, the group, which is in an incubation phase under the aegis of the American Booksellers Association, has grown to include approximately 100 members representing 60 publishers. Though membership currently is free, the organization would like to collect dues in order to hire paid staff.
“We all want to work with books because we love books and love to read,” says Soho Press publisher Bronwen Hruska. “But publishing is a business. And there’s nobody who understands our business model like another indie publisher.”
For Ibrahim Ahmad, editorial director of Akashic Books, “[IPC is] a very exciting development.” He adds: “We’ve all been informally sharing information for years on best practices and other issues. It’s helpful to have this free exchange between like-minded companies. Our collective muscle can move the needle a bit for indie presses.”
At this year’s meeting, publishers will have a chance to voice their concerns at a Town Hall. Greg Cowles, senior editor for the New York Times Book Desk, will speak on cultural and practical aspects of book reviewing and best practices for indie publishers to interact with the NYTBR. In addition, indie booksellers and indie publishers will hold a panel to discuss best practices for working with indie presses to promote and sell more books. Europa Editions’ editor-in-chief Michael Reynolds is looking forward to the panel, which he hopes will produce “something generalizable that we can take to other booksellers [at subsequent conferences] to make indie books part of their bottom line.”
IPC will meet on Monday, January 22, 1–4 p.m., in Magnolia 1, at the Sheraton.