Approximately 50 professionals from 65 independent presses gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., on the Monday afternoon before Winter Institute 13 (WI13) officially began, for a meeting of the Independent Publishers Caucus. The IPC is an advocacy organization conceived at WI11 in Denver in 2016 by Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon and Beacon Press associate publisher Tom Hallock.
The IPC is currently in an incubation phase under the aegis of the American Booksellers Association, whose CEO, Oren Teicher, welcomed the group to WI13, which has drawn 680 booksellers from 370 indie bookstores to Memphis this week.
"The ABA has no interest in becoming a publishers association," Teicher said. "But we are delighted to help you."
This year's meeting was, as previous meetings of the fledgling organization have been, both a discussion of prosaic matters and lofty ideals. Simon announced that IPC has begun seeking institutional support for its initiatives and needs “between $25,000-$50,000" in order to move on to the next stage and hire part-time staff. (Publishers Weekly has extended a promise of financial and advertising support to the organization, which currently has 100 members, for the next three years.) The organization also plans to start charging dues this year.
The steering committee also announced that IPC, which currently has three committees under the general steering committee umbrella–finance, communication, and advocacy–will add a fourth committee to focus on diversity issues.
“We like to pride ourselves as effective publishers of diverse books," said Ibrahim Ahmad, Akashic Books editorial director and a member of IPC's steering committee, before criticizing the lack of diversity in leadership positions at independent publishing companies. “It’s quite pathetic and embarrassing."
The afternoon also featured a slate of presentations by guest speakers, beginning with Greg Cowles, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, who discussed the cultural and practical aspects of book reviewing. Following that, a panel of four indie booksellers discussed best practices for indie publishers. If there was a theme to both the presentation by Cowles and the bookseller panel, it was that the relationship between media, indie booksellers, and indie publishers is symbiotic.
“Book reviewing is all about the relationship with publishers,” Cowles noted, disclosing that book reviews are an important part of the New York Times’ mission and identity. “The relationship remains strong as long as publishers send in work that is interesting to us and to readers.”
The booksellers emphasized the importance of their curation of inventory and handselling. On that note, Ben Rybeck, manager of Brazos Bookstore in Houston, urged indie publishers to cultivate relationships with specific indie booksellers in the same way that they cultivate relationships with specific media contacts. Rybeck also lauded indie press editors for interacting with indie booksellers, saying, "The majors don't do that. It's fun for us to see that pipeline. That contact is special."