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Celebrating 20 Years of SMALL PRESS and INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER: The Magazines of Independent Book Publishing

A Look Back At Two Decades of Promoting Independence in Publishing
This article first appeared in our 20th anniversary, September 2003 issue:

Twenty years is a long time in the publishing business. The world of books is one where trends develop quickly, personnel changes occur overnight, and a new imprint is born (or abandoned) every day.

This publication celebrates its twentieth anniversary this month, counting the various stages of evolution it’s been through. Here are the basics: founded in 1983 by R.R. Bowker; who sold it to Meckler Publishing, who sold to Moyer Bell, who, in late 1995, sold it to Jenkins Group Inc. in Traverse City, Michigan (that’s us).

We published bi-monthly as Small Press until Jan 1998, when we changed the name to Independent Publisher, adopting the motto: “Leading the World of Book Selling in New Directions.” We published the print version of IP until the Nov/Dec 99 issue, and went to an online-only version with the January 2000 issue. (In September 2003 we updated and redesigned the website, and changed our logo to: "THE Voice of the Independent Publishing Industry.")

As they say in song, “it’s been a hard road to travel, with lots of broken dreams along the way.” But here we are, with the same dedication to promoting the independent spirit in publishing that Small Press magazine was launched with. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ride, and will to continue to come along with us.

Some excerpts from two decades of Small Press and IP:

From the first issue, Sept/Oct 1983:

“As everyone in the business knows, the publisher without money problems has yet to release a book, and reading typographic history won’t pay the bills. But after a day of trying to pay every creditor enough to keep the lights on and the presses running, many might find comfort in thinking about Gutenberg’s bankruptcy. We are part of a long tradition, we publishers, printers, editors, and booksellers. Our shops have been destroyed, books have been censored and burned, and we have been imprisoned, exiled, sent to concentration camps, hung and burned at the stake. We have libeled people; driven innocent people from their homes; driven honest people from government service. We have also helped fan the flames of noble revolutions, both political and social. A working knowledge of the history of printing, the book arts, and the book industry can help establish a vital sense of identity that can sometimes keep a harassed publisher from giving up.”- Allan Kornblum, founder of Coffee House Press.

* * * * *

From the first issue under Jenkins Group ownership, Jan/Feb 1996:

“Now the whole publishing business has become very tight and much more impersonal. The stakes are so much higher. By the end of the decade, there will be three publishers in New York doing 90 percent of the publishing and 2,000 independents doing the other ten percent.”

“Get an MBA to be your partner. You can be a literature major, but you need to know the fine points of the numbers game. And you need to know how to sell. The more ‘Barnum’ you have in you, the better you are at it. That’s what it takes: somebody with high energy who is ballsy.”- Noel Young, founder of Capra Press, who died in 2002.

* * * * *

From the 15th anniversary “name change” issue, Jan/Feb 1998:

“To keep pace with industry changes, our new name, Independent Publisher, reflects the spirit behind the production of your books, and not the size of your lists. The new name also accurately characterizes our own plans for the future, and our efforts to be creative when seeking to bring attention to your books.”

“Independent publishing is flourishing today as never before. Those few thousand publishers for whom the magazine was started in 1983 have blossomed into a segment of the industry numbering over 50,000. Books from independent publishers are regular fodder for national bestseller lists, and it is independent publishers who continue to validate new poets and novelists, and who have responded to the growing demand for New Age, spiritual and multi-cultural books.”- Jerrold R. Jenkins, president and founder, Jenkins Group Inc.

* * * * *

From the final print issue, Nov-Dec 1999:

“Publishing has not been in such a precipitous state since 500 years after the last millennium when moveable type was new media. But everyone understood what printing could do; today, we still struggle with e-books, on-demand printing of books, online books, changes in distribution from independent booksellers to superstores, and multimedia books on all forms of recorded media.”

“The only certainty is uncertainty. Publishers have always taken risks with content. Now they are seeing fundamental risks with the very nature of the relationship with their readers.”
- Frank Romano, Professor of Digital Publishing, Rochester Institute of Technology