The meaning of Independent in Publishing and Bookselling (part one)

Publishing is an industry focused on words and the term independent is currently being flung around like a meteor shower in deep space. Everyone seemingly wants to be “independent” these days. Sadly, the spirit of the word is being spread thin and the variety of meanings do not all add up. Independent has many folds to it. Does your publishing company publish only your writing or also others? Does your local Independent bookstore support fellow local and independent authors and publishers? How small is small?

The wish to be independent in publishing seems a close relative of the ideas behind “Shop Local” and “Buy Local.” As far as I can tell, small businesses and entrepreneurial-ism has never been more glorified or prevalent than it is now. Much of this is hocus-pocus is marketing though. A webpage, a twitter, all of these seem to give people the feeling that they are on the verge of greatness at any time. A tweet could be just the shot in the dark, or all that’s needed to become wealthy and famous.

Independent bookstores like to draw some sort of heart-felt sympathy out of people to support their stores as the shadows of big stores overtake them. There is a sort of charm they want their customers to covet that we should care more about a “mom and pop” style business than a larger one. That somehow, the small store is helpless against the large behemoth megastore. We know this is not a real thing though. Borders, one of the big bad big stores, that evil force that was going to crush the Indie stores is now gone. The new fear is amazon.com. and that amazon has people running around the place scanning bar codes and invading indie stores. That this does happen is not good, that this will ruin a small store seems unlikely. I believe the independents are stronger than this and are not so helpless. They DO have more to offer than lower prices.

When was the last time amazon hosted a reader’s event? When was the last time amazon.com sponsored an event at a library. When was the last time amazon.com had a book writer’s group meet at their store? When was the last time an amazon branch manager waved at a local author on the street?…

I am getting a bit side-tracked. What I want to get at is that the word Independent doesn’t instantly mean what it is supposed to me. These days self-published authors are trying to claim they are independent publishers. Granted, they are independent. They are small. The University of ____ (insert name of a press) Press is a small press too. I think we both know that the spirit of the small press is not someone who does their own book once. And this is not a knock on self-publishing, I began the very same way and William Blake was self-published. I only feel it is more accurate to declare you are self-published rather than to be vague. I’d hate to see the concept of brave and fiercely independent be watered down and deemed worthless. Let’s not weaken the beautiful term independent.