Why we need independent publishers

Quercus logoLast week it was announced that Hodder & Stoughton was to buy Stieg Larsson’s publisher, Quercus, an independent  started by Anthony Cheetham back in 2005. For several years it was the book trade’s darling, its success no doubt helped along by Cheetham’s many years of publishing experience combined with his legendary entrepreneurial nous. Finding itself cash-strapped, it had put itself up for sale a few months ago and I had been anxious about who might buy it. It came hard on the heels of the announcement that Little, Brown was buying Constable & Robinson, another independent

I’m very fond of independent publishers – they’re more likely to produce books that are a little out of the mainstream rather than staying on a bandwagon for rather too long. They keep the big boys and girls of the publishing world on their toes but sometimes find themselves swallowed up by the conglomerates as happened to Fourth Estate who caught HarperCollins’ eye. As is often the case with independents their very inventiveness results in a huge success – in this case Dava Soebel’s Longitude which opened up a whole new genre of niche history – attracting the attention of the publishing behemoths. That particular acquisition was accompanied by the appointment of Victoria Barnsley, whose baby Fourth Estate was, to CEO of HarperCollins which ensured that it didn’t entirely lose its personality. Sadly, since her surprise departure last year, Barnsley is longer holding the reins.

I’m a great fan of Quercus – good strong commercial fiction and crime coupled with theCorsair logo literary and translated fiction of Maclehose Press. I’m sure Hodder will take care of them – worries about the takeover of the illustrious John Murray, surely the most venerable of independents, proved unfounded – and that Little, Brown will look after Corsair, Constable & Robinson’s literary fiction imprint, long a favourite of mine. There are a multitude of independents out there, many of them publishing in enterprising and inventive ways: Persephone’s beautifully produced women’s lost classics, originally only sold from their own shop, filled the Virago Classic gap; Profile’s often quirky and original non-fiction is always worth a look; not to mention Alma’s short but carefully chosen list plus And Other Stories’ inventive crowd sourcing, publishing by subscription approach. Some of them have reserves to live off – Faber have a solid backlist of plays, poetry and William Golding while Bloomsbury still has the Harry Potter goldmine. These, along with Canongate who filled that Fourth Estate gap for me, Granta, publishers of the Man Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries, and Atlantic are some of my favourite publishers. I’m sure many of you will have your own treasured independents – I’d love to hear who they are.

7 thoughts on “Why we need independent publishers

  1. Annabel (gaskella)

    Long live the indie press! I’m very fond of Welsh indie Seren’s ‘New stories from the Mabinogion’ series. Legend Press are quirky and contemporary, I recently discovered Freight – a Scottish indie, and Eland do wonderful travel books (incl Norman Lewis’s brilliant ones on Sicily etc)

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Absolutely! I think they’re a bit like fringe theatre – less money means more inventiveness. Thanks for your favourites. I’ve not come across Freight but will look them up.

      Reply
  2. Annecdotist

    It’s worrying to see the little fish swallowed up by the bigger ones, although hopefully new independents will spawn to take their place. I’m afraid I don’t always notice the publisher, but have to take this chance to do a plug for Salt which published the Booker-shortlisted The Lighthouse (see here for my Q&A with Alison Moore http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/alison-moore.html) and Linen Press (http://linen-press.com/) focusing on books by women including The Making of Her (http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/susie-nott-bower.html).

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Oh, I like Salt – they hail from lovely Norfolk, don’t they – but haven’t come across the Linen Press. I’ll look them up. Thanks, Anne.

      Reply
  3. cleopatralovesbooks

    I have to confess until I started blogging I took no notice of the different publishers but since I have, I have clear favourites, Quercus being one of them. I share your sadness that these independent publishers are being swallowed up by the bigger ones…

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I know, and it’s got worse since I wrote that post – the enormous Penguin/Random House behemoth has come into existence.

      Reply
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