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Small is 'almost always more passionate'

11 April 2005

The role of small publishers in the publishing mix seems on the face of it to be declining as they are edged out by the big boys (see News Review 4 April). In fact as corporate publishers become more risk-averse, this is where we can look for innovation and new ideas. The London Book Fair started its life as a small publishers’ fair and has now grown so busily international that next year it will relocate to a larger site in London’s Docklands. Throughout its existence, small publishers have attended the Fair and done important business there. Meanwhile big publishers, for many years disdainful about its usefulness, eventually moved in and ended up dominating it.

The shortlist for the Van Tulleken Company Small Publisher of the Year Award, to be awarded on Tuesday, shows the range and vigour of the sector. The shortlist includes John Blake, which sold 750,000 copies of Katie Price’s Being Jordan, Short Books, for whom Simon Barnes’ How to be a Bad Birdwatcher was a surprise seller and White Ladder Press where Richard Craze’s own The Voice of Tobacco provided a leg-up for the company. The most obvious recent success in the UK is Profile’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a phenomenal word-of-mouth bestseller.

Martin Ellis of Zymurgy Publishing, writing in the Bookseller, put it this way: 'Many believe that small independent publishers are weird, esoteric and on their death bed. But members of the Independent Publishers' Guild regularly win awards across all genres, and their books are available on every high street. Customers in bookshops do not know - or even less care - if a book is published by a large multinational or a small independent.

Small can be beautiful, innovative, entertaining, informative - and is almost always more passionate.'

Recently independents in the UK have clubbed together under the banner of Faber and FaberClick for Faber and Faber Publishers References listing to address an area of possible weakness - the difficulty of maintaining an effective sales operation. Operating flexibly, the new sales force will sell books for a number of independents, including Profile, Atlantic and Canongate, and will be a force to be reckoned with.

It is to publishers in this consortium, the many other members of the Independent Publishers Guild and small firms worldwide that we can look for the innovation and growth which small companies can offer within publishing.