Susan Hawthorne, director of an independent Australian book publisher, wrote an interesting article for Publishing Perspectives this week. TLDR: mega publishers are too driven by a desire for commercial success, resulting in a homogenisation of their output; independent publishers, on the other hand – more interested in artistic merit than the potential for commercial success – are likely to put out more original material. The result of such quality-driven publishing decisions is the cause of what Hawthorne wonderfully calls ‘cultural bibliodiversity’ within the book market.
I agree with this idea, in part. It might seem rather fanciful and idealistic to assume that all great books come from smaller publishers with a more idiosyncratic view of literature than the hard-nosed data driven behemoths whose only goal is to hit their budgeted targets. And it is; plenty of innovative titles come out of the larger publishing houses, and most of the ones we know aren’t the avaricious villains that some authors and smaller publishers would have you believe. However in a period of uncertainty within the industry, where big publishers are feeling the pinch and clubbing together to find safety in numbers, one would imagine that they are becoming much more risk averse (for the time being, anyway) when it comes to acquiring and commissioning titles.
What Hawthorne neglects to take into account, save a brief mention, is the wave of innovative output from self publishing authors. Many indie writers don’t write in order to woo the mass market or sell millions, but because they want to tell a great story. Without the constraints of trying to tick certain commercial boxes, they are free to write what they want. And with so many of them, indie authors must be a major source of the aforementioned cultural bibliodiversity. But, like biodiversity, what good is it if no one can see it? What use is a rainforest filled with undiscovered species if located on an island that no one has found? And what will happen to all the 21st Century Tolstoys who don’t know how to take their book to market effectively?
Writers don’t need publishers to create great books, but most do need some help if they want people to read their work and receive whatever credit that is due. It would be sad to think that any worthy literary species could become extinct before ever being discovered.