Monday, May 14, 2007

Perseus Kills 2 Presses

Perseus, which was at the center of my post yesterday on the consolidation of the small not-for-profit press distribution business, appears determined to become Contemporary Publishing Enemy #1 with its most recent news: according to today's Philadelphia Enquirer, after acquiring the Avalon Publishing Group, Perseus's book division is shutting down two Avalon imprints, Carroll and Graf and Thunder's Mouth Press; selling another, Counterpoint Books; and laying off 24 employees from Avalon, with another 21 possibly to leave depending "conversations" on available positions.

As with yesterday's post, I have a personal connection to this news. My book with Chris Stackhouse, Seismosis, is distributed by Small Press Distributors, and so far, it has received very good treatment from that distributor. It was a highlighted book last fall, and even made it onto their best-sellers list (which mean essentially that it was selling, as opposed to flying off shelves), and I have not heard of anyone encountering problems when ordering it via SPD, so I'm thankful that it hasn't gotten caught up with any of the distributors who were devoured. With regard to today's news, I have a story in the Carroll & Graf anthology that E. Lynn Harris edited a few years ago, Freedom in This Village, and was pleased to see that they were actively publishing and supporting gay and lesbian writing by people of color. In addition to E. Lynn's book, some of the notable LGBT writers of color on Carroll & Graf's list include Samuel Delany, Cheryl Clarke, Noel Alumit, and Darieck Scott, but they have also published work by major literary and cultural figures like Edward Albee, Felice Picano, Cecil Beaton, and Lev Raphael, and the current list and backlists of nonfiction, history and current affairs books were also significant.

Thunder's Mouth Press has published such authors as Ishmael Reed, Henry Dumas, and John A. Williams, collections of poems by Joy Harjo and Allen Ginsberg, abd biographies of Howling Wolf and Huey Newton. While these authors will sell their work to other presses and other publishers do focus on these topical areas, it's still a shame, and quite disturbing, to consider the immediate and possible long-term effects of Perseus's purchasing rampage. But as I've noted here before, New Press founder and publisher André Schiffrin's The Business of Books spells out the larger history of what's being detailed in these articles, and without a doubt, the consolidations and related crises of American publishing in 1990s and early 2000s were probably worse, not that provide any consolation or answers.

Update: Redbone Press's Lisa Moore granted me permission to post this email she'd sent to Reggie H. conerning the Perseus news:

thanks for this article, Reggie. i know it focuses on
poetry, but it can be applied to any small press. when
i heard that PGW (Publishers Group West) was going
under, i had to hold my breath and wait for the other
shoe to drop. i've been through three distributors
going bankrupt in my short publishing history, and
that was enough. now i've learned that Perseus, which
bought PGW, *and Consortium (a distributor that was
courting me last year), and CDS have been bought by
Perseus, i'm floored.

is Perseus creating a distribution monopoly? and if
so, what's their motive? purely financial? political?
who owns Perseus? i mean, Perseus on Friday announced
they're closing Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth
books, two of Avalon's imprints. Carroll & Graf has
been publishing some of the country's leading gay
literary fiction. they *just* put out Samuel Delany's
new novel, Dark Reflections. and Hex by Darieck Scott.
they published Freedom in This Village. who's going to
publish such work now? Thunder's Mouth just published
last month We Gotta Have It, film criticism by Esther
Iverem, and the Devil and Dave Chappelle, essays by
William Jelani Cobb.

OK, enough of that. i just had to get it out, i guess.
i'm gonna find out who owns Perseus and what they're
up to.

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