2 February 09 | Chad W. Post

This article in the Christian Science Monitor about e-books and indie presses is fantastic for showing how smaller presses are more proactive when it comes to e-anything.

But it’s not the bigger houses, such as Macmillan or HarperCollins, that are moving the fastest. Instead, some of the most extensive restructuring efforts are being undertaken in the independent publishing world, traditionally a hotbed for innovation and experimentation.

Last month, in a much-trumpeted example, New York’s Soft Skull Press announced it would begin to move its entire catalog online. Richard Nash, Soft Skull’s publisher, tells the Monitor, “The aim is to have every one of our front- and back-list books available [digitally] by the end of the year.” (Heavily illustrated books, which are very expensive and unwieldy to convert, will likely be the exception.) If successful, it would be a feat unmatched by any corporate publisher.

And the reasoning why places like Akashic and Soft Skull are getting things done online before the bigger publishers is a sentiment often repeated on this blog:

“In general, I’d say the big publishers tend to be really dinosaurs, intrigued by e-books but afraid of them,” says Paul Biba, the coeditor of Teleread, a leading e-book blog. “[Younger readers] have grown up with a whole different way of looking at the world, and I don’t think many publishers understand this. They think people are just sitting down in leather chairs and reading hardcopy books.”

In some important ways, the infrastructure of a typical independent press is better suited to a digital transition than its corporate counterparts. Smaller staffs mean decisions can be made quickly, without much internal friction. And editors and writers are often more open-minded when it comes to distribution and marketing. As the publishing world undergoes its most radical changes in centuries, the fast and light ethos could be an asset.

And on the other end of the spectrum, it’s equally cool that Matvei Yankelevich from Ugly Duckling Presse is quoted as saying

that many followers of independent publishers have an emotional attachment to the printed word. “I don’t think,” Mr. Yankelevich says, “that people who are reading poetry, for example, would buy that poetry in e-book form. They might read a sample of the poem online, though, and that might put books in the hands of the audiences. It’s more a question of opportunity.”

If you’ve ever picked up an Ugly Duckling book, you’ll know why Matvei is “emotionally attached” to print—their books are stunning, with great texture and a very unique look and feel. And the quality is great as well, which is why UDP has a couple finalists on the Best Translated Book of 2008 award for poetry.

(I have to admit, it’s great to be able to point to an article that includes three of my favorite presses . . . )

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