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    What the closure of Small Press Distribution means for readers.

    Drew Broussard

    March 29, 2024, 9:17am

    Depending on which corners of literary social media you frequent, yesterday’s breaking news that SPD (Small Press Distribution) was going under was either an enormous surprise or a predictable tragedy, but the suddenness of the news was a shock to everyone.

    Effective immediately, the 55-year-old distribution house—which served over three hundred small and independent presses, helping get their books to retailers across the world—has ceased operations.

    Posts from some SPD-distributed publishers on Twitter and Bluesky report that they’ve been told that they will not get paid for recent books sold and will have to in fact pay to get their own books returned from Ingram, where SPD transferred books earlier this year. It is almost certain that there will be indie presses who cannot recover from this latest tidal wave of bad news.

    So, what does this mean for you? Whether you’re a reader or a writer or just a supporter of decentralized culture, the closure of SPD matters because it is one less way for books to be disseminated. Anne Trubek, who runs the indie press Belt Publishing and writes the Notes from a Small Press newsletter, suggested on Bluesky that distribution is a challenge under-represented at the moment in our discourse, which indeed focuses on high-profile topics like Amazon’s monopoly and “bold” new attempts to redefine how publishing works.

    Distribution isn’t exactly sexy, but infrastructure rarely is—and failing infrastructure will come for all of us, in the end. Without distribution, the books you want to read (or that you don’t yet know you want to read but may discover in an independent bookstore) will have a harder time getting into your hands. The harder that gets for anybody outside the major publishing groups, the fewer options we’ll have as readers for where to get our books, and as writers for where we can get our work published.

    Author Matt Bell, on Twitter (okay okay X), made one of the earliest calls for how you can help your favorite small presses: by ordering books from them directly.

    For publishers affected by SPD’s closure, The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) is hosting an emergency next-steps Zoom gathering today (Fri Mar 29) at 12pm ET.


    Here’s the full statement posted to the SPD website (which was fully functional for searches and taking orders as of Wednesday, to give you an idea of how quickly this happened):

    It is with great sadness and a profound gratitude for the amazing literary community we have served that we must today announce that Small Press Distribution (SPD) is closing its doors effective immediately. We know this news is both sudden and devastating.

    For more than five decades, SPD has distributed books for hundreds of independent literary publishers, allowing thousands of writers to bring diverse, experimental, and disruptive literature to audiences across the globe. SPD’s impact on the literary world over the past 55 years is hard to overstate. Against all odds, a tiny distribution service in the back of Berkeley’s Serendipity Books grew to help authors attain some of the literary world’s crowning achievements. SPD-distributed authors won multiple National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthur “Genius” Grants, PEN Awards, Lambda Literary Awards–nearly 100 awards since 2019 alone.

    Unfortunately, these accolades were no match for the challenges of a rapidly changing book industry and funding environment. Several years of declining sales and the loss of grant support from almost every institution that annually supported SPD have combined to squeeze our budget beyond the breaking point. SPD lost hundreds of thousands in grants in the past few years as funders moved away from supporting the arts. The tireless efforts of a world-class staff to raise new funds, find new sales channels for our presses, and exit our expensive Berkeley warehouse couldn’t compensate for these losses. SPD exhausted every avenue in seeking emergency funding and loans to avoid the shutdown.

    Publishers: We are honored that you have let us steward your works and authors for these past five decades. Our inventory of 300,000 books is in safe hands, having been transferred to our SPD Next partners Ingram Content Group and Publishers Storage and Shipping (PSSC) over the past several months. You will need to contact Ingram or PSSC to discuss distribution options and the return or disposition of your books. Please see our other, publisher-only email for the appropriate contact information.

    The SPD staff has been reduced to a minimal team that is in the process of winding down operations. We regret they are not able to respond to individual queries.

    We are so privileged to have worked in the center of the literary community for so many decades. SPD has connected small presses and their authors to readers around the world for more than half a century. SPD was founded in 1969 by Bay Area independent booksellers Peter Howard and Jack Shoemaker, starting with just eight small presses and reaching a peak of more than five hundred. Generations of devoted staffers gave it their all.

    Everyone at SPD is heartbroken at this devastating outcome, which seriously jeopardizes the ability of underrepresented literary communities to reach the marketplace. We thank you for your years of support.

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