What’s in a name?

At the recent FantasyCon there was a panel discussion that I sadly missed (due to something called ‘lazy-gitness-whilst-under-the-influence-of-alcohol’ syndrome) about what we should collectively call the plethora of small publishing outfits that constitute a large percentage of our scene. Should it be called (as it has historically been) the ‘small-press’ or the ‘independent press’? Although I missd the panel, here are some thoughts of mine that may add to the debate (alternatively, you can just tell me to shut up….).

I’ll start by going back to my days of running the record label for a moment. Necessarily, the label wasn’t a huge operation, although it was run as a self-employed business, with accounts and all that legal malarky. And it most certainly wasn’t competing on the same footing as any of the majors. For a start, it was devoted to the kind of music that the big guns would run a mile from, citing that it was ‘uncommercial’ (which it most decidedly, and proudly, was). I didn’t have the advertising budgets or the operational costs of the majors either. Therefore, it was known as an ‘indie’ (independent) label and was run on a much smaller scale than any of the ones that you’d find stocked in HMV, for instance.

Note, though, that outfits such as FracturedSpacesRecords was before it went under are seen as independent record labels, not small record labels. It denotes that there’s a distinction between what the majors cater to and the market at which my offerings were aimed at. The term independent somehow conveys a seriousness that would be missing were that scene called small labels, or small music. See what I’m getting at here?

In terms of the thriving genre literature arena, the use of the term small-press gives the impression of it being a place where frustrated, hopeless or untalented writers get their chance of seeing their work in print, which, in my experience, is far from the truth. While at one time it may have served as an accurate descriptor of people busily mimeographing or photocopying ‘zines/books and then stapling them together themselves, many of the presses feeding the scene nowadays are professionally-run outfits producing first-class products. Gone are the days of hideously- and grubbily-reproduced pages of typewritten stories and articles – now, in some cases at least, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish them from material emerging from the big publishing houses. Additionally, the quality of the stories/novels/collections themselves is absolutely immense and, I would venture to say, contain some of the best writing to be found anywhere, despite what the literary snobs would have you believe. So, in essence, there is nothing ‘small’ about this aspect of the publishing industry at all.

So, maybe, just maybe, it’s about time we ditched the ‘small-press’ epithet and called it the ‘independent press’ instead. It would be fair to say, at least from what I have seen, that it has grown up considerably since the days of the lonely nerd sitting in his bedroom, tapping away on an old manual typewriter well into the early hours, and then hand-pasting everything so he/she can go down to the copy-shop the next day to produce a few copies to send to mates and other interested people. The computer (and the advent of desk-top publishing) has mercifully done away with all that and allowed publishing entrepreneurs to produce a good-looking product relatively cheaply. On top of that, the internet has thrown up the possibilities of reaching out to people from all over the place, so increasing the ‘fan’ base of any enterprise. Consequently, the scene itself has grown.

In my opinion, we have to show ourselves as being serious people, running serious (and ambitious) enterprises, that we want to nurture genuine talent and in the process present, and promote, it in a serious way. We can’t do that unless we move away from the ‘small’ (therefore all-too readily ignored) press and shifted onto firmer ground by calling it ‘independent’. Spectral Press will itself be known as an independent publisher for that reason. That may be seen as pretentious, but I have a serious intent when it comes to the imprint, make no mistake about that. And I will be busy promoting the independent press at every opportunity.

Anyway, these are my thoughts – what are yours?

(Before anyone fires a flame/rant at me for writing this – this is just my opinion. If you run a publishing outfit and are happy calling it a ‘small-press’, then that’s brilliant – I am simply stating what the term conjures up in my mind. And, in all honesty, there’s always the possibility that I could be wrong…)


10 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Why not take a leaf out of the brewing industry’s book and call it micro-publishing? That would also acknowledge the huge part played by PCs and the internet in small press publishing, marketing and distribution. (And writing, of course.)

  2. I’ve been trying for a while. I keep calling Morrigan Books indie press and people keep referring to us as small…

  3. Yes I prefer ‘independent press’. Habits die hard, though…

  4. Independent press. Yes. Much better than “Small”
    If you use it to describe each other in reviews etc. as well as when describing yourselves it will eventually take over.

  5. As I originate from the stapled magazine era I tend to say small press (sorry, Mark). I do prefer independent press, but just don’t tend to use the term.

    Small music? Yeah, sounds wrong.

  6. Thana Niveau Says:

    “Indie press” has the same connotation for me as “indie film” – that is to say edgy, unconventional, uncommercial, non-mainstream, etc. I’ll do my best to train myself out of saying “small press” from now on and hopefully it will catch on eventually. 🙂

  7. Indie it is. I was introduced to the term a while back by the indie-fatigable( see what I did there? ) Dan Holloway of then Year Zero Press and now also Eight Cuts Gallery Press – and I’ve been an Indie Press bod ever since.

    Even if a press gets big it can stay indie though – I don’t think indie necessarily has to mean small – but it definitely describes a ‘tude. Even if we were making gazillions and printing thousands of books ( ah… one can but dream ) I would hope Endaxi would still be indie in word and deed.

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