Small Press Distribution (SPD) Shuts Down
April 2, 2024 4:01 AM   Subscribe

Small Press Distribution, one of the last remaining independent book distributors in the United States, has closed. In an announcement made March 28, SPD executive director Kent Watson said that the closure is effective immediately, and that the staff is in the process of winding down the business. Founded in 1969, SPD was the only nonprofit literary distributor in the U.S. What the closure of SPD means for readers.

Someone pulled a list of publishers from SPD's pages on Archive.org and posted the list as a spreadsheet. If you care about such things, get it before it's gone.
posted by cupcakeninja (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Back when I ran a bookstore, I used to say that anyone could sell you a book you wanted, but it took a bookseller to sell you a book you didn’t know you wanted. Independent distributors were booksellers for booksellers; they gathered together things that you might otherwise never have heard of and made them available. If your rep was any good, they would have enough of a sense of your audience to steer titles toward you that could be huge hits for you (and sometimes earn you off material that looked promising but wouldn’t sell for you). This is sad news, although I’ve been out of the business for decades.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:15 AM on April 2 [17 favorites]


They are the distributor for the main publisher on our island, House of Nehesi. I wonder what other options they have.
posted by snofoam at 4:17 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Despite efforts to raise new funds, SPD simply couldn’t afford to go on: “SPD lost hundreds of thousands in grants in the past few years as funders moved away from supporting the arts.”

I worked for a little while in a bookstore in the US, and had friends who owned or managed bookstores. One thing that surprised me was finding out that such a large proportion of US literary culture was distributed through a non-profit, that an incredibly important part of the American cultural infrastructure was dependent on the goodwill of a bunch of rich folks. And turns out, depending on rich folks’ goodwill fucks you over in the end.
posted by Kattullus at 5:30 AM on April 2 [25 favorites]


It’s always sad to see a small company go, but in this case I won’t miss the industry at all.

I won't live long enough to see it, but let me tell you, as someone that has spent the last ~25 years beating his head against the problem: physical media is *all that's going to survive in the long run*.

We're standing on the edge of a gaping black hole, culturally. It's all going to go.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:45 AM on April 2 [52 favorites]


I look forward to the glorious future where the only books available are whatever the newest bestseller is from that series by Famous Author (ghostwritten of course), and who even needs bookstores when the online retailer can just pump out a garbage quality print-on-demand version the minute you order it

(This is the worst timeline)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:54 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


As the publisher of a small press that is getting to the point where we might have worked with SPD, this sucks. There are some other companies doing similar things, like Asterism, but not at nearly the same scale.
posted by goatdog at 6:03 AM on April 2 [9 favorites]


.

As someone who was once involved with the Bay Area poetry scene, this one really hurts. One thing I really loved is that they opened their stock room to the public once a year for discounted purchases. It was so exciting wandering the stacks, finding works by authors you liked and authors you'd never heard of, and coming home with a stack of books and chapbooks.
posted by treepour at 6:18 AM on April 2 [12 favorites]


Ah, crud.
posted by praemunire at 8:14 AM on April 2


oh noooooooo.

.

Distribution is one of those "middleman" sectors that often get short shrift in economic/cultural analyses. Back when I was an active zine maker, I deeply appreciated distros as valuable resources for writers and readers alike. They still exist of course (hello Antiquated Future!).
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:25 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]


And turns out, depending on rich folks’ goodwill fucks you over in the end.

Especially when the new generation of rich people believe that reading is a waste of time.
posted by thivaia at 8:32 AM on April 2 [6 favorites]


In the college library, back around 1970 or so, I discovered this amazing book about an art movement I never heard of, Fluxus. It was by this guy Dick Higgins, and it looked like a Bible. It was a great book published in 1969 by Something Else Press. Jump ahead to around 1993 or 1994. The SF Museum of Modern Art had a Fluxus show that included an evening of Fluxus performance. And Dick Higgins was there! I told him about my discovery of his book and that I wished I had got a copy. He told me that when he closed Something Else Press, SPD had bought out the inventory and that they may have that book. I called them up the next day and they did! That’s how I learned about them. I really liked their yearly open houses where I could browse their stock and discover more great things. Yeah, I’m ancient, I enjoy physical books that will last centuries. I also appreciate the ability to browse in real bookstores just like I love to browse in libraries (see above). Due to Covid, the open houses stopped. Now they’re gone too…

.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:42 AM on April 2 [15 favorites]


physical media is *all that's going to survive in the long run*.

I don't want to derail from the books topic, but I'll say this was something that I struggled with mightily as I've gotten rid of my CDs over the last few years, which had previously spent several years in a tall stack of boxes in my closet. Like is all that music available on streaming? Sure. (Well, technically no, but 90% of it is.) But how many years down the line will it be before you have to listen to an ad on Spotify every three songs? At the 30 second mark of a song, unless you buy a second tier of service? Some kind of deliberate degradation-for-money scheme is going to come down the line one day soon. I'm sure it will be creative, and also stupid.

But anyway, a one bedroom apartment doesn't fit a CD collection AND a record collection. Something's gotta go.
posted by kensington314 at 10:09 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]


It’s always sad to see a small company go, but in this case I won’t miss the industry at all.

Distributing physical books? You're against distributing physical books?
posted by kimberussell at 10:47 AM on April 2 [19 favorites]


It’s always sad to see a small company go, but in this case I won’t miss the industry at all.

Thanks for letting us know! Your generous contribution to this discussion has really enriched the conversation.
posted by snofoam at 11:14 AM on April 2 [15 favorites]


distribute large amounts of text without killing trees and moving them around.

Let's talk about how your iPhone was made, and from what, and by whom, and under what conditions, and how much carbon power it takes to keep the server farms running 24/7/365 so you can read Instagram.
posted by spitbull at 11:19 AM on April 2 [17 favorites]


But anyway, a one bedroom apartment doesn't fit a CD collection AND a record collection. Something's gotta go.

So this may be apocryphal but legend on NY's downtown music scene has it that (composer/musician/impresario) John Zorn at one point had his kitchen removed in an East Village walkup apartment so he could store more records. Perfectly reasonable when you think about Zorn, NYC rents and eating habits, and the importance of record collections.
posted by spitbull at 11:30 AM on April 2 [11 favorites]


It’s always sad to see a small company go, but in this case I won’t miss the industry at all.

Ah, yes, making it even more difficult for small/micro presses (which probably have a whopping four- to five-figure combined annual readership) to distribute their books will definitely strike a real blow against the climate catastrophe. Meanwhile...
posted by paper scissors sock at 12:41 PM on April 2 [12 favorites]


Back when I ran a bookstore, I used to say that anyone could sell you a book you wanted, but it took a bookseller to sell you a book you didn’t know you wanted.

Here in SF, there was a bookstore on Haight street, new books. This guy there was responsible for setting up author visits and handled remaindered books, mostly from England. After a few times going there, I would walk in, he would spot me and say he’d got something for me. He would go to the remainder table, grab a book, and sure enough he was right. This happened over and over. This is how recommended for you should work. Fuck algorithms.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:03 PM on April 2 [13 favorites]


RIP - they were enabling access to and helping curate some really cool stuff. I had a good friend who worked there for a bit back in the day, and it always seemed like a fascinating place.


It’s always sad to see a small company go, but in this case I won’t miss the industry at all.

Well that's certainly a take, isn't it.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:51 PM on April 2 [8 favorites]


I took it to mean they would not miss working in the industry.
posted by rochrobbb at 7:15 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


> I won't live long enough to see it, but let me tell you, as someone that has spent the last ~25 years beating his head against the problem: physical media is *all that's going to survive in the long run*.

this is why i inscribe all my most favorited metafilter comments onto clay tablets which i subsequently bake and bury. given enough time my writings will eventually become the only non-fragmentary source for info on the 20th and early 21st century and as a result the archeologists of the far future will believe that the cold war wasn’t between the u.s. and the u.s.s.r. but instead between the u.s. and a multitrillion-ton sea monster named lomlor that used classified documents passed along by sympathetic marine biologists combined with its own observations of the bikini atoll tests to develop a nuclear arsenal which by the mid-1960s had become comparable in both size and destructiveness to the one held by the united states itself.

anyway if you want this glorious future to happen all you gotta do is mash that little plus button down there
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 10:36 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


More about how dire the situation is for small independent publishers (and the writers/readers who love them): "The Small Press World is About to Fall Apart": On the Collapse of Small Press Distribution
posted by paper scissors sock at 2:58 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


KQED had reported that “In recent ears, SPD has been rocked by instability and controversy. Watson, the current executive director, was hired in 2022 following an 18-month period of uncertainty after the resignation of Brent Cunningham. Cunningham’s tenure was cut short after accusations of discrimination and wage theft.” Does anyone know more about how this might have undermined financial stability?
posted by Riverine at 12:12 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


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