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In Praise of Small Publishers

Published 21st June, 2016 in MRP Guest Blogger
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Image by Lara Wilson

The first story that I had published in a real, actual book, was in an anthology by Margaret River Press. Though I’d published before – in a magazine, in journals and online – these publications didn’t inspire quite the same heady experience as did seeing my work in a book. When Margaret River Press sent me my advance copy of the anthology, I spent a long time just looking at it, feeling the raised typeface on the cover, considering the evocative story titles inside. Of course, this reflection occurred after I’d flicked through the pages to check my own piece which had, miraculously, been transformed from a mere Microsoft Word document to a proper short story.

There’s a quote I love that I think really captures and celebrates the importance of books as cultural objects. It’s from a librarian interviewed by Humans of New York, who says:

A physical book assigns a sense of reverence to the content inside. It’s the same feeling you get when you look at a painting or hear a piece of music. And I think that’s something worth defending.

Something worth defending, indeed.

At a time when our literary culture is under threat by proposed changes to copyright and the amendment of laws to allow parallel imports, it’s worth taking some time to consider the enormous contribution that local publishers – and particularly small publishers such as Margaret River Press – make to our cultural landscape.[1]

Small publishers are typically the ones to take greater risks, to invest in an author’s work because it’s good – even if it fails to meet market-driven demands. The willingness of small publishers to invest in good work is reflected in this year’s Miles Franklin longlist. The longlist featured books from a number of small publishers including University of Queensland Press, Text Publishing, Scribe and Transit Lounge.

Of course, it’s generally accepted that books produced by small publishers can hold their literary weight against those put out by the major publishing houses. However, what’s more interesting to note is that the collective output of small publishers is more significant than you might think. A recent piece of research found that ‘large publishers are no longer the primary mediators of Australian literature’. The research conducted a review of books published in 2012, and found that small publishers University of Queensland Press, Puncher & Wattman, Giramondo, UWA Publishing, Transit Lounge, Fremantle Press, Text Publishing and Scribe had ‘more than double the output of the seven major houses’ when it came to literary fiction and poetry.[2]

Many of the books produced by small publishers are from new and emerging writers, including writers from diverse cultural backgrounds. In this way, small publishers play a key role in enabling a multiplicity of voices to be heard in the public sphere – a fact that enriches both our literary scene, as well as our broader cultural and political debates.

So let’s take some time to celebrate and defend the role of small publishers in Australia. Let’s promote their work, buy their books, and remember the value they bring to our nation, culture and economy, when we go to vote in the upcoming election.


[1] For more information on these proposed changes, refer to the Books Create Australia at http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au/

[2] Emmett Stinson, ‘Small Publishers and the Emerging Network of Australian Literary Prosumption’, 59 Australian Humanities Review April / May 2016.

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