Are small literary presses the future of publishing?

Last week Random House and Penguin merged to create what they’re calling “the world’s first truly global trade book publishing company” – Penguin Random House.

Boris Kachka writes in the New York Times that, by trimming the number of book publishers, such consolidations threaten the diversity of literature, which has dire consequences for both writers and readers.

Among the imprints that survive, the tendency is to homogenize and focus on a few general fields like ambitious nonfiction, accessible literary fiction or thrillers. “Legacy” publishing does best in the first category: it commands the advances needed for research, the editing talent to shape the writing and the marketing muscle to distribute those doorstop biographies on Father’s Day…

As for literary fiction, more and more of the interesting and strange variety — the labors of love on which famous editors like Robert Giroux, Maxwell Perkins and Barney Rosset once placed their bets — may migrate to smaller presses. Graywolf, Milkweed and McSweeney’s (none of them in New York) may not have the resources of their spiritual predecessors, but they have what new owners often lack: personality, mission and focus.

So many books are published — almost certainly, more than ever — that predicting a blanket decline in quality would be ridiculous. But whether literary culture is best served by the ceaseless centralization of publishing is a question worth asking.

It’s nice to see that two of the publishers Kachka holds up as examples of quality publishers — Graywolf and Milkweed — are based here in the Twin Cities.

You can read Kachka’s full op-ed here.