Small presses at risk – results of Spread the Word and The Bookseller Survey


Spread the Word and The Bookseller’s survey into small and independent presses in the UK and Ireland has revealed the extent to which they are at risk due to the impact of Covid-19

As London’s literature development agency and a charity Spread the Word’s work is focused on opening up access and opportunity for writers from under-represented backgrounds to develop their craft and kickstart their career as authors. We need a vibrant and multi-layered publishing industry so that our writers’ work can find a home. We are part of the ‘supply chain’ of the industry, along with small and independent presses, increasing the range of voices and stories we get to read and hear.

It is clear that small and independent press are being disproportionally affected and bearing the brunt financially. The majority of them are completely reliant on printed formats and public facing engagement to keep them viable. With the breakdown of distribution networks and the postponement and cancellation of events, 75% reported an immediate loss of sales of 50% and over, and, 20% an immediate loss of sales of 80% and over. Critically, 58% have no cashflow to support the business going forward.

The financial circumstances for many of these majority micro-businesses mirrors that of many creatives who work in this industry – they have ‘fallen through the gaps’ of government schemes and are also ineligible for loans. Many are using personal finances to continue trading and paying the people they employ often on a freelance basis. Only 26% are optimistic that they will recover by March 2021.

The survey shows that small and independent presses play an essential role in the publishing ecosystem. They are at the forefront of publishing debut writers; promoting and finding audiences for literary fiction, translated fiction and poetry and actively launching and building the careers of writers of colour and working-class writers.

The world has already changed because of Covid-19. If we want to ensure the diversity and vibrancy of our literary and publishing culture, the industry as a whole must not let small and independent presses fall.

Collective action is needed

“If we want to continue to open up writing as a career choice, particularly for under-represented writers, and to develop new audiences for books, we need a healthy independent sector … We would call on the industry as a whole to review how business is done – from supply chains through to returns  – and for funders into the independent sector to open up a conversation about how investments could be made to ensure small presses and independents continue to thrive.” Literature Works, National Centre for Writing, New Writing North, New Writing South, Spread the Word, Writing East Midlands and Writing West Midlands

Collective action across the literature and publishing sector is needed to ensure that small and independent presses can survive the immediate impact of Covid-19, including: running an indie press marketing and communications campaign; putting a finance intervention in place (for e.g.: a trade fund) and investment for online selling and marketing.

In addition, Spread the Word is calling on the publishing industry to talk and listen to small and independent presses about what strategic and structural changes would be useful to support them to survive and thrive in the longer-term: from new alliances in a similar vein to the Northern Fiction Alliance; greater involvement of the publishing trade bodies to champion the work of the indies; to wider co-ordination across the industry to support innovation and digital infrastructure that will ensure greater stability for all.

Our support for London’s small and independent presses

We are partnering with Knights Of and Jacaranda Books, two diverse-led London-based independents, who have been critically affected by Covid-19 on their #InclusiveIndies crowdfunder. If you are able to, we would urge you to support their crowdfunder.

We will be continuing to advocate for and promote London’s small and independent presses and the critical role they play in not only nurturing and developing London’s writers but also in broadening the range of stories we get to read and hear.

If you are a London-based small or independent press and would like open up a conversation about how we can best move forward together, please do get in touch with Spread the Word’s director Ruth Harrison.

Published 7 May 2020