Indie Publishing & Distribution
With my new job started paying a little more attention to publishing issues, especially related to magazine publishing. A couple of related recent stories caught my attention and bring up some interesting financial issues in small press or indie publishing. McSweeney's, one of my favorite publishers, is having financial difficulties due to a bankruptcy filing by their distributor. The are (or were in early June) auctioning off some rarities and inventory and giving subscription discounts to try to raise a big enough chunk of cash to keep operating. They've lost around $130,000 in earnings due to the bankruptcy.
Financial problems with a distributor also caused long running zine Punk Planet to stop publishing in the last week or so. It is pretty much the same story, they signed with a distributor who ended up not paying them and is now (I think) in bankruptcy. There was a great interview with Punk Planet founder Dan Sinker in Chicago Public Radio when I was there last week. Aside from a few ego moments (I can think of several people who would argue that Punk Planet wasn't THE arbiter of indie/ punk culture over the past decade or so), the interview gives a fascinating look at the work of economics of indie and small press publishing and distribution. Other publications, including Utne Reader, apparently worked with the same distributor and are fighting as well.
Both of these cases illustrate the tightrope walk that has to take place for many small publishers, especially literary mags and zines in general. It looks like there is a point when success can cause a need for outside, or more mainstream, distribution which takes some parts of the process out of the hands of the folks who are involved with the publication on a daily basis. And have to handle business issues for multiple publications. The same sort of growing pains that can effect indie record labels that have one or two break out acts. In the words of a great philosopher: mo' money, mo' problems.