in-D distro woes: our disillusioned history w/ $PD + what's Next 4 Ↄalamari arↄHive
3/9/23> Big ¢h-¢h-changes for Ↄalamari this week, we dropped sMall Press Distribution + switched 2 Asterism 4 reasons wheel go in2 in this here post. We provide our 2¢ hear on 5cense 2 bee transparent + learn from past mistakes + b/c such intel might bee useful "to any 1 dumb enough 2 start a small press" az we're inklined 2 preface such diatribes with... + also w/ the usual di5¢laimer that we never studied or worked in the writing or publiching industry so have no bizness doing what we do, we just make it up az we go along.
Distribution has always been a bottle-necking dilemma for Ↄalamari arↄHive, ink. as we mentioned in post #924 (wherein we gave the nuts + bolts of all aspeↄts of publishing ala Ↄalamari, 4 any curious, 2 at least learn from our misTakes). When we 1st started Ↄalamari 20 yrs ago, we dealt directly w/ select bookstores... @ the height of this beginning era we had a list of sum 30–50 shops that carried Ↄalamari titles. But most of these were on consignment, and there was the tedious task of following up for payment (@ almost always a 60/40 split, in theory), and more often than not the bookstores lost track of the paperwork and didn't know what sold, or what happened to the books if they weren't there. The only bookstores that were great out about paying were St Marks Bookshop (sadly, since closed) + the incomparable Powell's in Portland. Quimby's in Chicago + Skylight books in L.A. were also pretty reliable + supportive (tho we think it was on consignment basis). But the rest it was like giving our books away 4 free, may as well put them in our own Lit-L Liebury Boox. Nobody wants to disparage brick + mortar bookstores, just like nobody wants to disparage SPD, or "SPD Next" as they're now called... @ the end of the day we're all just trying to get books into people's hands. But we especially didn't want to poo-poo $PD b/c, well, there was no alternative, it was really the only option.
Our troubles w/ $PD began right when we signed on w/ them circa 2006. In theory they were sposed to pay quarterly, but you always had to follow up + call + nag them to get paid + they got up to a year behind (which they defensively blamed on "bad debt" from bookstores, insisting it was the nature of the biz, that they were simply passing the buck (or lack thereof) on). And their quarterly statements we're always cryptic + hard 2 read + when we questioned them about a lot of books that it seems were unaccounted for, they admitted they made a mistake, and to their credit made good on the error (the spike in 2010—essentially the only year we've ever made a profit—in our historical income versus expenses graph we recently posted is b/c of a $5,000 dollar back-payment from $PD to make up for this clerical error). They got better about paying almost quarterly after that + then we started living overseas from 2009–2013 and then 2015, and travelling a lot when we weren't, so we were grateful to have $PD taking care of stuff on the homefront. And then in 2018 that shitshow of inapropriation started to unfold, exposing the exploitive toxicity of the $PD workplace. And it wasn't so much as what happened as how they handled the aftermath.
We had ½ a mind to leave them then, but we were again living overseas in 2018–19 so were deependant on them. And again, what was the alternative? They also kept raising their prices (in 2006 it was $125/yr + $20 per new title... now it's $420/yr + $125/new title) + then on top of it most every email we receive from them they grovel for donations, which is weird, right? Why shd we have 2 don8 to an organization that we're already paying exorbitant fees, 4 a service they're barely providing? This was a big reason why we had been talking w/ Gian at Tyrant books about having Ↄalamari arↄHive bee an imprint of Tyrant (who used Ingram, and had Fat Possum handle direct sales), but he kept stalling b/c of financial + legal issues he needed to work out before he rebooted Tyrant under a new name (+ he had plans to fold in not just Ↄalamari, but a lot of other indie presses, w/ "Ditrapano Books" as the parent company). Then, well, Gian died.
In 2021 + 2022 we were again living ½ the time in Italy + debating whether 2 move back, so stayed on w/ sMall Press Distribution tel we figured out our next move. And a few months ago we decided our next move was 2 move back to NYC. So when $PD sent their "SPD Next" announcement last week, that was the final straw. Since we're not on social media, we don't know if this letter was made public, or what the general reaction to it was, but we'll inkloot it @ the end this rant (along w/ our response 2 it) 4 any 1 curious. This is what pisses us off most, is this lack of transparency, of them not consulting us, of the presses involved not having a say in the manner. Our read in2 the candy-coated announcement is that Ingram basically strong-armed them 2 poach the top 50 presses + the rest will be remaindered to sum warehouse in Schittsville, Timbuktu, neither option of which appeals to us. And what does that make $PD? A distributor to a distributor?! Yet another $uperfluous middleman $windling indie presses. And it cre8s this hierarchy where BIG small presses are rewarded + truly small micro presses are up Schitt's creek... the "small" presses $PD was sposed 2 bee representing (+ if you're 2 big for $PD, then why not just go str8 to Ingram?).
So we kindly told them to fuck off (see email below) + asked 4 our boox back, even tho we have ~9 months left on this years contract. Sure, we could of w8ed it out 2 see what's "Next," 2 C how it all unfolds, but being that we're moving in 3 months + not sure what address we'd bee @, seemed now was a good time 4 a clean break, that's been long overdue.
That night we couldn't sleep + we were up all night wondering why no 1 has ever cre8ed a truly grass roots collective of indie presses that pool resources 2 handle distribution, az an alternative to this washed-up corporate monstrosity that "SPD Next" has become. These sorts of things have been on our mind lately as we help our bedder-½ w/ their hippie food book, lamenting the good ol' dayz of Whole Earth Catalog + all the other great stuff that came outta the late '60s. SPD started in '69 in Berkeley, pretty much the epicenter where all the counterculture/free speech stuff was happening so maybee they were cool in the early days, but guess every revolution puts on the robes of the tyrant it deposed, as the saying goes. When we came of age in the Bay Area in the '80s, during the height of punk DiY zine culture, we weren't in2 books so much as music... we played in an all-lesbian (besides us) punk band that practiced @ Ashkenaz in Bezerkeley (a literal stones throw from $PD) + swapped home-made tapes via Factsheet 5 + other organic networks, similar to what Whole Earth Catalog was doing but just for books + printed matter. We didn't have Inurnet back then, but we had copy machines + fine folks like Aswin Batish in Santa Cruz who duped our cassettes + bless his heart is still duping cassettes when he's not playing his sitar.
Any knowledge we had of how 2 start an indie press came from when we started a failed tape label—Tapestry Tapes—out of the back of our camper, parked in the camper lot @ UCSC. Fast-FWD a decade or 2... a lot of our thinking also stems from working 4 Napster... any 1 old enough 2 remember them? Who @ the turn of the millennium had 97% brand recognition? We didn't work for the original Napster, we worked for a digital music music service that was bought by a large evil corporate entity that then bought the Napster name + kitty logo (b/c of this 97% brand recognition) + slapped the cat on our product/service + called it Napster even tho it didn't share 1 line of code w/ the original Napster. So we witnessed 1st-hand how corporate America can so easily exploit + monetize such a good thing.... not that we ever used the original Napster (we always believed in supporting artists) but the peer-2-peer idea behind it was genius. For the few albums arↄHived on Ↄalamari, it's much ezier than books, DistroKid gets the digital tunes in2 every music service on the planet (for $20/yr) + physical albums (vinyl, cassettes) 1 can sell free through Bandcamp, they just take a nominal percentage of sales (10% on physical albums, 15% for digital), which they waive on Bandcamp Fridays. Come on U writers + publishers out there, why do not such things exist in the book world?
This is what we were dwelling on, as we laid awake contemplating what to do next about distribution. Wondering why it couldn't be as simple as a network of like-minded presses that say, hey, we'll sell your books if you sell ours, so each press becomes a distribution mode, where P2P stands for press-2-press. This could even include self-published/produced artists (if they were like-minded enough), that want to leverage a press/distribution network's infrastructure + connections into the supply chain. In some cases these could even be brick + mortar shops, that carry only indie press books + records + whatever media. And each of these could have their own sensibilities, be like a Criterion Channel for books/music + if it didn't suit your fancy you could start your own distribution node/channel... wondering if maybee this consolidation is what caused the demise of $PD, by assimilating every 1 "small" they became yet another corporate entity they intended 2 replace.
The image that comes 2 mind is Johnny Rotten sitting on the drum riser at their final show in San Francisco in 1978, saying NO FUN, b/c @ the end of the day that's what it comes down 2. It's not about the money so much as the vibe... seems nobody @ $PD gets excited about books (not since the Clay Banes days, as we mentioned in our email 2 the new CEO who inherited this "nebulous Kafkaesque entity haunted by skeletons in their closet."). U set out 2 rock the world + change the dominant paradigm + then U become it + start comprising your values until what U become hardly resembles your original intent, you forget about why you got into the business. There's some line from Almost Famous on the tip of our tongue, can't remember whether it was said by Lester Bangs/PSH or 1 of the band-aids, about how in all of the drama you lose sight of the music. $PD makes the business of selling books boring + their forced enthusiasm + ingenuine adaptation to modernity makes it worse, literal sell-outs. $PD beecame the bureaucratic hypocrisy they set out to avert, perhaps 2 big for "small" press britches, no longer nimble, not even remotely familiar w/ ½ the presses they distribute, nor w/ the modern woke culture they offended. And now they have 2 assimilate w/ Ingram, who they were sposed 2 bee the alternative 2... so now there is no alternative.
Or the speech that Mario Savio gave in Berkeley in 1964 comes to mind (which also sums up why we can't stomach social media), "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part!"
That's what ran through our mind @ 1 or 3 a.m., contemplating an alternative... overwhelmed, thinking sure, we ourselves could do such a thing (tho we'd suck @ it), but then our time would be so consumed that we'd have no time to make books or music, but wishing sum 1 else would, sum 1 w/ the passion of Mario Savio, so we could join forces. Then the next morning we were commiserating w/ the few other small presses we're in touch with + John Trefry of Inside the Castle informed us that such a thing had just been launched the day b4—Asterism books... coincidentally the same day as we received this SPD Next email. So we looked in2 it + talked to them + it seemed more or less along the lines of what we envisioned + the other presses that have signed on already like-minded, so we signed Ↄalamari up + fyi, there's no contracts or commitments or annual or per book fee, just a simple flexible str8-up decentralized model wherein 1 can fulfill themselves or have Asterism fulfill + they take a nominal cut of the revenue. And btw, if U get Ↄalamari stuff on Asterism, 1% of the revenue goes toward carbon removal + oh, Asterism pays in real time, right after an order is fulfilled, none of this waiting 3+ months quarterly shit.
And it's so much
ezier to get product in2 the system... w/ $PD it was a nightmare of an antiquated process. And Asterism's web chops + GUI presentation so much, well, what you'd expect in 2023. It's in beta, work-in-progress, so hiccups here + there but the stuff we've pointed out gets fixed/updated right away.
So there U have it, going FWD get yer Ↄalamari on Asterism! We're having the inventory @ SPD shipped straight to Asterism, in Seattle, where many of y'all are right now, @ AWP... another greed-mongering bureaucratic 3-lettered acronym that swindles indie presses.... Y can't any 1 organize a true small press bookfair? In meatspace, not this virtual shit.
So that's what we've been doing this week, setting up the titles on Asterism + swapping out links. We also figured it was a good excuse to take stock of the situation, not as thorough as the inventory we took 2 years ago before shipping the books 2 Pittsburgh, but went w/ our bedder-½ to their office where the boox are temporarily stored to tally up #s + ordered more of what we're running low on, which made us realize that our pri¢es our way too low considering how much the price of printing has gone up in the past 20 yrs... so best to get the books now @ low prices b/c az we need to reprint we need 2 raise the prices accordingly... 10–25%. Maybe now that we've sacked $PD we can actually swing a profit NEXT year?.. how much of Ↄalamari's financial failure = due to $PD?
While we were going thru the books, we found a few extra copies of things that we'd previously labeled out of print, like WORDATLAS/PAROLATLANTE, Sleepingfish 0.75 + 3rd Bed issues which U can get now on Asterism (while supplies last):
+ we'll leave U w/ the appended email exchange, 4 the record:
From: Kent Watson <xxx> Reply-To: <xxx> Date: Monday, February 27, 2023 at 16:04 To: <xxx> Subject: a very important announcement about Small Press Distribution
Hello SPD Publishers,
Today I’m pleased to announce a change I’ve been working on since the day I started at SPD last summer. We’re calling it SPD Next, and it means big changes for Small Press Distribution. With SPD Next, we are expanding our services in many ways, including print-on-demand, eBooks, audiobooks, and–in a first for SPD–a truly global distribution model. SPD Next will modernize SPD, providing you with more services than we’ve ever been able to before.
With these new services also come significant changes for SPD. We will be closing our Berkeley warehouse and utilizing Publishers Storage & Shipping (PSSC) and Ingram Content Group to warehouse your titles. We know the news of our warehouse move will come as a disappointment to some of you, but the fixed-cost of an expensive Bay Area warehouse has become simply too much for a small nonprofit like ours. For those of you in our local area, we will miss having you drop by our warehouse, but the majority of our staff will remain in the Bay Area and we will continue to be a key player in the Bay Area’s vibrant literary community.
As far as logistics are concerned, our top 50 publishers will be warehoused with Ingram, with the remainder at PSSC. All publishers will reap the benefits of these new partnerships, which will include lower shipping costs, wider availability to independent bookstores and on Bookshop.org, as well as the additional services listed above. We expect our warehouse move to take six months, and these new services will be available immediately following the transition. As we work through the complexities of the warehouse move, we will keep you posted on our schedule.
To accomplish these important changes, we’re raising $100,000 through a newly-launched GoFundMe. This funding will help provide our nonprofit operation the liquidity to expand our services and fund our warehouse move. We are banking on the support of the community for SPD Next. Our board of directors is all in, determined to move SPD forward, and pledging their help to reach our goal in this capital campaign. We’re very excited to finally be delivering changes many of you have requested for years, and hope to have your support as we raise these funds.
I hope you’re as excited as I am about SPD Next. We’re coming off a huge year: A National Book Award winner, multiple Lambda Literary Awards, and a record eight titles nominated for the PEN Literary Awards. We hope that SPD Next will help the years to come be even brighter.
We’ve assembled a FAQto try and answer questions we anticipate from publishers. Please take a look at it for a more detailed breakdown of these changes. If you have any additional questions, please reach out to me directly at email@example.com. Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to creating a brighter future for SPD together.
Reminder: As a nonprofit, all donations to SPD are tax-deductible!
> We waited 2 days to see if anyone would contact us personally + then responded w/ just:
Is anyone planning on reaching out to me/Calamari, to decipher what this exactly means for Calamari Press?
Would you have time on Thursday or Friday for a Zoom meeting to discuss the changes?
To which we responded:
On Mar 1, 2023, at 12:34 PM, Derek White <xxx> wrote:
Thanks for the offer to talk, but frankly it’s too little too late. Sounds like you guys had all this planned and didn’t consult any of the publishers, at least not me or the other publishers who I’ve reached out to, who feel the same way. One fellow publisher’s comment sums it up well, they said your email seemed “cheerily evasive and opaque, as if it were written by a crisis-management team.” I let you know this as feedback to try to help you’all going forward, how these kind of communications are perceived.
When I first signed up for SPD 16 yrs ago it felt like a collective, or at least I had high hopes it would be that way, where we publishers were part of the decision making process. But in recent years this doesn’t seem to be the case. Most of this is beyond your personal control, this is the legacy you inherited. But it feels like in the past few years SPD has been in damage control mode for whatever scandalous drama, I still don’t know exactly what happened (and don’t really care), it’s just unsettling to be hearing little bits of gossip here and there about this distributor that is supposed to be representing our interests. It’s not so much what happened (whatever happened), it’s aftermath of how the situation was handled, the lack of transparency, trying to sweep it under the rug, so much attention focused on that and not the business of distributing the books. And ever since I’ve still sensed tensions with the people we interact with, who seemed to have lost sight of who we the publishers are, but just act like disgruntled warehouse workers who we have to tip-toe around. The last SPD employee I had a rapport with, that I felt was actually excited about BOOKS (which is really what it’s all about!), was Clay Banes. Frankly, I considered terminating my relationship with SPD when all of that started to unfold, but stuck it out to see if things got better (and also because I have no other option). But this “Next” stuff is the nail in the coffin.
The way I see it, there’s nothing to discuss, you have left us publishers w/ 2 options, neither of which appeal to me. Part of me (perhaps my ego) is a bit curious to see if Calamari made the cut of the “top 50”, but if I wanted Ingram to be my distributor, I would just go straight to Ingram and have them be my distributor! I evaluated that decision long ago, and went down the SPD path, and have debated this plenty with other publishers ever since and have always tried to argue the case for SPD. As for the other option, I’ve never heard of PSSC, but it just sounds like an additional layer to the mess, yet another middle man… so you’re a distributor that hires someone else to do your distribution?! It just doesn’t make sense. This was all supposed to be simple, grass-roots and DiY (or at least I hoped it would be), but SPD has become this nebulous Kafkaesque entity haunted by skeletons in their closet.
The bottom line, and I’ve been wondering this for at least 5 years, is what does SPD provide for Calamari Archive that I can’t do myself? If I want a brick + mortar bookstore to carry a Calamari title I have to go to them and tell them to order it from you. If a professor comes to me saying they want to teach such and such a book I refer them to you, when I could just as easily send them the books myself. I don’t think a Calamari title has ever made the “SPD recommends” emails, and seems a few titles have even been overlooked in the “new & forthcoming” announcements… I guess we’re supposed to pay extra to be recommended by SPD? And then there’s the 800-lb gorilla in your email, Amazon, who perhaps is the "certain marketplace" you speak of in the “FAQs” you asked us publishers to read (a really tacky + tasteless touch, FYI), though for some reason you can’t bear to utter their name? I hate Amazon as much as the next guy, but fact is that’s where most people get books, and that’s not anything you or me or anyone will ever change. I can just as easily supply Amazon directly (and get 45% of the sale instead of what little I get through Amazon when SPD is also involved), and have done that for many years in the past, but then I stopped doing it, in part because I felt at least it would give SPD something to do. But now I’m thinking it’s time to get back to basics, and just do everything myself, as I just don’t get anything out of having SPD as a distributor. So I’d like to terminate our relationship and have all the books sent back to me at this address:
This is rash perhaps, and you might try to convince me to stick it out, at least through whenever my annual payment renews, but for reasons of timing I need to have this done sooner rather than later as I’m moving in less than 3 months, and am not sure whether I’ll have a stable, reliable address right away. And it just makes sense to have the books returned before you ship them off to some other warehouse who knows where. Let me know what else I need to do to make this happen ASAP.
As I said, this is nothing personal, this is the legacy you inherited and it seems you’re doing your best to fix things to adapt to this new world, and appreciate your willingness to speak to me personally. I wish you and SPD the best.
> he responded somewhat cordially, but still blaming it all on rising costs + not addressing my other gripes (I never even complained about the high fees):
I appreciate your candid response to the announcement of SPD Next. In the past few years, SPD’s fixed costs have gone way up. The changes are meant to address our continually rising costs and add new features and benefits for our distributed clients. Calamari Press would have moved to Publishers Storage & Shipping.
We are all sorry to see you leave SPD and wish your press the best of luck moving forward. I have alerted SPD’s Finance Director and Operations Director of your choice to terminate our business together. They will be in touch soon.
Small Press Distribution