Away from the ‘mainstream’. Alternative Publishers of Books in North America – reviewed by Martyn Lowe

Away from the ‘mainstream’.

Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, 6th Edition Author: Byron Anderson, compiler Price: $18.00

ISBN-10: 0-9778617-2-4 ISBN-13: 978-0-9778617-2-.

Library Juice Press – October 200.

Preface by Nancy Kranich. Past President of the American Library Association.

A review by Martyn Lowe

What makes for a good Book review? Just how does one review any directory?

One can make a descriptive review, an analytical review, or a critical review of any work.

In the case of a critical review, what is it that one should criticise ? Could it be the work as a whole, or does one view such a work purely for its political content? One thing is very clear to me: That any review of Alternative Publishers of Books in North America can only be reviewed within its own stated aims. Thus I’ll start this review with the stated aim of the directory compiler. Within the context of this work the term ‘alternative’ may be taken to mean those publishers who are not a part of the mainstream media, or owned by one of the large multi-media companies.

As Byron Anderson writes within his introduction to the directory: ‘ The Presses profiled in the directory were culled from hundreds of small, active independent presses.’ He also goes on to state that : ‘ The directory’s editor makes no pretence that the profiles represent a complete, comprehensive list of alternative publishers’.

An Alternative viewpoint. In her preface to this work Nancy Kranich examines the US media, & just how it is dominated by a few very large & very powerful companies. Companies which have a near monopoly upon just what people read, watch, or hear about. This is also a very informative essay upon just how the major broadcasters & publishers are interlinked within the USA, & how this near monopoly is very detrimental to small independent publishers.

Alternative does not mean radical. There is also major distinction which should be made here. Alternative does not mean radical, or political. One may hold very radical views, & yet live a very conventional lifestyle. One may engage upon very unconventional activities, & still hold what are otherwise very conservative views. As Byron Anderson points out within the introduction to this work: ‘ Alternative Press as a term is nearly inexplicable. Everything is alternative to something else…’ He goes on to state that: ‘ Alternative publishers counter the concentration of media ownership, which for the publishing industry amounts to six conglomerates that dominate in book sales and marketing..

Thus one should approach this directory as a reference tool which focuses upon ‘alternative’ subjects, or Issues which the monolithic mainstream multi-media corperationsare just not interested in publishing books about.

The structure of this work. The structure of the book is a fine example of just how any directory of publishers should be organised. By far the great part of the directory is the section.

Presses, including imprints. There are 126 US, 19 Canadian, and 18 international publishers listed in alphabetical order. This listing includes contact and technical information, plus the printing policies of each of these publishers.

It also gives something of an historical overview upon how each of these publishers came in to being. The subject index covers 102 subjects, & shows which publishers cover what issues. These subjects include such issues as ethics, poetry, politics, cultural studies, globalisation, and Human Rights.

The most interesting part of the directory being: ‘Alternative Publishers of Books: A bibliography, 1996-2005.’ For just this 5 page bibliography alone, the directory is well worth while being adding to any library reference shelf.

Alternative subject headings. If I have any criticism of this work, then it has to do with the Subject index. Although this is as much to do with which publishers are included within the directory, as it has to do with anything else.

For example: In the subject index we find Vegetarian, but not Vegan. There is Animal Rights, but not Animal Liberation. Atheism and Humanism are not mentioned. This is a pity as I know that there are a lot of good North American publishers which cover these subjects.

On the other hand Sexuality & erotica are given a subject listing, which at first glance might seem very strange to many a European reader who is used to this kind of subject area being well covered by main stream publishers. Though, upon further reflection, I realise that this may result from the very different attitudes which people have to these issues within the states.

Growing better with each edition. As I have already stated above, one should look at this work within its own stated context. Looking back upon the 3rd edition of this work, which was published in 1997, it is possible to see just how much more has been covered within this 6th edition. e.g. The subject index has become much more comprehensive over the years.

Moving on to the next Edition. Alternative Publishers of Books in North America is one of the most useful reference works I know about, and should be stocked within every radical book shop.

I look forward to seeing just how this work will continue to grow with each future edition.

Martyn Lowe