And my mind wandered over to the Huffington Post, where I found this great piece by Eric Obenauf, one-half the brains behind indie press Two Dollar Radio. In this article, Obenauf explains how indie presses have created - and must create - identities for themselves, and in fact, these identities are now being marketed in creative ways to boost their sometimes thin bottom lines. Two Dollar Radio, like Small Beer Press and Featherproof Books, sells tee shirts to generate some income. (For shame - Obenauf did not link to these presses in his article. What's up with that?) I would add the very cool Moby Lives t-shirts from Melville House, one of which I am secretly hoping to find under the tree this year.
Obeanauf explains why this works with indies, when it wouldn't work with corporate presses:
As a small press, it is much easier to craft an identity. If you buy a book published by an independent press, then chances are good you really did intend to buy that book. Either it was recommended to you by a friend, you read a review, or you discovered it on the shelf of an independent bookstore: small presses deploy no marketing sleight of hand, no clever gimmicks or paid product placement in order to finagle someone into buying one of our books. As a result, I would wager that consumers of small press books are more aware of who published the work than those of corporate presses, which makes it easier for an independent publisher to sell brand merchandise. I doubt anyone would buy a shirt that says "Random House" on it; it just isn't cool. Nor would it stand for anything: one person might stop you in the street imagining you share an affinity for raising the perfect dog, while another might be a John Irving or Kurt Vonnegut fan. But I've seen students at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, rocking McSweeney's shirts and I know their taste.
I love this point, because there is so much truth in it, and because it does signal a way forward in this world of soulless conglomerates and corporate houses chasing empty book ideas - blogs, reality stars, etc - instead of new and interesting work.
In this holiday season, go forth, dear reader, and buy indie! Wouldn't the book nerd in your life love a tee shirt with a literary theme from a somewhat obscure press everyone the least bit interesting will wish they knew? Of course s/he would, and s/he deserves that.