NOVEMBER 24, 2020 — Market conditions in the United States make it impossible for a small ‘niche’ publisher to produce books at a cost and profit that make it worth trying.
Once shipping thousands of books per year — titles about history, hiking, tourism, nature, and cooking — the distributor of Carla Rising and other titles is slowly going out of business, drastically reducing its inventory and letting good employees go. The company is one of thousands of US book distributors and retail outlets that have been forced out of business by the monopoly-serving “algorithmic marketplace” largely created by Amazon.
I have taken all the titles on which I worked from 1991 to 2015 out-of-print. These include my 2015 novel Carla Rising as well as the 1994 nonfiction Just Good Politics: The Life of Raymond Chafin, Appalachian Boss, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Also out-of-print is John Alexander Williams’ West Virginia: A History for Beginners, first printed in 1993 and then in 1998 for state school classrooms.
That year, West Virginia’s Department of Education spent millions putting Microsoft computers into schools. It spent nothing on the fine work of John Alexander Williams, the state’s most accomplished historian, bar none. After falling to the clear corruption by a competing publisher — a story told by the Charleston Gazette that summer — Appalachian Editions rebound the book and sold it in bookstores and tourist centers. After 20 years, thousands of copies of Williams’ West Virginia: A History for Beginners continue to serve conscientious students of history — while West Virginia (like other states) routinely replaces “outdated” classroom computers every few years, transferring untold, annual millions to Fortune 500 companies that pay no taxes, much less build any businesses there.
In a word, technological “advances” of the past 20 years have served too few “players” in the US marketplace, making it impossible for American publishers, large and small, to afford to adequately pay for the “intellectual labor” of tens of thousands of editors and authors.
The condition is unsustainable, contributing to the awful collapse of the strong and comparatively well-educated American middle class of the last century — the “readers and thinkers who really keep things going,” to whom I dedicated Carla Rising in 2015.