Soft Skull Acquired, Nobody Cares

1. Soft Skull, probably the best alternative/independent publisher in the USA right now, is being sold and merged into a large holding company managed by Charlie Winton, who has also acquired Shoemaker & Hoard and Counterpoint.

Once again, I’m disappointed that not many of my fellow bloggers seem to be paying attention to stories like these, because the Soft Skull news has not made much of a ripple. Are literary bloggers afraid to write about finance? Can it be that nobody thinks this is relevant news? Google Blog Search turned up only one blog post following GalleyCat’s story, and I just don’t understand this.

In sounding alarmed about the news, I’m not trying to cast negativity on the business decision Richard Nash and Soft Skull’s management team have made. I think very highly of this team, and if any executive can continue to squeeze greatness out of Soft Skull under the watchful eye of a corporate finance overseer, Richard Nash is that executive. But I have to say that I’m worried, and I’m skeptical. Even if Nash succeeds for a while, don’t corporate mergers always end at the same sad cul-de-sac, when eventually the winds change?

I wish this team good luck, but … thank god City Lights and Akashic are still independent.

2. This is hilarious. I’ve noticed (and been annoyed by) this quirk for years. Limn this, Michiko.

3. I love it when I’m not the only one ga-ga over Cormac. Frank Wilson of Books Inq. has also been talking about the feeling of loneliness we McCarthy nay-sayers suffer from lately. But it’s nice to hear some words of sanity from James Wood:

McCarthy’s work has always been interested in theodicy, and somewhat shallowly. Here the comparisons to Melville and Hardy are rather inexact. McCarthy likes to stage bloody fights between good and evil, and his commentary tends toward the easily fatalistic.


In this respect, to compare McCarthy to Beckett, as some reviewers have done, is to flatter McCarthy.

Ha ha … tell them, Wood.

4. Ron Hogan’s got a big scoop: apparently Donald Rumsfeld is shopping around a book proposal (once again, the news comes via The Cat). I’d like to deliver this message to any publishers who are considering buying this book, and I think most of America stands with me. The only thing we want to give Donald Rumsfeld is a kick in the ass, not $27.95. I’d just as soon buy a book by O. J. Simpson. Donald Rumsfeld, won’t you please go home.

5. Here’s an interesting angle, from Booksquare.

6. And here’s another interesting angle, complete with totebags, and yet another too!.

9 Responses

  1. Small presses being bought
    Small presses being bought out

    As with Thunder’s Mouth, the company that bought Soft Skull will acquire any assets they consider valuable and then dump it. That’s the way it works in corporate America.

    The contribution of a small press to a literate society (or any other attribute of any small company or person) has no meaning to these people. It is all about money. No big news.

  2. Dan, in this case I hope your
    Dan, in this case I hope your pessimistic analysis turns out to be wrong, and the situation doesn’t seem that drastic yet. I’m guessing this is an attempt at some sort of larger synergy, since it was announced that Richard Nash of Soft Skull will remain in that position and will also take responsibility for Counterpoint.

    This move seems to me a gamble — a “double up” on the part of Soft Skull. And who knows what financial realities they were already struggling with when they made this choice? I’m sure they already had to answer to investors before the acquisition.

    I hope for the best. In the end, though, the fact that Thunder’s Mouth’s story ended just as this story hit does make me skeptical that your analysis may turn out to be an eventual scenario.

  3. At first I couldn’t figure
    At first I couldn’t figure out if you were sorry or glad for Soft Skull. Now I’m thinking that you aren’t saying the acquisition is good or bad – you are taking a wait & see stance. And you couldn’t understand why more litbloggers weren’t discussing it. Am I right?

  4. Yes, Bill, that’s correct.
    Yes, Bill, that’s correct.

    About feeling happy or sad about Soft Skull, of course I’m not happy to see an independent become a … dependent? But I am going to hope for the best.

    About litbloggers, yes, that was the thrust of my message. If a new award is announced or someone dies or N+1 or the National Book Critics Circle posts an article insulting online writing, the litblogs light up like Las Vegas. But when Thunder’s Mouth gets put out to pasture by its parent company or Soft Skull gets acquired, there is silence. I can only conclude that too many litbloggers are either unfamiliar with or unaware of the importance of finance in the field of high quality literary publishing.

  5. Wouldn’t ‘high quality’ mean
    Wouldn’t ‘high quality’ mean that a large number of your favorite books are being published by independent presses? I don’t recall Litkicks or anyone else saying – here’s this year’s releases from City Lights or Soft Skull, and man are they great!

    ‘Stead of bemoaning, why not promote the indies? Check out some of the small presses – Inkko, McSweeney’s, Salt Web, etc. Maybe they aren’t very good. I dunno.

  6. Actually, Stokey, I don’t
    Actually, Stokey, I don’t think you’re correct. I raved quite a bit about a recent Soft Skull title, African Psycho by Alain Mackanbou, in about three different posts a few weeks ago. I think it’s safe to say that if Soft Skull hadn’t published this book I would never have heard of it. Another Soft Skull book I’ve written about here is We Are Iran, a collection of various Iranian bloggers.

  7. Good point – thanks for
    Good point – thanks for pointing that out. But does it change the essential issue? Can any lit blogger say – here are all the releases from the major indies, and they are as substantial as the releases from the big publishers?

    That’s the problem. Lit bloggers talk of McCarthy and Updike and the NYTBR. That’s okay. They also provide some good exposure for the desesrving lesser knowns – LitBlog Coop’s read this, Litkicks reviews of review copies, etc.

    But don’t lit bloggers have the power to save the indies – if the indies are doing their part – being competitive with the big houses in terms of quality publishing? I know one person can’t do it alone, which is why the LitBlog Coop should double or triple its membership and work together, not as a bunch of seperate voices all looking at the same few books.

  8. Hi, Levi. Despite being a
    Hi, Levi. Despite being a former publishing insider and a current litblogger, I have to admit that I don’t pay much attention to industry news. The buying and selling of small houses and imprints is simply the way business is done. I’ve been subject to it as an employee myself, as has nearly everyone who has ever worked in publishing for more than a few years.

    I started at a small independent that became mid-sized due to buying imprints from other houses. It was eventually sold to a large media company who eventually sold it to a large publisher. The large publisher then sold off pieces in order to pare down their list to the core titles it wanted in the first place. In a short number of years, I had several different employers all while sitting at the same desk. When I moved to another house, I ended up working with several coworkers from the original tiny independent and their original titles. After leaving publishing to become a teacher, the curriculum included having to teach from textbooks I used to sell.

    No matter what the “mission” might be behind the founding of an independent imprint, fledgling publishers quickly learn that money trumps good intentions. One thing that rarely makes the news is how many publishers attend trade shows with the intention of either finding a buyer or finding a line to buy. I guarantee that at BEA several dozen imprints will exchange hands among exhibitors since launching new titles is only the face publishers put on to the public. Watch the tables in the exhibitor booths as you walk through the hall; there’s a deal being made at every one.

    Publishing is a predatory, parasitic, and incestuous industry. It is what it is. If there are certain kinds of books you enjoy most, the best thing to do is to keep track of the individual authors. It’s much easier than riding the whirlwind of imprints and houses.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!