Two things in the book world never ever change. The first is predictions of the death of the novel. And the second is the certainty that independent publishing is coming to the end. Everything else is pretty much up for grabs.
So it is pleasing to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Independent Alliance when great and varied novels are being published from around the world with aplomb and independent publishing is carrying on as ever. But being a literary novelist has never been the obvious career choice for an easy life. And being an independent publisher isn’t the best 'get rich quick' scheme either.
But 10 years on - and a decade of unparalleled change - independent publishing is in pretty good shape. We mustn’t grumble. Some changes have been for the good: the renaissance of Waterstones, and its unwavering support for independent publishers has helped us all. And Amazon has bought some advantages for indies too, after all as the famous cartoon has it, ‘on the internet no-one knows you are a dog’. And as the big conglomerates merge and get even bigger, there are plenty of spaces left for nimble independent publishers to fill the gaps, develop niches and yes, publish bestsellers.
Over its first decade, by my reckoning the Independent Alliance publishers between them have published six million-copy sales bestsellers. And there will no doubt be many more to come.
It hasn’t all been a bed of roses: the crash of 2008 was tough for the whole booktrade but those with the least deep pockets obviously suffered the most. And the contraction of independent bookselling has been challenging and represents exactly the loss of diversity that is so important to indie publishers.
And there has been change in the Alliance too: Quercus and Constable Robinson both had to leave when they were, separately, bought by Hachette UK. But in their place - think of a Premier Division manager buying and selling top players - comes the devilish striker Pushkin and the formidable central mid-fielder Pavilion - currently player of the season with its amazing colouring-book sales. In fact, scrub that analogy, the Independent Alliance is going from a football team short of a player to a healthily over-subscribing rugby squad. This is a scrum that you tackle at your peril.
The Independent Alliance has brought strength in numbers and a unified front in some tough negotiations. But more than that, it brings together like-minded publishers to swap ideas, insights into different markets, and yup, intelligence. It is impossible to speculate, but if independent bookshops had been able to develop an Indie Bookshop Alliance, they might have been able to cope better with the challenges of the last decade.
Publishing has changed perhaps more in the last decade than at any point since the printing of the first book in 1452. Standing shoulder to shoulder has made it possible to not only withstand those changes but to look after authors and publish their books better.
And my prediction for the future: in 10 years’ time naysayers will still be bemoaning the end of the novel and the state of independent publishing. And they will still be completely wrong.
Andrew Franklin is m.d. of Profile Books.