East London-based booksellers from Burley Fisher Books and Camden Lock Books are launching a new independent publisher called Peninsula Press.
Bookseller Class of 2017 Rising Star Sam Fisher and Will Rees of Burley Fisher, and Jake Franklin of Camden Lock Books, feel that their roles as booksellers give them a wide view of what is being published and a "direct insight into what readers respond and don’t respond to". Franklin adds: "We were inspired by the thriving success of indie publishers across the UK. As a bookseller, you see new books coming in every day and over time it becomes clear where there might be gaps in what is being published, especially by traditional publishers. Inevitably you begin to have ideas... so we decided to take the plunge."
Naming the press was a difficult task for the trio, and it settled on Peninsula, which "brings to mind both the independence and proximity, and the connection and reserve that also define what a great book might be like", says Rees.
The press plans to publish a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and the trio is "especially excited" by its Pocket Essays: a series of "small, stylish" personal essays that “excavate and explore the contemporary world". Peninsula will publish four of these titles in 2018, by: Will Harris, on mixed-race experience and superhero tropes; Deborah Smith, on translation and fidelity; Olivia Sudjic, on the anxiety epidemic, exposure and auto-fiction; and Josh Cohen, on rants, losers and the politics of magical thinking.
The books will be available to buy through a quarterly subscription, or individually in bookshops, priced at £6 each. “There used to be a perception that people aren’t interested in the cultural essay, but this form has undeniably found its way back into people’s reading habits,” says Rees.
Alongside the four titles from the Pocket Essays series, the press will publish a stand-alone fiction title by artist and writer David Wojnarowicz. The press will gradually expand into new fiction and longer non-fiction books in 2019–20. While the first titles were commissioned through direct contact with authors, the press says it will be opening submissions in "due course".
Inpress Books, a sales and marketing agency for independent publishers, recently revealed that its sales were up 79% year on year, with 73% of its publishers also having increased their sales, which Fisher says is indicative of the health of the independent sector. Although, he adds: "That’s not to say that conditions aren’t difficult. Discount demands from the large retailers are increasing while cover prices have remained stagnant for years, but it seems to me that independent publishers are finding ways of being responsive to what readers want. Small means nimble."
He continued: "Most importantly, independent publishers are bringing out fantastic books and providing an outlet for underrepresented voices: And Other Stories, Fitzcarraldo Editions, Galley Beggar, Tangerine, Influx, Salt, Dead Ink, Dodo Ink, Test Centre, Unsung Stories, Cassava Republic, Les Fugitives, Bluemoose, Silver Press, Tilted Axis... the list goes on. There are so many presses taking risks and doing wonderful things. It’s been a huge pleasure reading and selling these [publishers’] books since we opened Burley Fisher, so I can’t wait to contribute books of our own.”
On the state of independent bookselling, in comparison, Fisher says: “I think the outlook is better than it has been. Along with INK@84, Libreria and Phlox, Burley Fisher is one of four new indies to open in London in the past 18 months. I think booksellers are becoming more inventive in finding ways to encourage readers to visit their shops. They are adapting to survive.
"Having said this, things are still precarious. Indies need more support from the government when it comes to things like business rates. I thought it was bizarre that publicans managed to successfully make the case for rate reduction on the grounds that they are a community asset, while bookshops receive no such protection. Amazon’s monopolistic practices are also, of course, a continuing threat."