SPD: How long will accountability be forestalled?

Thursday, April 4, 2024

One week ago, Small Press Distribution (SPD) shut down all of its operations without any warning whatsoever. While SPD and the presses it distributed are an infinitely minuscule percentage of this nation’s GNP, in the Republic of Literature’s ecology this organization’s collapse is a devastating event, and not just simply because several small presses find themselves being owed a substantial amount without any way of finding out what the balance sheets at SPD looked like in the months leading up to last week’s announcement.The Washington Post has just published an article on this debacle and no one associated with SPD was apparently willing to be interviewee. Maybe, from the point of view of Kent Watson, this refusal to be up front about how much SPD has in its bank accounts is just a decision made on the advice of the lawyer who is handling SPD’s bankruptcy case. For a press such as Rose Metal (whose books I have long admired), and which estimates that SPD owes it $40,000, this refusal to answer any questions must amount to a case of adding insult to injury. It may be legally permissible to refuse to answer questions, but it would be hard to resist calling it anything other than self-serving stonewalling. I simply find it mind-boggling that SPD’s management refuses to provide even a hint of the actual financial condition of the organization during the final six months of operation and how things stood on March 27, 2024.

Rose Metal is not the only press that is owed a substantial sum of momey or finds itself hard pressed to find the resources to get its books back. Black Lawrence Press, according to Diane Goettel, had a large portion of the stock of its backlist and current releases in the warehouse that SPD emptied and shipped to a storage facility in the Midwest just prior to closing its doors. How many copies of books, you ask? 18,000. Yes, Eighteen thousand copies of books.The situation that SPD has placed Black Lawrence Press in is absolutely incomprehensible. Why would the management of SPD ever believe that what they were doing was in the best interest of Black Lawrence Press????

How does all of this affect me personally? Let’s take a quick look.

The late Neeli Cherkovski just now had a major collection of his poems published by Lithic Press, which was distributed by SPD. How will Neeli’s book find its way into libraries, let alone the bookshelves of his many admirers? In addition, Neeli and I coedited an anthology which was still being distributed by SPD the last time I checked. How will CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco (which was published by Otis Books/Seismicity Editions) now be easily available to readers?

NYQ (New York Quarterly) Books is one of the most supportive small presses for several Los Angeles based poets. NYQ has published books by Alexis Rhone Fancher and Clint Margrave, for instance. As is the case with the ill-fated timing of Neeli’s book with the SPD collapse, NYQ has just now begun the roll-out process for the late Gerry Locklin’s SELECTED POEMS, edited by Clint Margrave. A reading on May 4th at Gatsby Books in Long Beach is scheduled as the kick-off publication event.

Brooks Roddan’s IF/SF Publications has many titles that were carried by SPD. IF/SF recently published the first American edition of Mike Mollett’s PINBALL WIZARD, a book that I reviewed in this blog and which is quoted from on the back cover. PINBALL WIZARD is one of my favorite books to have been published in the past ten years, and Brooks Roddan has told me that the books was actually getting some traction in the marketplace, even though SPD was having trouble getting the title out to stores.

Beyond Baroque Books was also distributed by SPD. How will Carol Ellis’s prize-winning book, for which I wrote a blurb, now be able to find the audience it deserves?

And what about Cahuenga Press, which the late Holly Prado, along with her poet-actor spouse Harry E. Northup, and Phoebe MacAdams, Jim Cushing, Cecilia Woloch, and I founded 30 odd years ago? I left Cahuenga Press after the second book was published, but I have always cared about that project, no matter what else might have happened in the meantime.

This is just a portion of the ways that SPD’s collapse is affecting my life and the lives of those I admire.

There are of course other questions that need to be answered by Kent Watson in a public forum. You were hired in June, 2022 to be in charge of SPD. You had worked for PubWest for well over a dozen years, so you were hardly someone who could say that you were unfamiliar with the world of non-corporate publishing. Surely you had a sense of SPD’s condition when you took over. Why would anyone take on a job without knowing the fundamentals of an organization’s likelihood to maintain viability? So what exactly happened in the past 22 months? What did you know and when did you know it?

I repeat: What did you know and when did you know it?

Perhaps the demise of SPD was inevitable, given the cultural shifts of the past half-century. For the record, though, so that literary historians can write a full account of this period, Kent Watson owes us nothing less than detailed answers.

Here is the link to the Washington Post article, which you can cut and paste into your browser.


And here is a partial list of some of the prominent small press publishers who were carried by SPD:
Ahsahta Press
Anvil Press
Aunt Lute Books
Aztlan Libre Press
Bamboo Ridge Press
Barrow Street Press
Beyond Baroque Books
Black Lawrence Press
BlazeVOX (books)
Burning Deck
Cahuenga Press
Calamus Books
Chax Press
Counterpath Press
Dos Gatos Press
Drunken Boat Media/Ethos Books
Durga Press
Edge Books
Fence Books
Fourteen Hills Press
Futurepoem Books
Green Lantern Press
Hambone Publishing
Hanging Loose Press
IF/SF Publishing
Insert Press
Junction Press
Kelsey Street Press
Kore Press
Les Figues Press
Lithic Press
Litmus Press
Lost Roads Publishers
Many Mountain Moving Press
Marsh Hawk Press
Mayapple Press
Noemi Press
NYQ Boox
Otis Books / Seismicity Editions
PANK Books
Pleiades Press
Ricochet Editions
Seaweed Salad Editions
Shearsman Books
Singing Horse Press
Sinister Wisdom
Station Hill Press
Swan Scythe Press
Talisman House
Tarpaulin Sky Press
Taurean Horn Press
Tebot Bach
Tender Buttons Press
The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective
The Bitter Oleander Press
The Figures
The Post-Apolo Press
This Press
Tinfish Press
Tres Chicas Books
Tupelo Press
Tuumba Press
Unicorn Press
White Goat Press/Yiddish Book Center
WriteGirl Publications
Zone 3 Press


Finally, it should be noted that the Community of Literary Magazines and Publishers stands in contrast with SPD’s former management team. CLMP facilitated an on-line Zoom meeting that representatives of several of the above presses attended. I myself was able to log on for the last half of the meeting as it was taking place and I do want to thank CLMP for making this effort.


Comments are closed.