Tag Archives: Small Press Distribution


SPD: What the hell is going on? — Confrontations on Zoom now!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

I’ve written and talked to a couple of people who have books that were shipped to a warehouse recently far away from where the majority of the presses that were serviced by SPD (Small Press Distribution) have their editorial offices. As recently as the end of February, these publishers were informed by an announcement in Publishers Weekly that all was going to plan.


SPD to Roll Out New Services with Warehouse Transfer Completed
By Jim Milliot |
Feb 26, 2024

Furthermore, these publishers also received a letter dated March 4th that gave them assurances that all was well. Just a few days ago,, however, these publishers were informed that SPD was closing its doors and that no one should bother to contact the few employees who are still working there.

This is a crisis for those involved with small press publishing that is on a very, very, very minuscule level as devastating to this domain as the Savings and Loan debacle of 1987 was to the banking system. It’s not just a matter of money; it’s a gut-punch to one’s idealism by the very people who would claim to be its most fervent advocates. What I do not understand and what I find completely unacceptable is the refusal of those in charge of SPD to hold any public meetings at which they can be held accountable for the decision they unilaterally made. What is Zoom for if not to serve as a place where a flow-chart of decisions and screenshot documentation can be posted?

And where is the National Endowment for the Arts in all this? The NEA was to SPD what the Federal Reserve is to Wall Street. The centrality of the NEA was pointed out by the poet, Brent Cunningham, who was the Operations Manager of SPD for over 15 years, until a disgruntled faction managed to get him outsted. I would hazard to guess that one could probably trace the downhill slide of SPD to his termination, and whoever was involved with that change at SPD now needs to come forth and give a detailed accounting to all of us who stakeholders in the legacy of SPD.

You can find Brent Cunningham’s statesment here, from 2017, here:
What’s at Stake: The NEA and the Literary Ecosystem



Breaking News: SPD (Small Press Distribution) Goes Belly Up (1969-2024)

Thursday evening, March 28, 2024


Fifty-five years ago, literary publishers on the West Coast had very limited means of getting their books into stores. In point of fact, there were only a handful of stores throughout the United States that stocked books of poetry by small presses. In case you want specifics, consider the list that was published in the second issue of LAUGH LITERARY, which was co-edited by Charles Bukowski and Neeli Cherkovski as the 1960s turned into the early 1970s.

“Thank you to the following bookstores

Phoenix, NYC
Either/Or, Hermosa Beach
L.W. Currey, Mattapan, Mass
Asphodel, Cleveland
Gothan, NYC
D. McDonald Book, Chicago
Literary Heritage, Sharon, Mass
Temple Bar Bookshop, Cambridge, Mass
City Lights Books, San Francisco
Papa Bach Bookstore, Los Angeles
Free Press Bookstores, Los Angeles, Pasadena
Tenth Muse, San Francisco
The Bridge, Los Angeles
Unicorn Bookshop, Santa Barbara

Now, of course, these fourteen stores weren’t the only ones serving as outlets for the “underground,” but a complete list would hardly have doubled their number. Yes, there would have been stories in Denver, for instance, but it was a hand-to-mouth existence for most small presses as well as the boosters that stocked their projects.

It is the last entry in the above list that should be particularly noted, given today’s news that Small Press Distribution, the nation’s oldest distributor of small press publication, has folded and left it up to the small presses it handled to fetch their backlist copies from a warehouse in the Midwest. It is a very sad and distressing day for everyone in the past six decades who has worked to give non-corporate poetry and the practice of avant-garde writing and publishing some degree of visibility in American culture. “The dream is over,” sang John Lennon. With the announcement of SPD’s dissolution and bankruptcy, one can erase that mournful acknowledgment from one’s memory deck tapes. The dreamer long ago woke up, and it was only a simulacrum that the dream inhabited. Print culture as we knew it forty and fifty years ago cannot withstand the level of illiteracy that permeates this nation’s consciousness.

But back to Unicorn Bookstore, which was founded by Jack Shoemaker, who never went to college but nurtured his autodidactic aspirations starting in his early twenties when he founded Unicorn Bookstore and then went on to found several other literary projects, including SMALL PRESS DISTRIBUTION in 1969 (along with a man named Peter Howard). Shoemaker’s successes as an editor and publisher led him to take leave of SPD, and it became the distributor that any small press wanted to have its books carried by.

In recent years, two Los Angeles-based publishers whose books were carried by SPD included Cahuenga Press and What Books. I know that about a half-dozen years ago, What Books decided that it could no longer afford the luxury of having a distributor, since the percentage lett for the press from the sale of each book was simply too small to make it a feasible arrangement. Nevertheless, dozens and dozens of other presses maintained their relationship with SPD, even though for some time now rumors have hinted that SPD was in more trouble that it wanted to admit.

The truly sad part of this collapse is that libraries will no longer have a distributor to turn to in order to obtain fairly easily books that represent the continuity of the small press movement. Even the term “small press,” however, contains it itself a big part of the problem. The presses weren’t “small” in their ambition to change American culture; rather, they were INDEPENDENT, and perhaps that would have been a better choice for a name.

There will be no replacement emerging for SPD. Something has gone extinct, permanently. It may well be that another alternative will erupt that involves technology and social interaction that revives the idealism behind the oohort of “small” presses and the alliances within the infrastructure of the “communication circuit.” Sometimes the unexpected doe come to pass. In the meantime, though, it’s back to individual effort in face-to-face communal efforts.


Books Poetry

“CROSS-STROKES” cracks the SPD best-seller list

Small Press Distribution has just released its list of its top 20 best-selling books in February, 2016. Neeli Cherkovski and I are pleased to note that our anthology, “CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco,” is listed at number 11. It equally pleases me to report that Douglas Kearney’s “SOMEONE TOOK THEY TONGUES” (Subito Press) is at the top of the list. Douglas was one of the instructors at my CSU Summer Arts program at Monterey Bay this past summer, and he did a fantastic job of inspiring the students. Anyone who has a chance to hear him read his poems should hurry to get a front-row seat.

“Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco is the first anthology to examine the movement of poets up and down the West Coast after World War II. This volumes gathers over two dozen representative figures who exemplify the overlooked intermingling of a pair of feisty scenes. In revealing new layers of mutual influences, Cross-Strokes traces the restless poetics that epitomizes the small press movement in California.” — Bill Mohr, editor The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets and “Poetry Loves Poetry”

Neeli Cherkovski is an internationally known poet and literary chronicler. His most recent poetry collection is The Crow and I. He is currently completing his memoirs.

Bill Mohr is a poet and literary historian who teaches at CSU Long Beach; his most recent book is a bi-lingual collection of poems, Pruebas Ocultas (Bonobos Editores, 2016).

February 2016
1. Someone Took They Tongues by Douglas Kearney (Subito Press)
2. Emergency Brake by Ruth Madievsky (Tavern Books)
3. Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night by Morgan Parker (Switchback Books)
4. A Crown for Gumecindo by Laurie Ann Guerrero (Aztlan Libre Press)
5. The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa by Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books)
6. Benediction by Alice Notley (Letter Machine Editions)
7. Only Love Can Bring You Peace: Selected Lyrics (1990-2014) by Simon Joyner (Magic Helicopter Press)
8. Poem Without Suffering by Josef Kaplan (Wonder)
9. Evening Oracle by Brandon Shimoda (Letter Machine Editions)
10. The Absence of Knowing by Matthew Henriksen (Black Ocean)
11. Cross Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco by Bill Mohr and Neeli Cherkovski, eds.
(Otis Books | Seismicity Editions)
12. Fearful Beloved by Khadijah Queen (Argos Books)
13. Poems by Gerard Legro by Jerrold Levy and Richard Negro (BookThug)
14. Seaglass Picnic by Frances Driscoll (Pleasure Boat Studio)
15. Farther Traveler by Ronaldo V. Wilson (Counterpath Press)
16. Shipbreaking by Robin Beth Schaer (Anhinga Press)
17. Solar Maximum by Sueyeun Juliette Lee (Futurepoem Books)
18. Literature for Nonhumans by Gabriel Gudding (Ahsahta Press)
19. Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno by Ed Pavlić (Fence Books)
20. Modern Love & Other Myths by Joyce Sutphen (Red Dragonfly Press)

For more information about CROSS-STROKES, write William.BillMohr@gmail.com