As noted in the previous post, independent publishing houses often run into more financial and distribution issues than larger houses do. With access to fewer funds, it is not uncommon for smaller independent houses like Melville House to take on more roles than larger houses may. For Melville House, that refers to selling their books in addition to publishing them. Although not the only independent house to take on this additional role in the publishing process, (Verso is another radical left indie publisher that operates its own bookstore) it is still a unique feature that sets Melville House apart from many other publishers.
What truly sets Melville House apart from the rest, in my opinion, is its origin. As taken from their website: Melville House “was founded in 2001 by sculptor Valerie Merians and fiction writer/journalist Dennis Johnson, in order to publish Poetry After 9/11, a book of material culled from Johnson’s groundbreaking MobyLives book blog. The material consisted of things sent in to the blog by writers and poets in response to the 9/11 attacks, and Johnson and Merians felt it better represented the spirit of New York than the call to war of the Bush administration.” In addition to this relatively radical and politically-based founding, Melville House also offers a range of news regarding books and the publishing industry at large through the MobyLives blog that the house grew out of (and has since been folded into Melville House’s website) – which does set it apart from almost every other house out there.
Although transitions are not unheard of in the publishing industry (especially in the large push to move digital), Melville’s story differs from what most people may assume a transition in publishing would mean. Rather than moving from the more traditional print-based media to digital, Melville began online as a blog and moved into more traditional print media. Although this occurred back in 2001, (a good five or six years before the introduction of the Kindle and the push for e-books) this is strangely reminiscent of a transition that appears to currently be happening in the magazine industry with digital properties like Airbnb working on partnering with companies to develop print magazines. With that being said, however, Melville House has also made some more anticipated transitions: primarily their move from Hoboken, New Jersey to DUMBO, Brooklyn in 2008.
Amid all of these transitions, Melville House is still thriving. Their store acts as a popular venue for the events of other independent releases and publishers, and they have been attracting the attention of award-winning authors who have been previously been working with the Big 5 (i.e.Nobel prize winner Irme Kertesz from Knopf and Paul Berman from Norton). It’ll be interesting to see if Melville’s radical, leftists, and avant-garde reputation is a part of their success, and what that means for the future of ‘the establishment’ of the Big 5.