Small Press Distribution Suddenly Closes: Clients Need Alternative

A distributor for many indie publishers just closed its doors after 55 years. Read on to see how this may impact what you read.

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book shelves with closed sign

Small Press Distribution (SPD) was one of the last independent book distributors in the U.S. until it announced a shutdown due to a lack of funding and difficulties keeping up with the changing world of publishing. After being a part of publishing for 55 years, the company became a staple for many indie publishers to use for book production. While it may seem like the closing of SPD would lead to more opportunities for other distributors, SPD filled a gap by serving indie publishers that didn’t have the prominence to work with major distributors. Now, those indie publishers are struggling to find an alternative.

What happened to Small Press Distribution?

The closure of SPD was a rather sudden announcement, but the organization spent a long time debating the decision. According to the announcement currently on its website, SPD experienced declining sales over the past few years. The grants the company relied on shifted, and SPD lost funding in the process. SPD went to great lengths to attempt to stay open, even changing its warehouses. Despite the efforts to find emergency funding, it still wasn’t enough to stay open.

Years of declining sales and the loss of institutional support from almost every foundation that annually supported SPD have combined to squeeze our budget beyond the breaking point.

Kent Watson, The Washington Post

Since SPD was a nonprofit and relied on so many grants and donations, when they could no longer find that funding, the organization was forced to close. After a few controversies concerning workplace harassment and wage theft, the executive director resigned in 2021. Kent Watson took over shortly afterward, changing the warehouse for distribution and cutting costs to continue to support indie presses. Unfortunately, those plans didn’t cut costs in the way they hoped.

What does this mean for indie publishers?

The sudden closure of SPD has a lot of implications for the indie publishers still working with them up until the moment of closure. SPD had an inventory of around 300,000 books upon its closure, and now, the publishers want to know what’s happening to the inventory of books. Not only is it a question of where the books are, but it’s also a sunk cost for indie publishers, and those small companies definitely can’t afford the large bill.

Man storing books in a box.

Around 400 indie publishers relied on SPD to supply books. Now, those books have been shipped out to Ingram Content Group and Publishers Storage and Shipping. This leaves publishers scrambling to contact these groups to find out where certain books ended up. Publishers have had varying success in attempts to reach out to both Ingram Content Group and Publishers Storage and Shipping. Those who have made contact discovered that they’ll have to foot move fees to once again move the books.

How does this impact publishing?

Since this closure is so recent, it’s hard to know for sure the long-term impact. However, SPD’s closure is damaging to many indie publishers, especially those that were running on tight funds and might not be able to afford any fees to get their books after they are moved to new distributors.

Books in labeled storage box.

Without SPD, publishers will have to find new distributors, and it can be difficult for indie presses to find businesses willing to work with them if they aren’t as prominent. Poetry books especially, which are mostly published by small presses, are going to struggle without SPD to support distribution. But hopefully, other distributors or new alternatives will arise to take on the publishers who were in the midst of producing new books.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this story to see how it develops. For now, the full implications of SPD’s closure for indie authors and presses are yet to be seen.

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