Lummox Journal


The "modern" Mimeograph

Passion and Danger
The Renaissance of Literary Publishing During the Mimeograph Revolution 

By Christopher Harter 

In the inaugural March 1964 issue of the little magazine Intrepid, editors Allen De Loach and Will Inman boldly served notice as to the intent of their new venture:  

The purpose of this newsletter is to exist as a microphone for established poets to express [the] views of the relevant nature of living and growing and to allow young poets a similar chance. Its second purpose is to extend the presence of American poets to the mind’s eye of people who would not otherwise come in contact with the creative works of the American voice.1 

That same year, Douglas Blazek announced that his new magazine Ole would be “dedicated to the cause of making poetry dangerous.”2 Taken individually, these comments could be interpreted as the bold statements of brash young editors announcing their arrival on the publishing scene. However, more than mere braggadocio, these statements, and others like them scattered among editorials, prefaces and essays, reflected the awareness on the part of little magazine and small press editors and publishers of their collective role as saviors of poetry and fiction publishing in nineteen-sixties America. This role, in part thrust upon small presses and little magazines, but also readily adopted as a rallying cry, reflected the view that larger commercial publishing houses of the era had abandoned, or were in the midst of abandoning, literary genres. Rather than face an actual decline, literary publishing entered a renaissance during the mimeograph revolution of the sixties and seventies. While the roles of writer/editor/publisher have historically been blurred within the context of American small presses and little magazines (Harry Crosby, Harriet Monroe and Lawrence Ferlinghetti come to mind) the years ranging from the late fifties up through the next two decades saw a further blending of those roles. The grassroots ethic of the emerging youth culture took the affordable printing technology becoming available at the time as its sword in hand and pointed it toward the growing corporate nature of publishing. To paraphrase a popular song of the times by The Doors, if the big publishers had the guns, the small presses had the numbers. This generation of writers and editors embraced a notion of communitas founded in the swiftness of printing and circulation of their respective writings. As small presses rapidly spread around the country, this generation kept abreast of news and trends thanks to the speed of cheaper printing methods. At the same time, populist, contemporary subject matter, often shunned by the academic schools, and innovative forms of writing that utilized the very elements of printing technology (such as concrete poetry) became the emergent styles that resulted from the Mimeo Revolution. 

To understand the development of the Mimeo Revolution, one must first understand the transformations occurring in the larger publishing world. Trade publishing in the United States entered a period of tremendous change beginning in the sixties. With the acquisition of Alfred A. Knopf by Random House at the start of the decade, an era of mergers and consolidation shifted publishing away from what was considered a “gentlemanly pursuit,” composed largely of privately-owned companies, to an industry increasingly influenced by a profit-driven model as large electronics and communications companies began acquiring book publishers. During the next two decades over 300 mergers and acquisitions took place involving publishing and communications companies.3  The industry began to resemble the little fish to big fish diagram commonly used to illustrate the food chain  (i.e. X was acquired by Y, which was acquired by Z, etc.) a trend that continued unabated for the next forty years and which made news as late as 2003 when the proposed merger of Random House (again a key player) and Time Warner Book Group was abandoned by Random House’s parent company, German publishing giant Bertelsmann AG due to trade concerns over a perceived monopoly.4 

Looking back at decades of mergers, media historian John Tebbel summarized the changes in the industry: 

In the four decades since the close of the war . . .individualism has persisted, of course, but at the same time the industry has become homogenized to a large extent. . . . The corporate mentality has largely replaced rugged individualism as the result of innumerable and continuing mergers and acquisitions. Houses have been restructured in the corporate image until it could truly be said that the industry is nearly unrecognizable compared with what it was before the last war.  ‘Publishing as we knew it’. . .began to come to an end in the sixties. . . .5 

This changing atmosphere affected trade publishing in many ways, from acquisitions to  distribution models to advertising. In terms of acquisitions, literary genres of poetry and what poet and novelist Clarence Major has termed “serious” or avant-garde fiction were hit particularly hard.6  Never the bread and butter of publishing, these genres were referred to as “conscience books” in the trade. Publishers of earlier eras felt a cultural obligation to print innovative fiction and poetry despite their relatively small markets. In describing the trade during the first half of the twentieth century, André Schiffrin states, “. . .the majority of publishers in the United States

and Europe were interested in profit as well as literature. But it was understood that entire categories of books, particularly new fiction and poetry, were bound to lose money.”7 However, by the mid-sixties, Schiffrin continues, “the rules were changed. . .and each book was expected to make a sufficient contribution both to overhead and to profit.”8  

In literatures focusing on small presses and mainstream publishing, there is much anecdotal evidence to support the idea of declining support of these genres by trade publishers.9 By the mid-seventies, the situation had become so dire that the Library of Congress hosted a conference on the state of the publication of poetry and fiction in the United States.10 Although concrete numbers are hard to establish, according to R.R. Bowker’s annual book trade statistics, fiction and poetry titles increased by no more than 35% between 1959 and 1969 and by no more than 57% between 1959 and 1979.11 

With such numbers reflecting the status of “serious” fiction and poetry within the corporate publishing world, talk of the death of literary publishing in the United States may have seemed justified. However, as Mark Twain might say, that death would be exaggerated. During this time another, quieter change occurred within the publishing and printing worlds. The development of larger, more efficient offset presses and their use by commercial printers led to the market-availability of smaller, used offset machinery as it was sold off to make room for the newer models. In the words of Len Fulton, who has chronicled the growth of small presses with the various reference works published under his Dustbooks imprint, “[t]hey began to land in garages, cellars and front parlors.”12 Fulton has cited the resulting transition from the use of letterpress to offset by small press publishers as the “basic technical stimulus” to the growth of the small press movement.13 Other printing methods, such as mimeograph and hectograph, found their way into the hands of enterprising publishers as those technologies were abandoned by smaller businesses, schools, etc. in favor of the offset machinery. 

The Small Press Record of Books and The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, both edited and published by Fulton, provide the best record in charting the growth of this movement. The first Directory, published in 1965, was forty pages and included 250 listings; the 15th edition of 1979 included over 2,500 listings at just over 500 pages. The initial Small Press Record (focusing on books published from 1966 through October 1968 and backlisting works from 1963-1965) included 952 entries from 321 publishers; the second edition in 1972 contained twice as many entries and by 1979 included approximately 10,500 listings by over 1,000 publishers, which were increases of 3,500 and 200 over the previous year’s edition.14 

It was this explosive growth in small press publishing and its genesis in cheaper printingtechnology that gave rise to the term “mimeograph revolution,”15 itself a misnomer as mimeo production accounted for at most 23% of the publications produced by small presses during this era according to Fulton’s figures.16 

Technology does not drive revolutions, but serves as a manner of change. From the IndustrialRevolution of the late eighteenth century to today’s Information Superhighway technological changes reflect societal shifts. This “revolution” in publishing was closely connected to the emerging youth culture of the sixties, its anti-authoritarian views (in this instance aimed toward corporate publishing and more academic forms of writing) and its interest in a “do-it-yourself” ethic. 

The back-to-the-land movement and renewed interest in artisan crafts prevalent with the sixties generation extended to the area of book production (even the first issue of the Whole Earth Catalogue was homespun on a rented typewriter by cyberspace entrepreneur Stewart Brand). Whether one simply wanted to make their own books by hand or publish material that would “stick it to the man,” access to printing and the idea that one didn’t need an agent or editor ignited a new movement of writer-publishers. Small press publishing, certainly in the sixties and seventies was a young person’s world. Criticism has been leveled at the male domination of small press publishing, but women such as Alta, Diane Kruchkow, Carol Bergé and others published some of the key texts of the era elaborating on the vast, but understated history of women in printing and publishing in America. Looking back on the publishing scene of those decades, Marvin Malone, editor of the influential Wormwood Review, recalled, “There was youth, drive, and lots of arrogance.”17  The energy of the times was reflected in the words of John Bennett of Vagabond Press: “Mimeo without passion is just another pastime.”18 

Although genres varied with the small presses, poetry and fiction were the dominant forms published, and particular styles of writing were influenced by the capabilities inherent to cheaper printing methods. Spontaneity was encouraged. That’s not to say that well-crafted plot and verse were abandoned, but in some literary circles the very acts of writing and publishing became means of communication. Those in the know about contemporary writing received their news of emerging writers and their work directly via the books and magazines being published (Fulton’s Small Press Review, the first trade publication focusing on small presses and little magazines of the era, didn’t appear until early 1967). Small press scholar Michael Basinski has called the Mimeo Revolution an era of “passionately aggressive, hot publishing”19 in which a writer or poet could see new works circulated almost immediately. In describing the particular influence of the mimeograph on contemporary literature, D.R. Wagner, who printed numerous works under his Niagara: Today imprint and edited the magazines The Eight Pager, Moonstones and Runcible Spoon, said the machine “allowed an entire generation of poets and writers to communicate with one another and to an interested audience in a quick, efficient manner. Chapbooks of five hundred copies, magazines, manifestos, quick communications were all produced in significant amounts. Presses sprang up all over the country.”20 In an essay on the San Francisco publishing scene of the sixties published in John Bennett’s Vagabond magazine, poet and editor of Litmus Press, Charles Potts described the writing emerging from this generation of writer-publishers as a form of “news.”21 

It was not uncommon for magazines of the era to be described as “newsletters” rather than under the terms – magazine, review or journal. The Floating Bear, an early mimeo publication edited by Diane DiPrima and LeRoi Jones, described itself as such, eschewing the typical subscription list for a mailing list that editor DiPrima has described as “just two pieces of paper with names scribbled on them, 117 names that we had gotten out of our address books.”22  As Jones later recalled in his autobiography, “It was meant to be ‘quick, fast, and in a hurry.’ And although it had a regular circulation of about 300, those 300 were sufficiently wired for sound to project the Bear’s presence and ‘message’ (of a new literature and a new criticism) in all directions.”23 

In the first issue of La-Bas, which began much later (1976), editor Douglas Messerli described the magazine as “a newsletter of experimental poetry and poetics.” He revisited this notion in issue #5, “As I wrote in the cover letter to the first issue, I see La-Bas as. . .a newsletter as opposed to a ‘little mag.’ What I’m trying to achieve in La-Bas is the creation of a ‘forum’. . .for experiments in poetry. . .a poet can try out anything she/he wants to. . .and share these experiments with a group of peers who are interested.”24 

Some publications blurred the notions of newssheet and literary magazine even further. In his Vagabond essay cited previously, Potts (in an idiosyncratic spelling style reminiscent of Ezra Pound) highlighted The Grass Profit Review, published by John Oliver Simon and Richard Krech: “this one pager usually kuntained a kupl of poems, an okashonal polemic, a schedule of poetry readings that were kuming up and down in th period kuvered bi th particular ishu.”25 Although it only ran for ten issues during 1968, The Grass Profit Review was published with regularity to keep information timely.  

All of these editors were keenly aware of the power and expediency inherent in the use of the affordable printing methods available to them. These methods not only aided in the speed of literary production and circulation, but in its spread as well. One of the important aspects of the Mimeo Revolution was the geographic growth of literary activity throughout the United States. Historically, publishing within the U.S. had been centered on the East Coast. The establishment of Bay Area literary small presses such as City Lights, Auerhahn and White Rabbit coincided with the emergence of the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance in the fifties. 

During the sixties and seventies, this bi-coastal emphasis lessened as the affordability of printing resulted in the spread of notable presses and magazines to places such as La Grande, Oregon; New Orleans, Louisiana; Lafayette, Indiana; Lawrence, Kansas; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Omaha, Nebraska; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Cleveland, Ohio. One no longer needed access to the various support businesses of publishing (literary agents, advertising agencies and the like) commonly found on the East Coast. All one needed was a typewriter, a mimeograph machine and access to the U.S. postal system.  

Beginning in November 1964, Detroit became one of the major centers of underground literary activity due to the efforts of the Detroit Artists Workshop which had been founded by writer and activist John Sinclair and others. By 1968 the workshop had produced over 20 books as well as numerous magazines, anthologies and newsletters. This art collective had a strong local emphasis, while also connecting with similar groups and individuals nationally; these connections were facilitated by the speed at which their books and magazines could be produced and then distributed. One of the workshop’s publications, the mimeo magazine Work, included a section entitled the Artists’ Workshop Active Anthology in four of its five issues during its brief run from ‘65 to ‘66. The title of the anthology emphasized both the communal and contemporary (or “active”) aspects of the writing featured within. Another mimeographed publication printed by the workshop members was Free Poems Among Friends, edited by Sinclair and his wife Magdalene. Copies were given away on the streets of Detroit in much the same fashion as seen in the photograph that appeared on the cover of the first issue in which Magdalene is shown distributing poetry on the campus of Wayne State University. In volume 2 of Free Poems, Magdalene reported, “The Free Poems/Among Friends – movement is spreading around Detroit as well as other places of the country... It is easy to start such a movement. All one needs is access to a mimeograph or hectograph machine and a few active poets in the area. . .the possibilities are infinite.”26 Free Poems Among Friends and the Active Anthology found in Work exemplified the notion of communitas that existed between writers and editors of the era’s small presses. 

American small presses in the sixties and seventies not only grew geographically, but expanded the stylistic breadth of American fiction and poetry by fostering styles of populist writing that were not based on the prevalent academic influences of New Criticism. Small presses adopted the changing political and social trends of the era and gave voice to those who felt underrepresented by mainstream publishing, such as minority, feminist, gay writers, and others. In a similar vein, civil rights, ecological and left-wing groups from the Black Panthers to the S.D.S used the mimeograph to promote their causes. The Meat School of writing with its focus on “the meat-and-potato issues of the day,” described by poet A.D. Winans as “fucking, cursing, drugs, race, [and] prison” found support among small presses outside of the formalism of academic journals or the worries over obscenity seen by commercial publishers.27  From this loose circle of writers (including Winans, William Wantling, Ann Menebroker, and Steve Richmond) emerged Charles Bukowski, whose writing was inexorably linked to support by small presses. While his down-and-out style of writing did not find favor among academic journals or commercial publishers, his writing became ubiquitous among more independent presses and magazines. Bukowski was not always enamored of his ties with the small press journals of the time. Writing to bookseller Jim Roman, Bukowski commented, “it seems like everybody and his grandma’s dog now owns a mimeo machine” and complained about the “faded half-hearted almost unreadable pages” in some of the publications where his work appeared.28  

The growth of affordable printing not only fostered particular thematic elements in contemporary literature, but also stylistic considerations of form. One of the key explorers of the influence of printing technology on writing forms during the time was Cleveland’s d.a. levy. Like Detroit, Cleveland became one of the focal points of small press publishing during the sixties and levy was the center of attention. He was admired for the extraordinary amount of writing he produced and the variety of works he published under various imprints from 1963 until his suicide in 1968. According to the levy bibliography compiled by Alan Horvath and Kent Taylor, he composed no less than 122 books of poetry, prose, and collages and edited seven periodicals totaling 45 issues.29 

levy purchased a used tabletop platen press in February 1963. According to levy scholar Larry Smith, “From his Renegade Press with partial sets of type and little experience, levy taught himself to print letterpress books beginning with [three of] his own. . . . From March–May [of that year] he did books by George Robert Beck, Jau Billera, Richard Allen Morris, and Russell Atkins. In May of 1963, he launched the first of his many magazines, Silver Cesspool. . . .”30 

In her preface to the posthumous collection Zen Concrete & etc., Ingrid Swanberg states, “Although in the course of his publishing career levy used every printing method available to him, given his acute poverty and the confines of his working conditions [usually friends’ apartments or basements], the mimeo press was perhaps ideally suited to his immense energy and sense of immediacy.”31 

One of the strongest influences on levy’s writing and publishing, particularly his later work, was concrete poetry, a form of visual poetry that emerged from Europe and South America in the fifties. According to Fulton, “any discussion of the concrete poetry movement in the United States. . .is rather inextricably tied to the mimeograph movement.”32  levy was to become one of the leading figures of the mimeo/concrete world. 

Swanberg describes levy’s concrete poetry as “a positive experiment in communication / noncommunication.”33  levy’s interest in forms of communication, including telepathy and spiritual states of consciousness, combined with his interest in the visual arts (he produced a number of collages, paintings, drawings, and woodblock prints) and the influence of printing technology on the design of writing is seen in the poem sequences Zen Concrete (1967), The Tibetan Stroboscope (1968) and Scarab Poems (ca. 1967), works levy described as experiments in “destructive writing.”34 By repeatedly running a single page of text through a mimeograph machine, sometimes back-feeding it as well, levy produced an extreme form of concrete poetry, which D.r. Wagner has described as “changing the whole face of writing. . .the writing destroying itself while [levy’s] printing it. . .”35 The mimeograph machine allowed him to create a visual form of writing that developed out of the annihilation of language itself. Recognizing that one of the mimeo’s drawbacks was that it was not conducive to graphics, levy created an alternative to this problem in Zen Concrete and The Tibetan Stroboscope by obscuring his texts to the point that they became visual symbols of his exploration of language. 

Access to affordable printing methods allowed him the ability, to paraphrase his poem “Cleveland Undercovers,” to “cover the city with lines.” This metaphor describes not only levy’s work as a poetprinter but provides an apt description of the mimeograph revolution as a whole. During that era, there developed an interweaving of print culture and literary zeitgeist in which these two elements so closely aligned as to become symbiotic. Although small presses and little magazines had traditionally been the common ground for emerging styles of writing, technological changes resulting in more affordable printing coupled with the decline of support and interest from larger publishers resulted in a generation of writers and poets who took it upon themselves to document their own writing. David Kherdian has emphasized this empowering element of small press publishing in his essay “Poetry and the Little Press”: 

The underground or little press is as old as the printed word itself, coming along at needed times to produce a single book or two, a dozen or more, until it has satisfactorily done its work – if only because there was no other way for the writer to bring his work to light than by publishing it himself, or by having a willing friend publish it.36 

With the fervent cultural changes of the sixties, this assumption of control and direction of literature involved a political element of grass-roots activism aligning small presses and little magazines closer to earlier eras of pamphleteering (the French and American Revolutions, the English Civil War, etc.) than more traditional mainstream publishing. In the words of Kruchkow, it provided “an environment. . .in which one could discover literature first-hand.”37 The writers, editors and publishers of the mimeograph revolution fostered this discovery by placing their own hands firmly on the instruments of the printing process. 


1 Allen De Loach and Will Inman, ed., Intrepid 1 (March 1964), 1.
2 Douglas Blazek, ed., Ole 1 (1964), 1.
3 CODA, Poets & Writers Newsletter, 6:3 (February-March 1979), 23.
4 For a snapshot of the era’s mergers, see James Chotas and Miriam Phelps, comp., “Who Owns What,” Publishers Weekly (July 31, 1978), 31-33.
5 John Tebbel, Between Covers: The Rise and Transformation
of Book Publishing in America (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 352.
6 Clarence Major, “The Crunch on Serious Fiction,” The
American Book Review 2:1, 14-15
7 André Schiffrin, The Business of Books (London; New York: Verso, 2000), 11.
8 Ibid., 73.
9 Apart from Tebbel and Schiffrin, Mary Biggs in A Gift That
Cannot Be Refused: The Writing and Publishing of Contemporary American Poetry cites a number of sources in footnote 3 for Chapter 3, p. 219. See also: “A Sea Change in Subject,” Chapter 11 of Curtis Benjamin’s A Candid Critique of Book Publishing (New York; London: R. R. Bowker, 1977); Jean Spealman Kujoth, comp., Book Publishing: Inside Views (Methuen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1971); Kathryn Luther Henderson, ed., Trends in American Publishing (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, 1968); Richard Kostelanetz, The End of Intelligent Writing: Literary Politics in America (NY: Sheed and Ward, 1974); Harry Smith, “Publishing and the Destruction of Values,” The Smith, special issue 22-23 (1973), pp. 3-33; and Robert R. Fox, “The Survival of Contemporary Literature” (Pomeroy, OH: Carpenter Press, 1980), Reprint from The Ohio Library Association Bulletin.
10 See The Publication of Poetry and Fiction: A Conference Held
at the Library of Congress, October 20 and 21, 1975 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1977).
11 In comparison sports/recreation titles increased by 183% and 333%, respectively; sociology / economics titles by 614% and 1134% and education titles by 102% and 168%. The percentages for poetry and literary fiction presented here are actually less than these figures, but exact figures for those genres are impossible to determine. Bowker’s Library and Book Trade
Annual includes figures for different categories of American book production; however, poetry and drama are combined into one category and the fiction category does not differentiate between sub-genres, such as literary fiction.
12 Len Fulton, “Anima Rising: Little Magazines in the Sixties,”
American Libraries (January 1971), 26.
13 Ibid.
14 Fulton began recording the small press and little magazine information because it was not found in trade-oriented publications such as Publisher’s Weekly and Books In Print. According to Fulton, “In the 1960s Bowker’s Books in Print was possessed of many more regulations than it is now about what could be listed in it. Most small press books were thus excluded...” (The Psychologique of Small Press Publishing, p. 8). In its annual record of book trade figures, Publisher’s Weekly did not include any books under 49 pages. The charts of “Small Press Growth” and “Publishing House Growth” on page 34 of
Publisher’s Weekly (July 31, 1978) further illustrate the separate categorization of small presses continuing into the late 1970s.
15 The term “mimeograph revolution” has been credited to either Kirby Congdon or Will Inman depending on sources consulted.
16 Figures from Fulton, Anima Rising, 26.
17 Marvin Malone, “A Survey of the Little Mag Scene of the Sixties” Vagabond, 19, (1974), 44.
18 John Bennett, “Mimeo Passion, Electricity, and Cool Hand Luke” Small Press Review 17 (June 1973), 13.
19 Michael Basinski, “A Preface to the Mimeograph Revolution” in An Author Index to Little Magazines: The 1960s/70s’
Mimeograph Revolution, Christopher Harter, comp. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008).
20 D.R. Wagner, “The Mimeo Revolution,” The Outlaw Bible of
American Poetry (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999), 389–390.
21 Charles Potts, “Berkeley CA94701 CA1968” Vagabond 20 (1975), 52.
22 Diane DiPrima, “Introduction,” in The Floating Bear: A
Newsletter (La Jolla, CA: L. McGilvery, 1973), vii.
23 Baraka, Imamu, Amiri, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (New York: Freundlich Books, 1984) 69-170.
24 Messerli, Douglas, ed., La-Bas 5, 29-30.
25 Potts, “Berkeley CA94701 CA1968,” 55.
26 Free Poems Among Friends, Vol. 2 (1966).
27 “A.D. Winans,” Contemporary Authors 28, 308.
28 Charles Bukowski to Jim Roman, August 28, 1965. Charles Bukowski Papers, University of California, Santa Barbara.
29 “The d.a. levy Bibliography,” (accessed October 2007)30 Larry Smith, “d.a. levy: Cleveland’s Poet-at-Large,” in d.a.
levy & the Mimeograph Revolution, Larry Smith and Ingrid Swanberg, eds., (Huron, OH: Bottom Dog Press, 2007), 43.
31 Ingrid Swanberg, ed., Zen Concrete & Etc. (Madison, WI: Ghost Pony Press, 1991), x.
32 Fulton, “Anima Rising,” 29.
33 Swanberg, Zen Concrete & Etc., xii.
34 In Swanberg’s view, levy perfected the technique in Scarab
Poems. See Ingrid Swanberg Markhardt, “Poiēsis, Technē and Silent Writing: Lyric Poetry in the Destitute Time” PhD. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2005.
35 Swanberg, Zen Concrete & Etc., 235.
36 David Kherdian, Poetry and the Little Press (New York: Ararat Magazine, 1970), 4.
37 Diane Kruchkow and Curt Johnson, eds. Green Isle in the
Sea: An Informal History of the Alternative Press, 1960-1985 (Highland Park, IL: December Press, 1985), vii.


The POD Wars
Print on Demand Versus AMAZON

The niche market that I have worked in for the last 40 years and more makes great use of POD. This is the small corner of the Literature > Poetry world devoted to haiku and related types of Japanese-culture-derived poems. Given the size of that niche, the potential market for immediate sales is usually about 250-1000 copies, but the long-term market is on the order of 50,000 copies or more. (I know of at least three books published in the US that have approached or exceeded that mark.) Hence, POD is very attractive to all of us engaged in writing and publishing for this market.

I cannot think of a single POD title in that niche published or produced by BookSurge. (I do pay careful attention to who produces the books I review, and I review at least one new book in the field every week, often more, for my blog on the subject.) One prominent author in the field operates his own publishing company using the POD services of Lightning Source. Another editor/publisher, who is currently putting out a good number of titles each year, uses Lulu for all its titles. Many self-publishing authors in the field use iUniverse or Lulu. In addition, several smaller operators use Lulu or Lightning Source. All of these publishers have expressed considerable satisfaction with the services they have received from their POD production services.

Also, I personally know of a growing independent publisher of general poetry, a publisher who is actually supporting a family by doing so, who uses POD exclusively, putting out 35-50 titles a year. This publisher puts out fine, well-produced books from both established and emerging poets. I can think offhand of perhaps a dozen poets whom he's published that have won major national and international recognition. He does not use BookSurge.

At the recent Associated Writing Programs annual conference in NYC, I observed that a number of literary publishers, both journal and book publishers, are using POD production services. The two most often spoken of were clearly Lightning Source and Lulu.

If this observation is reasonably accurate for poetry and literature generally, a market that pays more attention to production values than does the trade book market overall, I suspect that we can make the following general observations:

1. Evidently, BookSurge has not penetrated the market sufficiently to become the dominant POD service.
2., as usual, wants to not only dominate, but take over as much as possible in every aspect of the book business. (It's clear from the information on their online bookstore that they wish to dominate publisher's thinking about which authors and which books to publish, with their constant pushing forward of their sales-ranking as an industry tool, use of collateral marketing to advertise multiple titles, and the ways in which they solicit comment from their customers--all "good marketing", but all also skewed to making theirs the primary source for book information on the web.)

It seems clear that Amazon's move is simply a ploy to create a vertical cartel, and in the process to make its BookSurge division more profitable, not to mention giving their overall operation more control over the book business generally.

It seems a clear anti-trust violation. While Ingram/B&N have certainly promoted their own POD services, they have not excluded works produced elsewhere from their sales outlets, to the best of my knowledge. This move by Amazon can only lead to some kind of POD war between the two industry giants, resulting in a winner-take-all situation in the long run, and cutting the diversity of services and access to the market we presently enjoy. At the same time, they would foreclose the very existence of independent POD services--or at least severely limit their authors' access to the market--or swallow the independent POD services in the process.

It is also another nail in the coffin of independent book stores.

As I also do some modest POD production in-house for titles from my own small press, this hurts me directly.

I was on the verge of joining one or another of's program for both books I produce and to help support my book-review blog and other online efforts. I will shortly investigate this situation more deeply, and write to expressing my dissatisfaction with this intention of theirs--and indeed my refusal to consider working with them in any of their programs.

I would be interested in supporting any effort by the Authors Guild to push back, hard, against this attempt by to establish a further reach in their already large vertical cartel with its considerable dominance in the book industry. And I will urge my colleagues in the poetry-publishing industry to express their disapproval and to join such efforts as well.

William J. Higginson
author, publisher

The Authors Guild wrote:

Last week Amazon announced that it would be requiring that all books that it sells that are produced through on-demand means be printed by BookSurge, their in-house on-demand printer/publisher. Amazon pitched this as a customer service matter, a means for more speedily delivering print-on-demand books and allowing for the bundling of shipments with other items purchased at the same time from Amazon. It also put a bit of an environmental spin on the move -- claiming less transportation fuel is used (this is unlikely, but that's another story) when all items are shipped directly from Amazon.

We, and many others, think something else is afoot. Ingram Industries' Lightning Source is currently the dominant printer for on-demand titles, and they appear to be quite efficient at their task. They ship on-demand titles shortly after they are ordered through Amazon directly to the customer. It's a nice business for Ingram, since they get a percentage of the sales and a printing fee for every on-demand book they ship. Amazon would be foolish not to covet that business.

What's the rub? Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the "long tail" of publishing -- the enormous number of titles that sell in low volumes but which, in aggregate, make a lot of money for the aggregator. Since Amazon has a firm grip on the retailing of these books (it's uneconomic for physical book stores to stock many of these titles), owning the supply chain would allow it to easily increase its profit margins on these books: it need only insist on buying at a deeper discount -- or it can choose to charge more for its printing of the books -- to increase its profits. Most publishers could do little but grumble and comply.

We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin than it is about customer service or fossil fuels. The potential big losers (other than Ingram) if Amazon does impose greater discounts on the industry, are authors -- since many are paid for on-demand sales based on the publisher's gross revenues -- and publishers.

We're reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon's bold move. If you have any information on this matter that you think could be helpful to us, please call us at (212) 563-5904 and ask for the legal services department, or send an e-mail to

Since this email came to me in April, Amazon has indeed gone through with its plan to only publish POD books that go through Book Surge.  At the time this was happening, I was in the midst of promoting my first POD project, Fire and Rain Selected Poems 1993-2007, which I had printed by  I was contacted by an agent from Book Surge repeatedly (even called me while I was working) and invited to try the Book Surge program.  I couldn't see why I should pay $299 to some company to do what I (along with Mr. Fabulous Chris Yeseta) could do for free.

Finally, the agent sent me a link to Create Space, which is a subsidiary of Book Surge, where I could do what I had done at Lulu for considerably less money.

To be honest, I wasn't going to go that route because I felt a certain loyalty to my fellow Alternative Small Press Publishers, but as it turned out, Lulu had certain limitations that I couldn't get around and these were not a problem through Create Space.  Here's a breakdown of how the two services vary: both services have no set up fee to print your book.  However, if you want your book listed (because you are your own publisher) on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble databases, you have to pay a fee for each title.  Lulu charges $99 per year, per title, while Create Space charges just $39 for the first year with a $5 per year fee after that.  Lulu charges you a per unit price that is based on the cost of printing the book, plus a percentage of your asking price. It seems to be about 38%.  If you buy copies in bulk, the price drops (but it is not very significant - a little over a dollar each at 100 books).

Create Space charges you a per unit price (once you sign up for their Pro Pack) that is based on the cost of printing and a percentage of your price, but the difference is that the cost per unit is significantly smaller...about 14%.  This makes quite a difference, as you, the publisher, are buying below wholesale from them.  Your book is listed in an "E-Store" on the Create Space website where you make a about 60% on each sale, and you are also listed on Amazon where you make about 45% on each sale (this varies because Amazon can set the price at anything it wants to...but that's another story).

The other thing about Lulu is that in order to use their "Pro" setup, you have to use their ISBNs (for which they are charging you about $30 per number).  I have a block of ISBNs that cost me about $2 each, so I'll be damned if I'm going to pay 15 times that amount!  Lulu won't let you use your own numbers...well, really, you can use your own number, but they won't list you in any of the databases they have access to - so what's the point? Not only does Create Space let you use your own ISBN, but if you don't have one, they'll give you one for free!   

I dunno, but it seems like this is a better way to go; especially if you are publishing on a shoestring like most of my colleagues. I know that I'm flirting with danger by using this service and I only hope that when the POD Wars are over and the dust settles, I will not be beaten up for collaborating with the enemy.

RD Armstrong

For examples of the three books I've done with these POD services go HERE




Wired Wash Readers Search for New Home by Ellaraine Lockie

"Don't worry, it'll be cozy," Christopher Robin said at dinner.  "We'll have a wood fire around the fire pit." 

 This was after I said, " Outside?  At night in Santa Cruz. In May?"

 That was after Brian Morrisey expressed concern that the Firefly, the first poetry reading tryout place following the close of the Wired Wash, didn't have space enough inside so the reading would need to be outside.

I thought of Mark Twain's comment that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, as I looked down at my near-naked, Italian sandaled feet and flimsy cotton outfit.  Santa Cruz is 60 miles south of San Francisco with the same oceanfront fog that combines with a wet wind whipping in from the Pacific Ocean.

Maybe it was just me, who drives over the mountains from Sunnyvale and who lives in the kind of climate that the city's name implies, but within ten minutes of pre-reading wait, I was visibly trembling.  Taking note, Christopher and one of the Firefly regulars started a fire in the open fire pit and dragged my chair and me in front of it.  And Pablo Teasdale loaned me his jacket.

I was warmer all right, but now I couldn't breathe.  The wind clearly dictated smoke inhalation for those who didn't want to turn into ice sculptures.  There was also the disturbing matter of sparks flying uncomfortably close to my hair-spayed and combustible curly hair.  I could see where the Firefly got its name. 

During the first reader, I alternated warmth and careening my face, neck and upper body out of the wind's line of fire to gulp air, but this meant breathing down Nancy Gauquier's neck, who sat a couple of feet away (dressed sensibly in jeans, heavy sweater, socks and running shoes).

I read second but am quite sure that teeth chatter made my delivery unintelligible.  And mid-poem the microphone keeled over like a dead flower on its stem.  (It probably had frozen to death).  Scotch tape repair would not erect it, but a homeless woman in the audience pulled out a roll of duct tape from one of her suitcases that eventually did the job.

Back in my seat, I continued the smoky/icy air sway dance, trying to time deep breathing with the whims of the wind and swiping sparks away with my hands.  Christopher periodically came over wearing a worried look and offering the likes of cookies and coffee.  Nancy covered my numbed-by-now feet with her Alpaca wool book bag.  I took a double dose of asthma medicine and with my routine down pat now, I rose above thoughts of pneumonia or anaphylactic shock and into the local poetry scene.

It's the eclectic people, the surprises and the sometimes excellent but always entertaining talent that make this the West Coast's Premier Reading (a reputation dubbed by poet critic, Charles Ries).  On this night we were treated to several styles of poetry, one virgin-reader poet, a female vocalist/guitarist (how her fingers could move in the cold is beyond me), a political rant, and a woman who told two short jokes and then sat down. 

Other readings I've attended with this group have yielded a ten-year old's poetry recitation, first chapters of novels, a woman's flailing-about of a dildo as she read her poems and all-out comedy routines along side a host of nationally famous featured poets in the small press.  Brian Morissey as MC is a master of charisma and glues the whole thing together every Friday with finesse.  Oh yeah, and the mic almost always works. 

But back to this reading:  Close to the conclusion (I think it was during the political rant), even through smoky light and under auspices of sheep's wool, I could see my toes turning blue.  So I hobbled to my husband's SUV and sat in the parking lot listening from there.  One of the other poets must have decided to get a head start out of the lot.  He didn't see the SUV (it is black) and smashed into its rear bumper (hard enough to break the ten-pound dark chocolate bar I took to the after-reading party).  His taillight shattered, but he said, "Don't worry about it; I can get it fixed."

All tenseness dissolved and circulation returned at the party at Brian's, where he ran a hot footbath in his tub for me.  In addition to finesse, he's got class: the bath had bubbles.

Will I return to the West Coast's Premier Poetry Reading, wherever that might be?  Absolutely.  I'd endure considerable torture just to hear Nancy G. read alone.  But I'll be wearing ski pants and jacket, after-ski boots, mittens, scarf, hat and oxygen mask.  (I won't be driving my husband's SUV though; he's forbidden it.) 

Editor's note: This article was originally set to run last summer but then The Wired Wash management relented and let those crazy poetry kids come back...that is until earlier this month (July) when it sent them packing again, off into that unquiet night.  Here's hoping they can find another venue...and soon, I've got books to sell!  RD