Tuesday, March 20, 2007

PG Dub

When I heard earlier this year that the book distributor AMS was going into bankruptcy, I can't say I was too alarmed. AMS had been struggling rather cluelessly for some years to find a niche in the book business, and they just hadn't made much of an impression. Turns out they were worse than clueless--shady accounting, a leveraged buyout, mountains of debt that somehow didn't keep the big fish from making money while the little fish suffered. To oversimplify, they were the Enron of the book business. Goodbye and good riddance.

But then I learned that part of the collateral damage of AMS's collapse was going to be the butchering of Publishers' Group West (PGW), the venerable distributor of small press titles. PGW, while doing quite nicely itself, was in the unfortunate position of being one of AMS's few valuable holdings. So it was going to be sold to pay off some of AMS's debt. The big losers? PGW's staff, of course... and the small publishers who sold their books through PGW. Not only would they lose their supplier, they wouldn't get paid for books that had already been sold.

Now, to be quite honest, PGW (PG Dub as some of us call it)was not my favorite publisher. As someone who spent a lot of time in shipping/receiving departments, I grew to have a deep fear of their trademark yellow address labels. A parochial attitude, no doubt, but I spent too much time unscrambling PGW double shipments and dealing with seemingly stoned PGW customer service personnel to feel any other way.

Still, there was a reason we put up with the mischievous doings of the PGW warehouse. The books. Like the late lamented Bookpeople, PGW carried a vast, varied, and eccentric selection of books, many of which you couldn't get anywhere else. Travel guides to everywhere, seriously offbeat fiction, books on sports you hadn't even heard of, the teachings of obscure eastern sages, all manner of new age weirdness, raunchy erotica, graphic novels... a beautifully eclectic assortment of books that fit minuscule market niches, but fit them really well. The proof being, PGW's books sold. From Avalon and Grove/Atlantic (a couple of heavy hitters) to Thunder's Mouth to Wrinkly Elbow Press (OK, I made that one up), PGW's seemingly inexhaustible line of medium, small, and tiny publishers served up a rich menu.

The state of bookselling being what it is today, with chain stores mowing down the independents and media conglomerates swallowing everything in sight, it's easy to feel that there's no place left for the little guy. And at first blush, PGW's demise seemed to be a confirmation of that. But strangely enough... not! Another small press distributor, Perseus, which has also been doing quite well lately, stepped up with an offer to take up distribution of PGW's publishers and (the important part)give them substantial payment of the money they were owed. Most of PGW's staff will still have jobs, readers everywhere will still have access to that incredible array of unique books... and no doubt I can still expect to get double shipments with little yellow labels on them.

PG Dub is dead... Long live PG Dub!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home