The official weblog of the little-poetry-press-that-could, Plan B Press. Specializing in chapbooks, we have published of over 40 books from authors both local and international.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Economics of Poetry

I was sent this NPR article this morning on the business of poetry:

Large publishers have been hit hard by the recession... But one corner of the publishing world has its own strange economy. Poets and those who publish them are used to earning next to nothing for their work... For editors like Bob Hershon, poetry is also a labor of love. His Hanging Loose Press advances poets the money they need to print and bind their volumes. Poets try to recoup that cost by doing readings and coaxing friends to buy their books. Hershon says his friends in commercial publishing are losing their jobs. "But we can't be out of work because we don't take any salaries," he says. "We're nuts, but my co-editors and I work out of our hip pockets.

This sounds eeerily familiar to me.When we took over the press in 2003, my meagre "real job" income was not only supporting us, it was the life support for the press. We considered it a triumph in 2005 when the press was actually supporting itself. There was even a moment when we were almost thinking that one of us might one day be monetarily compensated for our work. But that moment passed and we returned to our routine.

In the six years that I have been co-running Plan B Press, I haven't been paid a dime. I get thank you's and compliments, which are much appreciated, but the possibility of a salary somehow escapes me. When we receive inquiries from graphic designers looking for a job, it makes me chuckle a bit. They never mention the phrase pro bono, nor would expect to see it. But in a business as small as ours, if the only two current employees aren't getting paid, neither would any additional staff. Small arts organizations thrive on volunteers. Without volunteers, many small businesses would crumble.

Running a poetry press is a labor of love. It certainly isn't a money making venture. We can all agree with the NPR article- poetry is recession-proof. As Bob Dylan famously sang: When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose.


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