Indie Publishers and Their Indie Record Label Equivalents

In the recent New York Times piece “Book Publishing’s Big Gamble,” we learn that Ryan Chapman at Atavist takes his cues for how he thinks publishing should work from indie record labels. It might seem strange to some, but Chapman is pretty dead-on in his thinking when you consider the parallels between the book publishing world and music industry, and how far indie record labels have come in terms of big sales and acts like Bon Iver (Secretly Canadian) and Arcade Fire (Merge) winning Grammys. It isn’t exactly the meek inheriting the earth, but indie labels’ rise in prominence shows that an appreciation for the art, a willingness to put out work by lesser-known bands, and a more hands-on approach to promoting the finished work has helped more than a few of them become successful, and could be a good model for the big publishing houses to look at. With that in mind, we decided to pair a few of the best indie publishers with some of the best indie music labels and ideas to see how they compare.

landscape-web

Future Tense is the K Records of indie literature…

Kevin Sampsell has a philosophy similar to Calvin Johnson’s in the early 1980s in terms of putting out stuff he knows is quality, popular format be damned. But instead of 7″ singles or cassette tapes, Sampsell puts out everything from great chapbooks by authors like Aaron Gilbreath to small collections by writers’ writers like Gary Lutz and the debut essay collections of up-and-comers like Chloe Caldwell. The best part is that, just like former K artists like Beck and Modest Mouse, you know the big labels will come sniffing around for Sampsell’s authors sooner or later. 

subpop

Emily Books is the Sub Pop Singles Club of indie literature…

This one might be cheating since the Sub Pop Singles Club isn’t its own label, but Emily Books, the “Indi(e) Bookstore” subscription service started by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry calls to mind the highly successful 7″ club the Seattle label started in 1988, where you pay for your subscription because you know the people you’re giving your money to have good taste. 

neversink

Melville House is the Drag City of indie literature…

Drag City was pretty much the indie rock label of the 1990s, boasting a stable that included everybody from Pavement to Will Oldham, but in the last few years the label has done an interesting job of balancing new releases with reissues of long-forgotten albums, as well as classics that everybody loves. Melville House does something similar to that by publishing plenty of new and contemporary authors, but also putting old and possibly overlooked classics back into print in their Art of the Novella series and the Neversink Library

winecooler

Tyrant Books is the Sacred Bones Records of indie literature…

Two ventures that started out around the same time, Tyrant puts out books by authors like Blake Butler, Marie Calloway, Michael Kimball, and others, while Sacred Bones puts out records by musicians like Zola Jesus and The Men. The reason these two are paired together is simply because the people behind each respective venture goes strictly on what they think is quality, even if some of the releases lose money. The thing is that the mainstream is starting to catch on to what both Sacred Bones is doing in music and what Tyrant is doing in literature, and that serves as an example of how the cream eventually rises to the top. 

tumblr_inline_mlgw6sMJGo1qz4rgp

Two Dollar Radio is the Touch & Go of indie literature…

Even though the 1980s punk DIY movement stressed that anybody anywhere could start a record label, a good deal of the activity was confined to the coasts. Operating out of Michigan, Touch & Go challenged that notion, and it is something that the Columbus, Ohio publisher Two Dollar Radio is doing today. 

dfa-records

McSweeney’s is the DFA of indie literature…

McSweeney’s is a popular indie publisher founded by a famous author (Dave Eggers); DFA is a popular indie record label founded by a famous musician (James Murphy). Their personal success and money means that the label is their vision, and the popularity of both McSweeney’s and DFA prove that they have their finger on the pulse. 

american-dream-machinejpg-0b34c11c24e9ec7d

Tin House is the Sub Pop of indie literature…

Even though the Brooklyn/Portland publisher hasn’t found its Nirvana yet, Tin House the book publisher grew out of Tin House the literary magazine. Sub Pop had a somewhat similar trajectory, starting out as a fanzine called Subterranean Pop, and then turning into the record label that kicked off grunge.