AMS, PGW, Avalon & Perseus

The big news in publishing is that AMS (American Marketing Services), the company that owned one of the biggest book distributors in the country, PGW (Publishers Group West), filed for bankruptcy a couple of weeks ago.

It’s huge news because PGW’s distribution services effectively enable tons of small independent publishers to get their books out there, publishers like Soft Skull (who published Charlie Anders’ Choir Boy) and Cleis Press (who publish some of Tristan Taormino’s books) and McSweeney’s (who publish things like The Believer magazine and authors like Dave Eggers and Nick Hornby).

I’ve been very lucky in all of this, because my publisher, Avalon (APG) has been purchased by Perseus Books, who have their own distributor and a reputation for giving independent imprints room to be – well, independent. Avalon was the umbrella group for both Thunder’s Mouth Press (who published My Husband Betty) and for Seal Press (who will be publishing She’s Not the Man I Married). That is, I dodged a bullet because APG was first in line to be purchased, which is not true for other smaller independent presses like Cleis.

The final impact of AMS filing bankruptcy is yet to be seen. What’s being predicted is that many small publishers will just disappear without a distributor that serves their needs, and also because many of the moneys they were owed will not be paid to them, or because any buyout of AMS will mean investors will be able to buy for pennies on the dollar. It may turn out that Perseus will help PGW, which is good news indeed: PGW was created decades ago in a publishing environment that was much friendlier to growth than the current one is.

All in all it’s a huge mess with too-numerous legal battles to follow.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

One Comment

  1. I am one of the small publisher distributed by PGW. When AMS/PGW filed for bankruptcy they chose a filing date to inflict the most damage possible on the PGW publishers. Each of us lost 4 months of revenue for books ALREADY SOLD. The 4 busiest months. For most of us those 4 months of revenue represent between 30% to 50% of our yearly revenue. Devastating is an understatement.

    Yesterday, Perseus made an offer to purchase a portion of the PGW publishers contracts. The top 65% of pre-petition claims were offered a 4 year or longer contract with Perseus and 70 cents on the dollar for their pre-petition claims if certain conditions are met. For those of us who fall below the 35% mark, we’re, how shall I say it, SOL. Perseus “may” offer us something, but they aren’t obligated to do so.

    As far as Avalon being bought by Perseus, you’ll have some strange bedfellows. including the ultra conservative Regnery Press. Also, Perseus recently purchased Consortium and is just beginning to integrate their publishers into the fold. Now they might be taking on a portion of PGW publishers. Distribution will be a nightmare.

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