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.