Think of the word “independent” in the book world, and you imagine young fogeys in tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, earnestly proclaiming the merits of obscure novels by Japanese octogenarians which sell precisely three copies before being remaindered.
However, the best-seller lists of recent years tell quite a different story. Eats, Shoots and Leaves, The Life of Pi, Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves, the Booker-longlisted What Was Lost, by Catherine O’Flynn, all demonstrate that the current crop of independents are energetic go-getters, unearthing treasures that would be lost in bigger houses, and publishing them with focus and a positivity that would put their bigger counterparts to shame.
But are these successes simply one-offs, or part of a larger sea-change in which the flat-footed behemoths that are the conglomerates are being outstripped by nimbler, smaller rivals? Do independent publishers really make a difference?