Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Small Is the New Big Thing

A large charge. A whopper. Big Sky Country. Big Oil. Walking Tall. The Great Plains. Great Caesar’s Ghost. Bring out the big guns. For better or worse, hugeness has always been a big (get it?) part of the American spirit. I suppose it has something to do with the spirit in which the pioneers had busted out of the claustrophobic broom closet of Europe and spilled onto a sprawling continent that must have seemed as big as the moon. And nobody lived there. Nobody of consequence, anyway. One might consider the taming of this continent, and the substantial annihilation of (yawn) Native-American culture, to have been America’s first hostile takeover. Where business is concerned, it has been an article of Darwinian faith for at least a couple of decades that bigness was an accelerating engine powered by Manifest Destiny: chain stores, box stores, megamergers (any culture in which such a term as “hostile takeover” even exists should be taking a long, hard look at itself) — the large inexorably consuming or displacing the small. How many airlines were there a generation ago? How many are there now? Companies that once were towering monoliths of industry are now subsidiaries of Brobdingnagian conglomerates that morph and merge so rapidly and continuously that it’s hard to keep track. Big deal. In the book industry, it’s not quite that simple. Oh, it’s quite true that many if not most of the once-powerful publishing firms that had a taste for adventure and risk have largely been absorbed by faceless entities obsessed with the bottom line — entities to which art and literature are commodities, and nothing more. But look closer, and something else is going on, too. Something that, if the big-league bean counters are paying any attention at all, should make them at least a little nervous. (Or a big nervous, if you will.) Statistics from the Association of American Publishers indicate that the top 50 publishers last year earned at least $20 billion from a total market of $28 billion. But according to “Under the Radar,” a study published in April by the Book Industry Study Group, there are thousands of small book publishers out there, earning between $1 million and $10 apiece in a total market estimated at $11 billion. An Associated Press story on the study, posted on the Web by MSNBC, listed such publishers as Chelsea Green Publishing Co. (2004 sales: $3.7 million); Boys Town Press (2004 sales: $1.7 million), and even Burt Levy, a race-car driver who has cleared over $1 million by self-publishing a series of novels about his motorized subculture. Don’t put away your irony detector just yet. The key to the success of all this smallness is — well, bigness: the Internet, to be exact, and the flourishing of the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. According to Chelsea Green publisher Margo Baldwin and her counterparts, Internet book sellers — in contrast to the traditional neighborhood bookstore — offer an infinite amount of electronic “shelf space.” Chelsea Green’s improbable best-seller Don’t Think of an Elephant, a self-rescue manual for political progressives by George Lakoff, wouldn’t have had a prayer of elbowing Danielle Steel and John Grisham off the shelves of the bookshop on the corner. On the Internet, there’s room for everybody, no matter how small, and a little fortuitous and well-timed publicity can go a long way. A Publishers Weekly review of Lakoff’s manifesto last October, for example, generated nationwide word of mouth before last year’s presidential election that put Don’t Think of an Elephanton book buyers’ radar and The New York Times‘ best-seller list — spurring sales of more than 150,000 copies. This from a company that operates out of one corner of one floor of a former Tip Top Bread bakery in the struggling railroad town of White River Junction, Vt., and considers a book that sells 5,000 copies a success. The rules that have ruled the publishing industry for centuries are rapidly unraveling, all right. And that’s big news.

A Dictionary to Survive the Future

When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left behind his great unpublished work, a masterpiece more than thirty years in the making—an intellectually evocative and inspiring dictionary, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. In it, Fleming examined the consequences of an economy that destroys the very foundations—ecological, […] Read More

Overshoot, Collapse, and Creating a Better Future

In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day happened on August 8—the day when we’ve exhausted the planet’s resources for the year, and are essentially borrowing from future years to maintain our existence today.Perhaps you celebrated this day with a counter-solution: a vegetarian meal, telecommuted, or turned off the air conditioning. There’s a lot more you could be […] Read More

The Future Is Hopeless, So Give it Your All

The never-ending national election in the United States, the “surprise” pro-Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, climate change … the list goes on and on about how easy it can be to lose hope in the future.Like many of life’s frustrations, or overwhelmingly large topics, most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the […] Read More

Climate Change & the End of Stationarity

Just as predicting the rise of Donald Trump as a leading presidential candidate stumped even the best of political analysts (looking at you Nate “FiveThirtyEight” Silver), the advent of the Sixth Great Extinction due to climate change and an increasingly potent mix of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has completely upended how we predict the […] Read More

Use Simple Games to Better Understand Climate Change

How is it that emissions keep growing despite rising concern about the climate change they cause? It is possible to identify several reasons for the paradox, most of which lie outside the scope of The Climate Change Playbook. But one important reason is relevant here: people do not understand the behaviors of the climate system.And […] Read More
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