September 20th, 2016
Interview with Ramsey Kanaan, Co-Founder/Publisher
How did PM Press start?
PM Press wasn’t really a fresh start, or a brave new dawn, as such. More an outgrowth, a continuation, and a branching out of what 3 of us had been doing for decades, in terms of publishing and distribution. We all worked at AK Press (which I had founded back in the day, in Scotland—AK being my mother’s initials), and when we parted ways, we just sort of carried on. Different set of initials, similar set of concerns, and challenges.
Tell us a bit about PM Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I think more than anything else, we’re driving by the rather old-fashioned concept now that ideas matter. And that engagement with ideas ought to be rewarding, energizing, entertaining, inspirational, reflective and productive. So I guess our mission is the production and dissemination of such ideas. Politically, we definitely come from (and are hopefully contributing to in some modest fashion) the traditions and practices of anarchism, Marxism, and the wide, wild and messy spectrum of anti-authoritarian philosophy, art, culture and history. We want our books (and pamphlets, and CDs, and DVDs) to look and sound good.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
We publish around 40-50 books (et al.) a year. In many ways, it’s asking the impossible to pick out a few. Kind of like asking who’s your favorite child. Particularly when one’s favorites are often the least commercially successful/viable! In that category would have to fall the recent CD box set retrospective by English singer/songwriter/troubadour/troublemaker Robb Johnson, A Reasonable History Of Impossible Demands: The Damage To Date 1986-2013, and the fantastic historical novel (based on the true story of a Polish German teenager who shot dead a Nazi consular official in Paris in 1938) by Joseph Matthews, Everyone Has Their Reasons. The new collection of essays by legendary historian of the commons, Peter Linebaugh, An Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History Of Mayday, and the latest collection of poetry from the incomparable Ursula K. LeGuin, Late In The Day, have proven to be both a feast for the mind, and more, er, commercially viable!
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I think the challenges are pretty much the same, since I first got involved in the late 70s/early 80s as young teenage kid. I.e. how do we both get the ideas out there, and how do we get folks to engage with them. There’s no shortage really of great stuff that deserves to be out there. It’s finding and nurturing that readership, and seeing that readership create something more with the ideas, that is perennially exciting.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at PM Press?
There are 8 full time folks at PM (well, 7 full timers and 2 part timers). We’re all paid the same. We do about a million in sales every year. We started with everyone volunteering, and a credit card with a $30,000 credit limit (in the days when the banks were willing to extend such credit), and started publishing for real in 2008. It’s definitely always a struggle. I think that we have weathered the slow disintegration of the book trade better than some, as we’ve always done our own distribution (outside of our book-trade distribution via IPG). Indeed, last year, we sold more of our titles (both in terms of units, and in terms of income) than IPG—via selling directly through our website, and through a vigorous regimen of tabling at conferences, book fairs, music concerts, festivals, academic gatherings, activist retreats etc. etc. (300 and counting last year—and I’m writing this while tabling at yet another political conference).
We’ve also in the last couple of years, done a few successful Kickstarter/Indiegogo fundraisers (typically for full color books, to keep the list price affordable), and also started a non-profit arm.
We also have a monthly subscription scheme, called the Friends of PM, where subscribers pay $30.00 a month, and in return get all of our books as and when they are published, which has around 250 subscribers, which bring us in regular income each month.