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|Thursday, February 01, 2007|
From zines to best-sellers, Portland’s small-press scene writes the next chapter on niche publishing.
By Lucy Burningham
If a growing group of publishers has its way, Portland will rank alongside San Francisco and Seattle as a West Coast hub for the printed word. While the goal seems laughable to some, others cite the city’s growing number of literary agents, a unique graduate-level publishing program and both enduring and emerging small presses statewide as the existing elements for success.
Start with Oregon’s book-publishing scene. Fueled by Portland’s reputation as a city of book lovers, Oregonians around the state have been pumping out books of all kinds for decades, from graphic novels and comic books to trade fiction and literary nonfiction. Some have business plans and startup capital, while others run shoestring operations out of their garages. While there’s no way to track exactly how many “presses” exist in Oregon, Dennis Stovall, coordinator of the publishing curriculum at Portland State University, estimates the number at around 500, a number that seems inflated to some in the local publishing community.
Another local press produces titles you won’t find in any bookstore, a strategy that has helped make it a publishing giant. Canby-based Hot Off the Press publishes how-to craft books and scrapbooking supplies and sells its products only in craft stores, catalogs and on the Web, outlets that don’t practice the returnable sales policy that dooms so many small presses. The press got its start in 1980, when president Paulette Jarvey self-published a book called You Can Dough It! Since then she’s grown the company to today’s impressive size: 55 employees who manage more than 800 existing titles that sell internationally.
Just as larger presses help create a vibrant marketplace that allows smaller ones to succeed, Jarvey says that without the bevy of local small presses, her company wouldn’t have been able to succeed. Thanks to local demand for printing services, Hot Off the Press had its choice of printers. When Jarvey found Paramount Graphics in Beaverton, she knew she’d struck gold.
IF COMPANIES SUCH AS TIMBER PRESS CONTINUE to grow and succeed, they’ll need qualified employees. A 6-year-old publishing program at Portland State University aims to supply both local and national presses with just that.
“Ten years from now, we’ll be introducing at least 30 to 40 people into the publishing profession each year, and while many will stay in Portland, they’ll also scatter across America,” Stovall says. “This program could have a major impact on arts and literature in this country for a century.”
Bill Donahue, a Portland freelance writer, produces biff with his 12-year-old daughter, Allie. As “a magazine for kids and their parents,” biff has covered everything from a man with a metal detector, the same issue that included a cutout George Bush doll, to stories about people living within 253 paces of the Donahues’ home. With biff, Donahue indulges his creative side and gets to enjoy the artistic process with his daughter.
Allie Donahue says she has trouble looking at old issues of biff because she sees how she’s changed since the last publication hit the streets. And she says that because it lacks a particular political agenda, biff should be considered a magazine, not a zine. “A zine is kind of like a little kid, running around wildly, and not quite knowing what to do with his long skinny arms,” she explains. “A magazine is an old, wizened, grandfatherly gentleman, infatuated with knowledge.”
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