Tucked away on a quiet corner near Seventh and Gilman streets, just past the bustling Downtown area, Small Press Distribution, or SPD, seems to be a serene pool in the rapids of Berkeley life.
Yet, past its facade, you’ll find that SPD is thrumming. It’s cozy, charming and a little eclectic with its mix of office, warehouse and bookstore aesthetics, and the unique space corresponds to its unique role as a quiet axis of the literary world.
SPD’s project is spelled out clearly in its name. As a book distributor, the company moves books published by small presses to major sales channels, selling to all 50 states and several other countries. Setting itself apart from other distributors, however, SPD has carved out a special niche as the nation’s only nonprofit distributor, dedicated to nurturing small presses and independent publishers.
“We’re in it to support the literary communities around the country and the world that seek our support,” said sales and marketing manager Nicole Trigg. “Many of our presses will start out with us and then they’ll kind of graduate to for-profit distributors that have even greater range, as far as distribution goes, than us, because they have more resources. But other publishers, like one of our biggest publishers, Ugly Duckling Presse, will never leave SPD, because it’s part of their mission to not enter into that for-profit bracket. They want to be grassroots and try to stay with our mission.”
While working on a grander, national and international scale, SPD also exists as an active and essential part of the Bay Area literary community. The warehouse functions on two levels as both an industrial space for distributing books and as a grazing ground for locals with a certain taste for contemporary literature. Open every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., SPD is a dream of a bookstore, always up-to-date with the literature being written and published today — a place where it seems you could stand and watch the canon grow organically with time.
So, in effort to give back to the literary community, SPD plans to host an event called “Season of the Witch” on Oct. 27, from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. At this event, all of SPD’s books will be discounted and the company will offer guests free tacos and beer, along with a panel on magic and the occult in literature, plus other performances.
“SPD isn’t what’s called a ‘presenting’ organization,” said staff member Zoe Tuck. “We don’t exist to put on a reading series or conferences or things like that — but we do exist by virtue of and for the benefit of this very grassroots literary community, a lot of which is focused here in the Bay Area. So I think the vision here (with Season of the Witch) was, number one, to sort of have an event as a thank you to our constituency.”
On the topic, Tuck added: “I think that we had noticed that there was a particularly strong interest in occult themes in literature right now. And I think that resonated with some of our own practices and we wanted to explore that in a fun and respectful way.”
So, despite dramatic, apocalyptic predictions for the book industry, Small Press Distribution continues to thrive as a unique, essential component of the literary world.
“I’ve been in the business about 16 years now, and I’ve been through two major announcements that the print book is dead,” said Brent Cunningham, operations director for SPD. “I would be in panels and people would say, ‘there probably won’t be print books in 10 years.’ […] But I think they’re pretty durable — in sort of worst case scenario, I can see them being kind of like vinyl or something, but there’s still vinyl, and there’s certain small communities that really have a relationship to it. (Books will) be around, but I think like any industry, there’ll be a lot of change.”
Lindsay Choi covers literature. Contact her at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the quote “We’re in it to support the literary communities around the country and the world that seek our support. … Many of our presses will start out with us and then they’ll kind of graduate to for-profit distributors that have even greater range, as far as distribution goes, than us, because they have more resources. But other publishers, like one of our biggest publishers, Ugly Duckling Presse, will never leave SPD, because it’s part of their mission to not enter into that for-profit bracket. They want to be grassroots and try to stay with our mission” to Small Press Distribution publicity manager Trisha Low. In fact, it was said by Nicole Trigg, the organization’s sales and marketing manager.