Poetry News

New Lights Press on the Future of Small Press Publishing

By Harriet Staff
New Lights Press, REAEDR WAr, interior

Over the holiday, Colorado-based publisher Aaron Cohick was interviewed at Entropy about New Lights Press and "publishing as an artistic practice." "One of the nice things about a press that is not a press, an institution that is not an institution, is that it can mutate as it needs to," says Cohick. More:

We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.

That’s a great question, but I don’t think that I’m qualified to comment on what “needs to change,” as I can’t pretend to know enough about the independent press world and what other people are up to. The ongoing work on making the small press world more inclusive is necessary and heartening. I try to participate in that work as much as I can. I am an educator and manager of a letterpress studio at a college, and my students and I have done several community-based, social justice awareness/fundraising print projects. Following Simon Cutts, I tend to think of printing and publishing as a kind of public art (that can cross into the private), and using/addressing that has become more and more important to the work.

I’d also love to see (and be a part of!) more crossover and collaboration between the small press world, the makers and publishers of artists’ books, the makers and publishers of comics and graphic novels, the makers and publishers of indie music, and visual artists/designers in general. There is an enormous/exciting potential in all of that mix, both in the work and in the possibilities of how it can make its way into the world.

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 NewLights Press?

NewLights is a very different operation from most small presses in terms of scale and cost. I’ve always had a day job, of course, and for the past 10 years or so I have been fortunate enough to have day jobs that have given me access to the kind of equipment that I need to do my work. The output of NewLights is so small that I’ve always been able to focus on the work and what it requires, with only a vague sense that I needed to charge enough per book to make my materials cost back. (Time is another issue, and it’s becoming more and more important these days.) I have only recently begun tracking costs closely (I went legit as a business a few years ago). Last year I lost money. This year I will make a bit, nowhere near enough to provide any kind of living income, but just enough to keep things moving. My wife and I have been saving money for a long time so that we can set up art studios at home. We are on the verge of making that happen, and it will be a huge thing once it’s done. I just try to keep the overhead low, and make sure I spend as much time as I can in the parts of the work that bring me satisfaction. I try to follow the printer Amos Kennedy’s dictum: “Make as little money as possible.” The goal has always been—and continues to be—to build a life through the work. One of my favorite artists, Emily Larned, just released a book about Bloodroot, a feminist collective/vegetarian restaurant/bookstore in Bridgeport, CT. The title is my new mantra: Our daily lives have to be a satisfaction in themselves. That is the goal.

More at Entropy.

Originally Published: January 3rd, 2018