Farewell Soft Skull Press

from Arsenal Pulp Press:

Sad news in the publishing world today; Soft Skull Press, once one of the preeminent indie presses in the US, is basically no more.

Soft Skull Press, the indie publisher that was rescued from financial ruin when it was acquired by the Berkeley-based publisher Counterpoint in 2007, became a West Coast outfit on Friday after 17 years in New York with the closing of its office in the Flatiron District. Both of its full-time staffers, editorial director Denise Oswald and associate editor Anne Horowitz, were laid off, and titles that were already in the pipeline have been reassigned to editors at Counterpoint.

According to Counterpoint CEO Charlie Winton, Soft Skull will live on from California, though there will not be any one there dedicated to running it. Mr. Winton’s conception of that brand is broad. “We see the role of Soft Skull as introducing new writers,” he said, when asked to define the imprint’s sensibility. “In general, those writers are probably going to be a little younger and maybe a little edgier.”

The press achieved legendary status for having published Fortunate Son, the unauthorized biography of George W. Bush, after original publisher St. Martin’s withdrew its first edition from the market due to threats from Bush’s lawyers; the book became a huge bestseller. However, its author, J.H. Hatfield, continued to suffer from the efforts of those who doggedly and successfully smeared his name; he committed suicide only a month after Soft Skull’s second edition was published. (The drama was captured in the amazing documentary Horns and Halos.)

In later years, publisher Richard Nash steered Soft Skull to greater heights, but it remained a defiantly marginal operation; I recall the time we visited Richard and his associate at Soft Skull’s Brooklyn office — a former bookstore that was so cramped, we had to meet on the sidewalk outside. In 2007, due to financial problems resulting from his distributor, Richard sold the press to Counterpoint, where it became an imprint of a larger firm; Richard remained Soft Skull’s publisher but left about a year later. (He’s now renowned as a public speaker in the publishing industry on the subject of books and technology, and is now the brains behind Cursor, a digital publishing concern.)

Which brings us to today’s news: Counterpoint has laid off Soft Skull’s existing staff and will re-locate the “name” to the west coast, albeit with no staff attached to it. I guess it’s not surprising; whenever an independent press has been forced to sell to a larger outfit, more often than not it eventually gets wholly absorbed into the parent company until its name and reputation are “disappeared.” It’s a shame.

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2 Responses to “Farewell Soft Skull Press”

  1. Crumbs. Soft Skull published some of my work. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about being on tanked labels when I jumped the music biz boat back in the 90s.

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