Despite elitist concerns that giant publishing conglomerates and superstore book chains are narrowing the diversity of literature available to consumers, evidence is beginning to accumulate that the world of books is being transformed to expand reader choice as well as benefit smaller publishers.
Last November, the trade magazine Publishers Weekly reported that sales of books from smaller presses were rising dramatically in the superstores. Barnes & Noble reported that, for the quarter ending October 1997, "purchases from the top 10 publishers declined to 46% of the total, compared to 74% three years ago." The chain also reported that sales of best sellers during the quarter had fallen to less than 3 percent of total sales. The B&N sales report said these figures "reflect a wider range of consumer interest in less-known works of serious fiction and nonfiction than has previously been recognized." (See "Literature in Chains," November 1997.)
As for those who operate small publishing houses, Steve Piersanti, who runs Berrett-Koehler in San Francisco, shrugs off the fate of his larger rivals, telling The New York Times that their troubles are like the "battles between the various giant railroads while the real action was in the growth of new modes of transportation."