I reviewed this book for the final issue of Counterpoise, Summer 2010. Vol. 14, Iss. 3/4.
In this day and age, the efficacy of reference books is in question. Reference materials, holding their discrete bits of information are much easier to search online, so why bother with the print? Some might harbor "why bother?" feelings about the alternative press itself. It's hard to fight the conglomerates. As Mr. Anderson, Professor and Associate Dean for Public Services, Northern Illinois University Libraries and a scholar who has been writing on the alternative press for over 25 years, states in his introduction to the 7th edition of APBNA: Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, "Alternative publishers counter the concentration of media ownership which for the publishing industry amounts to about half a dozen conglomerates that dominate book sales and marketing, pushing small presses to the margins." This harsh reality is the very reason to persist making accessible marginalized voices ranging from the liberal to the radical left. But as for "why a reference book," this is a harder question. The future of the APBNA is digital, as Anderson himself admits. Plans are in the works for an online version, which will appear in cooperation with the Alternative Press Center's directory of alternative press periodicals, Annotations: Guide to the Independent Critical Press. Would that that day comes, and soon. Anderson wrote via email that he is collaborating with Chuck D'Adamo of the Alternative Press Index and Rory Litwin of Litwin Books/Library Juice Press (which published the 6th edition of APBNA) to get the site operational this summer. In the meantime, this old school, plain writing guide to alternative press publications serves a valuable purpose, and is also readable from page 1-154, if one is thus inclined. Its intended audience is librarians and anyone else invested in the alternative press.
With one addition, it could also be an invaluable tool for progressive authors seeking a home for their writings. The entry for each publishing house currently contains its title, contact information, motto/slogan, editor, associations, ISBN prefix, average titles publisher per year and in print, other materials produced, distributors, publication interests, and a description. It would be helpful if there were a manuscript submissions information category, as well.
The target users, librarians, can avail themselves of the book identifying presses in their areas of interest. An institution attempting to collect extensively in a certain subject area, e.g. books for children of color, could go though the seventeen page subject index to find likely publishers and then request a catalog or order appropriate materials from the publisher's website. (Anderson recommends that libraries purchase directly from the publisher or an independent bookstore when possible, rather than go through a distributor or big box bookstore.) A librarian with this particular subject interest would be in luck, because the Children/Juvenile category lists 25 presses, eight of which are also listed under Minorities with its tasty see alsos: Alaskan Natives, African Americans, Asian Americans, Discrimination, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Hispanic, Indigenous Populations, Latinas/os, and Race Relations. Left out of that list is Multiculturalism, which adds three more publishers to the prospective selector's go to sites. (For those who aren't crazy about the term Minorities, People of Color is a cross-reference.)
Other subjects with numerous publishers listed are Ecology/Environmentalism, Economics, Globalization, History, International Relations, Literature, Poetry, Political/Politics, Social Issues, Social Justice, and Women's Studies. In addition to the Subject Index, there is are also a Geographic Index (by country, state in the US and Canada), Distributor Profiles, and a Selective Bibliography.
The meat of the directory is, of course, the publisher profiles. Per Anderson, the descriptions are "a combination of [his] knowledge of the press, publisher blurbs, and occasionally others things [he's] read about the press." A small complaint is that much of the time they read more like publisher blurbs than products of the compiler's vast knowledge. There are exceptions, e.g. in his description of Enlightened Pyramid Publications Anderson writes, that it "is not, as the name could imply, a New Age publisher." While more personal annotations like that one would be appreciated, the strength of the tool is its utility, not its personality. By including publishers' mottos, Anderson does inject some pizzazz into his straightforward listings. Standouts include Akashic Books, "Reverse-gentrification of the literary world," Arbeiter Ring Publishing (a Canadian worker collective), "Left-wing politics with a rock-n-roll attitude," Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company "Subversive literature for the whole family since 1886," and South End Press "Read. Write. Revolt."
The publishers listed above are among those with the most radical missions. The left-leaning umbrella also houses religious presses like the Unitarian Beacon Press and Catholic Orbis. There are think tanks like Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute and nonprofits including Amnesty International and a family owned Chicano publisher, Calac Press, along with the usual suspect publishers like AK Press, Autonomedia, City Lights, and Verso. The nonprofits seem a little out of place, but in a listing of 172 publishers, they aren't overly distracting. Publishers range from those with no discernable new titles to one producing 90 new books a year, Africa World Press. Anderson identifies new publishers with help from members of the original American Library Association (ALA) Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) Alternatives in Print Task Force that published the first edition in 1994 (nods to Sanford Berman, Chris Dodge, and Steven Harris).
The APBNA aggregates vital information that does what libraries and librarianship do best—support self-education and scholarship. More importantly it provides an invaluable tool for what many libraries and librarians either fail or don't try hard enough to do, though they are mandated by the ALA's Library Bill of Rights to: "provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues." With the APBNA in hand, library selectors have no excuse not to collect alternative press materials with vigor and joy.