Distribution of anarchist literature has been a major difficulty for decades, and recent improvements to a range of products has repeatedly been held back by this fact. what can we do about it?
Having a soft spot for the anarcho-punk magazine Now or Never!, I listened avidly today to an interview between Resonance FM anarchist talk show host Ian Bone and the magazine's editors, Tug and Harry K.
For those of you not in the know, NoN! is produced in Norwich, not so far from my patch, and has gone from being primarily a local rag for local people to being a nationally distributed magazine covering a huge range of weird and wonderful subjects (most famously an experiment in the differing ways you can drink your own urine - iced is apparently a bad idea).
While not everyone's bag, the magazine is well made, often extremely funny and doesn't pretend it's setting the world to rights. It's also looking increasingly good these days now Tug's got the hang of publishing software, so it deserves its national profile.
However even with the best of organisation, they like everyone else in the movement - and the left in general - are having difficulty finding new places to stock them and hawk them around.
This failure of anarchist print media in particular to crack the mainstream is becoming increasingly unwarranted, as the design and tone of anarchist literature in general has improved markedly over the last few years. Both online and off, more effort has been put into looking at what the mainstream does, understanding why it works, and then turning out our own, more honest work. Libcom, the Anarchist Federation, AK Press and Freedom Press have been among the forerunners of this, all producing professional-looking, attractive work written in an increasingly accessible way.
However this improvement has not, in many cases, gone alongside a marked increase in sales. While people have praised the improvements, the general public is not picking it up.
Doubtless some of this is down to our political brand name, yet again being dragged through the mud for the G20 by pathetic 'journalists' looking to make up a good scare story. But the main sticking point is still making our works known and available. People won't learn about our ideas unless they can see the information staring them in the face when they walk in the corner shop in the morning. What can we do about this?
Well in some ways, nothing unless we get big enough to push our way into the minds of major distributors and provide a market which they think will make them money. The fact is that at the moment, with a dearth of independent shops and outlets, deals with those remaining on the high street - WHSmith, Bookmans, Waterstone's, Tesco etc - are sewn up against the likes of us. It's debatable whether we'd get a hearing even if this wasn't the case.
However in others I believe we already have the beginnings of an answer. Across the country, we have small local groups who have in many cases done their own news sheets, or tried to sell their own magazines, or gone to their local outlets to get their stuff out. Now or Never! will have a wealth of information which could help other groups get their stuff into shops around the country. AK Press, Freedom Press, and the Social Centre network have their own lists and contacts. Many of us will have some ideas and people we know, or will have tried to sell a previous publication at some point. And others of us may be looking for something to hawk on the street for a few extra quid in the coming years.
What we don't have, yet, is a central clearing house for all this information. We don't have a database of potential outlets, or much in the way of guides to expected rates, the best approaches to take - how to close a distro deal.
Such an entity, or collective, creating and maintaining this kind of resource and with the ability to walk new groups through the minefield that is publishing, would be worth its weight in gold. As a creed which is supposed to excel in mutal aid, we desperately need something along these lines, and it's a great shame that now, when we really need it, we haven't got it. It's something I'd like to bring up at the upcoming anarchist conference in June and possibly, if another one happens some day, at a future anarchist media conference.