Even if only 0.001 per cent of the population buy books of new poetry and non-mainstream fiction, that’s a lot more people in the US than it is in the UK – which is surely one reason why more small presses appear to be flourishing over there. For example, the Ugly Duckling Presse. Look at the books they publish and then note that they have an office, an editorial board and doubtless a water cooler too. How do they do it? One thing that helps is their network of partner bookstores, a group of bookshops that commit to buying all their new titles (and presumably some backlist too). Maybe the bookshops get a special discount. Simple idea, something in it for everyone.
There is also, I suspect, more money floating around, both private and public, and more generosity. Look at, for example this list of non-profit author and publisher groups who get grants from Amazon.com. Can you imagine Amazon.co.uk doing anything similar?
And there are more new publishing models. See, for example, Red Lemonade. It looks a bit indiscriminate, but any outfit that publishes – and in book form – new work by Lynne Tillman can’t be bad.
(Tillman, by the way, has a piece in the current issue of Frieze. Q, at a recent reading: ‘What would you tell younger writers is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your writing life?’ A: ‘Don’t expect that being published will make you happy.’)