What is Dead Mall Press?
DMP is a micro-press publishing handmade chapbooks and donating half of its own income to mutual aid, anti-carceral, and social justice organizations. It is run by RM Haines and stands against the pursuit of prizes and prestige in the small press world. It is anti-capitalist and believes more writers should politicize their attitude toward publishing. More writing on these concerns can be found here and here.
When did you begin publishing?
I began thinking intently about problems in publishing as early as 2017, writing multiple essays and speculating on possible alternatives. I decided in fall of 2021 to actually start a press, and I first began accepting orders for an initial run of three of my own chapbooks in March of 2022. That October, a fourth chapbook of mine appeared.
In March of 2023, a new phase began for the press, and I began to publish other writers, releasing chapbooks by Amalia Tenuta and Franziska Hofhansel. Further books are forthcoming in summer and fall of 2023, and I intend to continue publishing for as long as I can.
How much do your books actually sell?
So far, each individual title has sold between 30 and 55 copies, totaling over 350 booklets from the press's online storefront. This also means that each writer has earned $250-350 from the press. These numbers are in addition to the copies sold individually by the writers from among their 20 complimentary copies. Writers keep all proceeds from those individual sales, allowing them to boost their earnings considerably (though these are often given away to friends of course). Further, any copies beyond the 20 free ones may be purchased from the press for a 75% discount in perpetuity.
What does "handmade chapbooks" mean?
It means I print the books myself at home, and I also edit, design, assemble, fold, staple, and trim the booklets myself. While these services are offered by printers and big stores like Staples, I prefer to do it myself. It costs nothing and gives me more control, allowing me to adjust and fine-tune the design with greater ease.
Do your books appear in bookstores?
In fall 2023, Irvington Vinyl and Books near Indianapolis placed our books on their shelves, and this informal partnership will hopefully be ongoing. Additionally, I will be donated multiple copies of each book the Ithaca House in Buffalo, NY.
I will be working to make more connections with bookstores in the future. While I am somewhat limited by the fact that many bookstores do not accept books lacking 1) a spine and 2) an ISBN number, there are still numerous independent bookstores that do. I plan to reach out to more bookstroes over the next year.
How do the donations work?
Prior to launching a new book, I pick an organization to donate to, and I announce it publicly so that people know where the money will go. As of late October 2023, the press has managed to donate over $1800 to orgs such as the Transgender Education Network of Texas; New Leaf New Life (in Bloomington, IN); the Guantanamo Survivors’ Fund; Confluence HRKC (in Kansas City, MO); the Urban Youth Collaborative (NYC); Middle East Children's Alliance; and Medical Aid for Palestinians.
When publishing my own books, I simply split it 50/50: a book selling at $10 means I keep $5 for the press and give $5 to an org. When publishing other writers, it gets a bit trickier because I split the income equally with the writer as well. For example, another writer's book selling at $12 means the writer and the press each get $6. However, the press's $6 is then split in half, and $3 is given to an org and $3 is kept for the press. Altho the press is technically giving away half of its own income, it amounts to 25% of the total sale when publishing a writer other than myself. These thinner margins are compensated for by publishing two writers at once and pooling all the money to the same org.
How have you funded the press?
Detailed descriptions of the press's finances can be found in the summary and receipt posts made on the blog. I put this info out there because I believe more people should understand the costs involved in publishing (at any scale) and to be fully aware of where a press's money comes from, how it is handled, and how much is earned or lost in the process (this is especially the case for presses that charge reading fees and hold contests).
The short version of the press's founding (and funding) is this: I put approx. $1000 of my own money into getting materials and equipment and putting out the first books. This amount was greater than necessary because much of it was spent on materials I needed just for practicing book-making and learning what I liked. (Had I started with full understanding of what I wanted to do and how to do it, I could probably have spent half of that.) Regardless, I have since recouped these costs through sales, and a very generous, no-strings-attached $500 donation from a friend of mine has further secured the press for the time being.
Going forward, I want to grow the press by making more people aware of it. However, I intend to stay small and DIY both for political and ethical reasons and to keep costs low. Were I to start doing perfect-bound books, larger print runs, and wider distribution, costs would go up considerably, and -- as I am not independently wealthy -- I would need to start securing donations and applying for grants, and this would completely change the nature of the operation. Similarly, I think services like Ingram Spark or Amazon CreateSpace would compromise the relative autonomy I want to preserve. And at the risk of soap-boxing here, I also refuse ever to hold contests (usually these are concealed fund-raisers) or to charge submission fees of any kind. I think these practices are fundamentally bad (at least in the absence of radical transparency about odds, numbers, and finances) and I do not think a press should be trusted if it has to resort to them -- or worse, if it does these things despite not actually needing to.
Overall, my aim is to keep the costs of materials as low as possible, to volunteer my own labor, and to transfer 50-75% of earnings outside of the press to others (to writers and orgs). The goal is not to make a profit for myself but simply to break even while getting poetry and mutual aid funds into the world.
What are the costs of running the press?
On average, it costs approx. $1.25 to produce a single booklet. Cardstock covers (65lb.) cost approx. 35 cents per, end paper is seven cents per, and a single sheet of 20 lb paper costs approx. 2 cents (times 5-10 sheets). We're looking at an average of roughly 60 cents strictly for cover and paper. Add on staples and ink, and we're probably looking at another 60 cents on average (at an estimated 4 cents per page multiplied by 10-20 pages). In sum, micro-chapbooks (10-15 pages) cost about $1 and regular chapbooks (16-30 pages) can cost up to $1.50.
Shipping costs fluctuate slightly, but on average this comes out to approx. $4.50. This includes the cost of mailers, cardboard inserts, label printing, taping, and Media Mail pricing (which has increased recently). International shipping is about three times this much, but it fluctuates even more.
Added to the materials, we also have the costs of obtaining and maintaining equipment: printer, stapler, X-acto knife and blades, safety ruler, cutting mat, etc. Many of these costs have been recouped, but some (such as blades and ink for printer) are ongoing.
Do you accept submissions?
Currently, I am in the process of soliciting work from writers who I think would make a good fit with the press and its vision. I am very reluctant to open up a broader submission window because it attracts people who do not understand what you are trying to do and are simply desperate for publication. Also, I hate the idea of "rejecting" people's work, and I generally want to avoid that altogether.
However, more than one writer I am publishing reached out to me first via email. They indicated that they knew what I was doing and felt their work would fit in, and this allowed us to start a conversation. Ultimately, I only want to publish people who understand the press and actually share its values. If that sounds like you, feel free to reach out at email@example.com.
Why "Dead Mall"? What is behind the name?
First, as you may know, dead malls are real -- it's not just a poetical phrase. Not only is the image of failing commerce especially apt for anyone involved in the small press world, but it also captures the spirit of our age's pre-apocalypse capitalism.
Second, the name is an homage to Walter Benjamin, whose great, unfinished Arcades Project is about the dead proto-malls of 19th century Paris. He saw something potentially revolutionary in the ruins of these temples to capital. Hidden in their architecture, unknown even to their builders, were dream-traces of a communal existence where imagination and reality intermingled, and these became exposed as the buildings were abandoned.
More personally, in the mid-1990s, my own first encounters with literature were inextricable from malls. I grew up in a very small town with a bad library and no bookstores nearby, and our household didn't have the internet (most didn't then). With no other real options, I would drive an hour to Dayton or Cincinnati (or be driven by one of my parents) and search bookstores at the mall. Sometimes I would spend hours there, treating the store like a library, knowing no one, buying nothing. And yet, in the middle of all this -- perfume counters, absurd mall cops, the worst pop music -- I found books that showed me another world was possible.
In sum, the name Dead Mall Press captures all this for me: Walter Benjamin's search for revolutionary imagination amid ruins and debris; my own young imagination living amid the traps of circumstance; the haunting overlaps between different historical moments and the materials that capture them; and the intensification of the book as commodity in the era of Amazon. All these come together for me in the name.
Some information about Dead Mall Press, its origins, practices, and principles.