The Short Answer:
A micro-press is a very small (usually one-person) publishing house that puts out a line of comics by diverse authors. They often publish in pamphlet form. They generally self-distribute or use small, independent distributors.
Micro-publisher: a person who runs a micro-press.
Micro-publishing: the act of running a micro-press.
(The world of comics doesn’t own the word “micro-press.” It can be applied generally to any publishing genre or category. But I’m writing about comics publishing here. For simplicity sake, I use the word micro-press in regards to comics publishing, and only comics publishing.)
The Long Answer:
Now, that I’ve offered you my definition, let’s take a closer look at it.
Not all micro-presses are run by a single individual, but most of them are. Some are co-run by partners (e.g., 2D Cloud, Good Pals). Some of them have outside help or the occasional intern (Domino Books, Study Group). Generally, they don’t have any paid full-time employees.
“A Line of Comics”
Trade publishers (commercial publishers who publish books for the general audience and sell them through bookstores) put out a “line” of books, and I think micro-publishers are doing something similar (though they tend do it on a much smaller scale). They are both creating a catalog of books that builds over time.
By “diverse” I means individuals, different from each other. There is a distinction between micro-publishing and self-publishing. While a micro-publisher may publish their own work (and many do), they don’t publish only their own work. Much like a typical trade publisher, the represent a number of authors.
At this time, The Tiny Report doesn’t cover publishers who publish comic anthologies only. There is no judgment here—I spent a decade publishing anthologies, and I’m very proud of that work. But putting out work of a single author— advocating for that author and putting a lot of effort into work that you don’t personally own—that’s a different relationship and a different type of publishing. Again, parallels can be made to trade publishers, generally publish in this way.
By this, I mean mini comics or floppies.
- Mini Comic: an independently published handmade comic.
- Floppy: a traditional newsstand comic pamphlet, or independently published comic pamphlet of a similar format.
While you don’t have to publish pamphlets to be micro-press, almost all of them do.
Thoughts on Distribution
Most micro-presses do not have commercial bookstore distribution. Generally, they distribute their books themselves (through webstores, comic conventions, etc.), and through small, independent distributors (e.g., Spit & a Half, Birdcage Bottom).
The argument has been made by Tom Kaczynski and Annie Koyama that publishing houses like theirs, who have commercial bookstore distribution, are not a micro-presses. It’s a good point. Once you can get your comics into bookstores (and not just comic book stores) across the country (and internationally too) you’re in another league of publishing. But I’d argue that Uncivilized and Koyama still have a foot in this league, the league of very small publishing. And while you could argue that they aren’t micro-presses, you have to admit they both started out that way. So they both remain on my list.
While distribution is an important part of the micro-press definition, it’s not the most important part (to me, at least). The most important part is this: a micro-press is a one-person (or, possibly, two-person) endeavor. A micro-press is publishing company, and it plays all the roles of publishing company. But it’s also a person.
I might be splitting hairs—it’s a living definition. And it’s not “the” definition—it’s my definition. It’s what I mean when I say micro-press.