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Bibliodiversity: An introduction
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Posted by IPG
Ahead of Bibliodiversity Day on 21 September, Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes of IPG member Victorina Press introduces the concept
Bibliodiversity is a self-sustaining system of publishing, in which independent publishers and authors perform in ways akin to the inhabitants of an ecosystem. As Susan Hawthorne describes it in Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing, it promotes the publication of local and marginal knowledges that are largely ignored by corporations more interested in homogenisation and profit than in diversity and disseminating knowledges.
A lot of independent publishing is done by enthusiastic people who do everything themselves and know they are not going to become millionaires overnight. They work very hard to open the doors of publishing to writers—particularly new and marginalised authors.
It was a group of independent publishers in Chile that first coined the term of bibliodiversity. This was later adopted by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers as it sought to identity new ways for publishers to support the contributions to society of different communities and cultures that are not reflected by mainstream presses. This is especially important in the context of the rise of companies like Amazon, which is now the most powerful retailer and publisher worldwide, with volumes that are impossible for small or even large presses to achieve.
The digital revolution of the 21st century might give a false sense of opening of local to bigger markets, because small independent publishers are giving voice to writers who might not have had a chance of being published before—perhaps because of their gender, sexuality, geographical, cultural or linguistic circumstances. Many can now self-publish if they have access to the tools available on the internet, so it is easy to create the impression that continents like Africa, Latin America or Asia are culturally free and ‘independent’. But the reality is that some big corporations continue to do the job that colonisers started centuries ago in a less obvious manner, by advocating free trade and free speech. But is it really fair trade and speech?
Susan Hawthorne also writes about the re-colonisation of minds and markets, although she accepts that if we adopt new digital tools and networks to broadcast the voices of bibliodiversity, then we can be in a better position to fight against re-colonisation. But she also notes that big publishers are re-colonising the book industry by, for example, donating reading material to poor schools in French-speaking countries in Africa. These books have been written, produced and printed by big publishers in France, and are not only imposing the official French language but competing with smaller and locally based independent presses that cannot afford to donate large numbers of books. This goes against bibliodiversity’s principles of sharing and disseminating multiple and varied values and beliefs.
Bibliodiversity’s tenets are not based on colonialism, monopsony or monopoly, but on biodiversity, in which diversity within species and ecosystems is paramount to wellbeing and smooth interaction. These principles are enriched and applied to publishing with ideas of cultural diversity and multiversity, whereby the location and context of the knower are as important as diversity in biological and genetic terms. If the ecosystem is taken over by one or more of the inhabitants, the group can suffer the consequences and harmony starts to collapse. In conventional publishing, creation and production simply for profit will eventually damage not only the environment with the cost of paper, ink and other externalities, but also writers, readers and local, national and international small independent publishers.
Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes is founder of Victorina Press. For more about Bibliodiversity Day, click here.

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