In September 2013 Simon Cutts of Coracle Press wrote a blog for the first ever Small Publishers Fair website. It was launched, a year after the original organising body RGAP was wound down, and as the Fair set out to continue as a separate endeavour with its own identity.

The launch of this second website is a chance to take stock, and to look back at the history of The Small Publishers Fair. Here is that 2013 blog, updated by Simon today to include reflections on the very early thinking behind the Fair.

“It seems to me that The Small Publishers Fair is a model of arts administration. Requiring no subsidy to make it work: the money in is the money out.

Of course the whole enterprise is necessarily limited by corrective scale, and if you can only get 50 tables into the Conway Hall, then you have the requisite number of publishers.

The New York Art Book Fair is overpowering with 10,000 visitors on the Saturday. The Small Publishers is almost a family affair by comparison, and long may it remain so, by far our favourite.

Clearly there may eventually be issues of demand, but so far this has not been a problem. It should never become an issue of ‘selection’ as at the Whitechapel, (in the age of Prizes), because it seems like self-selection has been adequate, and sharing tables and on a first come first served basis. I think the SPF can move into a new era, thanks to the ground work done by Martin Rogers and other Research Group for Artists Publication comrades.

For this is where it began, out of the initial arrangement at the South Bank Centre in 2002, the very first one. At this time there was much discussion about how printmaking was changing in the art schools, from the cumbersome processes of screen-printing, etching and lithography, to a much more light-of-foot interest and concern with digital printing and publication, the ubiquitous ‘desktop’.

Maybe it would be possible to syphon-off some research money from the course at Derby and begin the Small Publishers Fair in earnest, and alongside it the Research Group? This continued until the mid-noughties, and then the very self-sufficient economy kicked in and was continuously well-developed by Helen Mitchell from 2012. ”

Simon Cutts, Coracle Press, October 2019

Today – October 2019, and the website has been refreshed; an opportunity to look back at earlier blogs. Small press publishing is thriving. In response to the growing number of book fairs of all kinds, and the increasing demand to take part in the Fair, Small Publishers Fair is still not selected, but it is now curated.

There isn’t an application form. Instead I write to publishers inviting them to take part. Considerations include the Fair’s role in its community of small press publishers, as well as the vitality brought by introducing new publishers. There’s the balance of geography (not all London, and international too) and having a variety work on show.

Above all I aim for the Fair to be an annual snapshot of some of the best of UK small press publishing, a great event, and a cornerstone for its small press communities.

Earlier this year I obtained a grant from StartEast, a development scheme funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund. The grant provided a one-off lift to design and the website. Essentially though, the Fair is still independent, not-for-profit and self-funding – still aiming to be ‘a model of arts administration’.

Helen Mitchell, October 2019

Simon Cutts in the National Poetry Library. He is seated beside 'A few cups', nine prints of cups, by Erica Van Horn
Simon Cutts and A few Cups by Erica Van Horn, National Poetry Library, 2012. Photo Caspar Evans
View from the stage at Conway Hall.
Small Publishers Fair looking down from the stage at Conway Hall
A view of activity at the Fair, blurred with motion.
Small Publishers Fair 2016.
Photo Caspar Evans
Visitors enjoy looking at books they have found at the Fair
Visitors, SPF14, photo Julie H.M. Mitchell
Visitor looking at books on Chisato Tamabayashi's table at SPF14
Chisato Tamabayashi at SPF14, photo Julie H.M. Mitchell