By Anne Nolan, Sales and Marketing, Two Rivers Press

What has 2020 been like for independent publishers in the UK? Well, it has been tough, but with some unexpected upsides. And the picture is different for each publisher.

Independent publishers vary enormously, from those who publish a handful of books every year to very large organisations such as Bloomsbury, but I think most people think of the typical indie publisher as being quite small, with a personal rather than a corporate feel.

Two Rivers Press is a very small publisher. We produce around 10 new books a year, in print format only, and mainly for a UK market. We are a member of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG), and are represented by Inpress Books, both of which enable us to punch above our weight, giving us access to shared resources and distribution networks.

For Two Rivers Press, as for many publishers, the revenue that we make from our published books pays for the costs of producing new titles. So cashflow is hugely important. Initially, when the first lockdown happened in March, nobody knew what to expect. At first it looked very bad. Bookshops closed, Amazon de-prioritised books, post and delivery services were in chaos. Many publishers took the decision to postpone the publication dates for many of their forthcoming books, and raced to make sure that their books were available in ebook format.

Thankfully, disruption to the postal service proved to be shortlived, and although Amazon sales dipped dramatically in March and April they have bounced back. Major book distributors remained operational, as did book printers. Sales of print books remain surprisingly resilient. During the pandemic people have turned to books for comfort, entertainment and escapism. At first, the major beneficiaries were the big trade publishers whose books are on the shelves in supermarkets, but as the year has gone on people have increasingly wanted to support indies of all kinds.

One major casualty this year was Bertrams, which was one of the two major wholesalers supplying the UK book trade. They went into administration in June, owing £25million. Most publishers have lost out financially to Bertrams this year. At Two Rivers Press, the Bertrams collapse cost us around 8% of our annual revenue. Fortunately, Gardners, who are the other major trade wholesaler, have stayed operational throughout and have been able to fill the gap.

Overall, we estimate that our sales through the book trade (online and bricks and mortar) are down this year by around a third. We have also lost out through not being able to sell books at events and poetry readings this year. On the other hand, direct sales through our own website have increased significantly, and have helped to offset these losses to some extent.

In August we asked our email newsletter subscribers and supporters if they would be willing to sponsor a book. We were really heartened by the response, which brought in over a thousand pounds and enabled us to publish all of our planned Autumn 2020 titles. Two Rivers Press is “Reading’s own publisher” and we are strongly connected to our local area. I think people locally have shown that they want to support small independent local businesses, and I really hope that this renewed sense of localism and community spirit continues.

Like many other independent publishers, we have been improving our website, and have added extra content, including a series of videos which provided a virtual studio trail to accompany the publication in June of ‘The Art and History of Whiteknights’, a series of online “poet of the week” articles, and a playlist featuring some of the local bands who are mentioned in ‘When Reading Really Rocked’.

We have also organised an online poetry event at the end of November featuring readings from poets whose books have been published in 2020 or who have books coming out in 2021. An online event is not the same as a live event, but it does mean that people can join in from anywhere in the world. Quite handy for fans of the Mauritian poet René Noyau, whose poems appear in English translation for the first time in ‘Earth on Fire and Other Poems’!

So we hope we have weathered the initial COVID storm, and we are cautiously optimistic that people will continue to buy enough copies of our books to keep us buoyant in 2021. Next hurdle, Brexit!


Two Rivers Press is based in Reading and is named after the Rivers Kennet and Thames which meet here. The Press publishes poetry (classic and contemporary), local interest (about Reading’s people, history, places and culture), and art (wildlife and botanical) books, and makes bold illustration and striking design important elements of its books.