Thursday, January 11, 2007


It is with sadness that we announce the passing of a dear friend. Soon, our phone calls with our partners at PGW in Berkeley will no longer be interrupted by the rumble and clanking of passing locomotives. The trains will remain, PGW will not--not the PGW that we know or recognize.

Charlie Winton started PGW thirty years ago in a small hole-in-the-wall storefront a block away from historic Cannery Row. The room was perhaps 10 x 30, with Charlie shipping and packaging the books himself. It would be a decade before PGW publishers would have a written contract, with some not putting pen to paper until the early 1990s.

To understand why there was a place for PGW in the book trade, it helps to know that America's publishing houses in the 1970s were focused on creating and launching books; getting them into stores was mostly an afterthought. This meant that America's book stores--big, beautiful, vital independents--would hear about a title and order it from the publisher, but perhaps not have it shipped to them for six months or more.

Since they didn't want to tempt the fates twice, the stores would order a dozen or more copies of a book that they only needed two or three of. So Charlie's PGW began as a book wholesaler that would stock dozens of each title, and send book stores the two copies that they needed when they needed them. We call that Ingram today. But unlike Ingram, Charlie stocked the books of tiny independents and self-publishers--books that today's Costco, Wal-Mart and Target wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

With favorable winds from the ganja and a business that was thriving, Charlie moved PGW to Emeryville, California. He had an idea that was new and novel for a book wholesaler--he would hire sales reps to sell the books he stocked into the stores. The presence of Charlie's sales reps made it necessary for the book trade to create the new term "distributor." The term wholesaler was kept for companies that simply warehoused books and shipped them once an order was placed, as PGW once did.

By the late 1980s, Charlie hired PGW's first sales manager. His mission was to convert the sales reps from a commissioned group to a house staff. In 1988, PGW had sales of nearly $23 million. Ten years later it was doing close to $110 million annually.

The truly remarkable thing about this nearly 500% increase in sales is that it didn't happen because PGW went out and consumed a huge number of publishers or distributors. The crowning compliment to Charlie Winton and PGW is that he provided the kind of environment where the small presses he distributed for could grow and thrive. PGW has grown by helping its publishers to grow.

One of the great contradictions about PGW since Charlie sold it to Satan of San Diego in 2002 is that for many of us, PGW has never been better. Many of us had our best year ever in 2006. Much of the credit for that goes to new PGW president Rich Freese. He was able to take the torch from Charlie and energize an already productive PGW crew. Unfortunately, the sins of AMS would eventually be visited on PGW.

We join all PGW publishers in offering the staff of PGW our deepest thanks and in wishing you well. You made PGW a home for those of us with our funky and anything-but-mainstream presses. You made it possible for us to have a voice and a presence in an industry that is dominated by huge publishers.

In an upcoming Radio Free PGW we will take a look at the AMS part of the equation. For now, we say goodbye to the best friend that a small press could ever have.