What It Means to Be Independent
- Jennifer Bort Yacovissi
- December 15, 2021
…And how your support makes it possible!
Some time ago, we at the Independent had a long and lively discussion about what’s in a name — more specifically, in our name. We were wrestling (intellectually, of course) over what we mean when we say we’re independent.
It may help to know that we evolved from Washington Independent Writers, an influential organization that disbanded in the early 2000s, around the time newspapers’ standalone book-review sections began to disappear. When our hometown Washington Post nixed its Sunday Book World (a travesty that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of the Post has done nothing to correct), a handful of WIW members formed the Washington Independent Review of Books to fill the void.
What did we decide about the meaning of “independent”? It means we’re not owned by or beholden to anyone and are free from corporate influence. We choose the books we want to review without any hint of quid pro quo, and we’re here to help you find that next great read — often, books you won’t see covered in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, or the Post.
It also means:
- We’re evenhanded but opinionated, and we like to share what we’re thinking. We also agree with James Joyce that “life’s too short to read a bad book” and do our best to steer you clear of the ones we believe aren’t worth your time.
- We’re always looking for new voices, new perspectives.
- We had a mini celebration in 2015, when we became financially solvent enough to start paying for each published piece. It’s important that we not ask writers to work for free.
- We highlight and support the robust indie-bookstore community in the DMV. (Indies love other indies. As Hermie says to Rudolph, “Hey, what do you say we both be independent together?”) We also support Bookshop and Libro.fm, the online antidotes to Amazon and its sidekick, Audible.
- We’re not part of a collective. We are not a sister publication of, say, the L.A. Review of Books. There is no parent company; we are ourselves alone.
How do we stay afloat? Funny you should ask. As a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we run on donations, fundraisers, ad revenue, and a shoestring, with much of the behind-the-scenes work accomplished by volunteers.
But for us to remain independent — cue the ironic twist — we are absolutely dependent on readers donating to the cause. We try to make donating easy:
- Click on the linked book titles in our pieces and you’re whisked to our Bookshop page; a percentage of anything you buy there goes to us.
- The same is true of the Amazon link at the bottom of every review. (Though we discourage buying books on Amazon, think of everything else you get there. If you enter via our link and then navigate to anything else — from detergent to an iPad — we’ll get a percentage of those purchases, too.)
- You’ll find “Donate” buttons throughout our site where you can chip in via PayPal, a credit card, or a good old-fashioned check. (Donate $75 or $125 and choose from an amazing selection of signed books as a thank-you gift!)
What does success look like? Beyond bringing in enough revenue to keep the lights on, our measures of success involve steadily increasing our readership and being acknowledged industry wide as a peer of other respected book reviews. (One of our favorite hobbies is finding our reviews quoted in publications such as Lit Hub’s Book Marks or in cover blurbs.) We hit a big milestone in 2016, when the Library of Congress began archiving our content as a “culturally significant” online publication.
But success also means that you:
- Bookmark us and visit daily to keep up with the reviews, blogs, podcasts, interviews, and other literary goodness we publish seven days a week.
- Share what you find on social media: Tag us, link to us, and quote us. It helps new readers find us.
What does it mean to be the Independent? It means creating a publication we love and that we love to share — one we hope to keep publishing, with your help, for years to come.
Jennifer Bort Yacovissi is president of the Independent’s board of directors.