Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Margo Baldwin

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.
How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics? Publishing Talks interviews help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends.
I believe these interviews give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed within the industry.

Margo Baldwin is the co-founder of Chelsea Green Press, an outstanding and fiercely independent publisher now based in White River Junction, Vermont.  We’ve known each other a long time, and over the years, we’ve had opportunities to talk about publishing and politics on many different levels, so this interview is really a continuation of that ongoing conversation about books and ideas, and the role independent publishing can play in making real social change.  Chelsea Green’s work extends far beyond the books it publishes, to blogs, websites, video, political movements, and community involvement.  The company’s 2003 mission statement is a powerful – and sobering – expression of what a socially engaged publisher might be in the 21st century.

“Indeed, one begins to wonder what “living” really means or will come to mean in the opening decade of the twenty-first century. Can anything be deemed sustainable when life itself–in all its myriad forms–is threatened at so many levels?  Is it enough to focus on the how-to of ‘green living’ in the face of such overwhelming force, the ‘shock and awe’ of forest and ecosystem destruction, the rampant plundering of the world’s oceans, the terror of GMO-contaminated-food, and the unintended consequences of biotechnology? We wish to move the company forward boldly and with a new sense of urgency. While continuing our commitment to remain at the forefront of information about green building, organic growing, and renewable energy – the practical aspects of sustainability – we will also publish for a new politics of sustainability, for the cultural resistance that living demands of us now.”

In our Publishing Talks conversation, Margo talks about the history of Chelsea Green, where it is today, and where her vision of publishing will lead the company in the future as it tries to carry out its bold and important mission.  The recently announced partnership between Chelsea Green and Vermont’s Northshire Books is a great example of the creative thinking that Margo and her company are practicing.