Zoo Press Update

Remember Zoo Press? The small press that took writers’ money for a contest but never picked a winner? In the current issue Poets and Writers, Tom Hopkins charts how Neil Azevedo went from promising independent publisher everyone wanted to partner with to a pariah who was dodging emails and phone calls.

In a recent telephone conversation, Azevedo admitted that, historically, more than half of Zoo Press’s annual budget was derived from entry fees; the remainder came from book sales. Azevedo insists, however, that the press never “generate[d] the kind of income that you get rich on—or even get by on. I really want to bust the myth that somehow I’m sitting here in Omaha on a gold throne that’s been paid for by the contest entries,” he says. “It’s so not like that.” Zoo Press paid him an “insignificant” salary, Azevedo says. “I probably made like two dollars an hour.” By 2005, he was putting his own money into the press—going, he says, “into the toilet” financially. “For everybody who felt like they lost something, I certainly lost more,” says Azevedo, who claims he lost “tens of thousands of dollars—personally,” in both credit card debt and personal savings. As for the lack of communication cited by Baker and several Zoo Press authors, Azevedo says it was a “routine silence” that “just extended and extended.”

While Azevedo won’t confirm that the press will indeed close, “Zoo,” he says, “is likely closing up shop.” Azevedo has been holding out hope for the press’s survival. A colleague of his in Omaha, he says, had considered the possibility of starting a nonprofit company that would then buy Zoo Press outright, retaining Azevedo solely in an advisory capacity; in late February, however, that prospect fell through completely. Now Azevedo is trying to find another publisher to acquire Zoo Press’s backlist (the contracts and the physical books in UNP’s warehouse), as well as the books in contractual limbo. He hopes that the twenty-nine titles that the press has published, including a book of poetry by the lead singer of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, will be an appealing proposition for someone. “What’s saddest to me,” Azevedo says, “is that in the event that I [became] incapacitated—which, I guess, I kinda did—nobody really cared.”

You can read Hopkins’ article in its entirety over at P&W.