Incredible news landed on Twitter last night, completely out of the blue:
Repeater Books, the team that started and ran Zer0 for its first seven years, have bought Zer0 Books.
The imprint will continue with all existing contracts honoured, but there will be a moratorium on commissioning until further notice.
The outpouring of joy from left-wing Twitter in the UK was palpable, and actually somewhat surprising. I haven’t seen that sort of ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead carnival atmosphere since Thatcher died. Who’d have thought that so many people would care about this news? But it felt like balance had been restored. That amazing back catalogue, including Mark Fisher’s best-selling books, are now back where they belong.
Of course, no one knows what this means yet — including many of those on the inside at Repeater Books, I’m sure — but it is clear that Tariq wants the word to spread, if only so some healing can begin.
I think most people were overjoyed about this news because Zer0 Books’ output of late has tarnished many memories for long-term fans of the imprint. I’ve hardly been shy about this myself in recent years. Though it is played off by many recent Zer0 authors as petty factionalism, rest assured I was mad about Zer0’s output long before I was a Repeater author. Zer0 was a huge influence on me when I was in my late teens and early 20s. In fact, David Stubbs’ Fear of Music was my first Zer0 book (even before Capitalist Realism) and I used it in my coursework for my Media Studies A Level.
I still have my battered Stubbs book along with a bunch of others from that golden era, including slim volumes by Mark Fisher, Evan Calder Williams, Dominic Fox, Owen Hatherley, Justin Barton, Eugene Thacker, Ben Woodard, and more. It is telling, actually, that the only post-2014 Zer0 books I own are by authors who later jumped to Repeater anyway, with the likes of Grafton Tanner being the first to come to mind who really carried that original Zer0 ideal forwards despite those who were now running it. But that small minority aside, even prior to gaining any sense of what went on behind the scenes, the drop in quality was immediate and the change in direction was stark. The idea that this might be rectified is incredibly exciting.
But it’s not just fans that are relieved — many of Zer0’s original authors are too. Agata Pyzik tweets:
The original publisher of Zero Books (ie also my first book Poor but Sexy) bought Zero back from rightwing edgelords! this is amazing news!
Whether Repeater saw the right-wing edgelords for what they were at the time is unclear, but they evidently despaired over the direction the parent company wanted the imprint to take. In a statement published at the time, Tariq was clear that the split was the result of “a long standing antagonism with the ownership of John Hunt Publishing, our parent company”, which included various “differences of opinion on how Zer0 Books should be run”. Rather than capitulate, they protested and resigned. Repeater then picked up from where it had left off by publishing the first and only book by the late Dawn Foster, whilst Zer0 embraced a newly grotesque and reactionary style that seemed like legacy media and outdated politics trying to wear the loose-fitting skin of Buzzfeed-esque clickbait in physical form.
In hindsight — and probably with some foresight, let’s be honest — Dawn’s book Lean Out couldn’t have been a better first book for Repeater to inaugurate itself with. The imprint was founded on a leaning out, whilst Doug Lain and co. chose to lean into the worst impulses of a reactionary American pseudo-left.
This direction has horrified many, not least those who first founded Zer0, who have felt like their work has been dragged through the mud of an American culture war. But whilst both imprints seem to have been amicably getting on with their own projects ever since, there have clearly been struggles behind the scenes to settle things with regards to where ownership of those original titles lies. As Repeater co-founder Alex Niven suggested on Twitter, this buy-out signals the end of “a mad 7-yr struggle” that now sees “things … heading in the right direction”.
Update: Alex has shared a longer statement from 2018 that is much clearer on all of this:
As Alex adds on Twitter: “To be clear, the people running Zero 2014-2021 knew about all of this, because we told them & asked for their solidarity (they ignored us)”.
This ignorance has been pervasive, and varies from willful to dishonest. That is clear enough now, as some of Zer0’s defenders and former employees — who seem committed either to hiding the schism or have been kept in the dark about it all together — think this is some sort of conglomerate takeover, snobbish coup d’état or an act of factional anti-leftist treachery. I have seen tweets from others who have contracts or have previously published books with Zer0 who (staggeringly) weren’t aware of the rift at all. (Others have already floated conspiracy theories that this is a QAnon attack or some deep state act of censorship, which tells you all you need to know about Zer0’s present readership.) Mike Watson, ever the hack, has compared it to the corporate espionage of oil magnates and arms dealers, even instrumentalising Mark Fisher’s memory to suggest he wouldn’t like all this infighting. It’s disgusting, but precisely what we’ve come to expect from Zer0 under their stewardship.
Alex’s statement above sets the record straight. What this is is a victory for principled publishing. Repeater formed when the original Zer0 team refused to be whipped by their parent company, already predicting the reactionary and editorially sloppy turn ahead. But seven years later, that difficult decision to split has worked out in their favour.
The scabs are out. For the first time in a long time, the future of Zer0 Books looks bright.