Alternative presses are typically small, non-commercial publishers which publish books with a particular world-view. Common world-views propounded by alternative presses include native, feminist, anarchist, socialist, Marxist, trade union, anti-capitalist, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Hindu or academic viewpoints.

Many alternative presses are run by advocates of a particular cause who believe that by publishing the books they do and by getting greater appreciation for certain points of view they can achieve long-term goals.

A common perception is that many alternative presses are essentially propaganda, and while many be propaganda, there is a valid point to be made that all printing is propaganda, and that by presenting non-mainstream propaganda libraries and bookshops can give their readers and customers better range of tools to understand this thing called life.

The Alternative Press Expo, the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association and the Anarchist Librarians Web all actively promote Alternative presses.