Monday, July 18, 2011

Excellence and Originality

In 1986, Bloomsbury Publishing was created “to publish books of excellence and originality,” and, twenty five years later, the company is still doing just that.

After a brief career in publishing, Nigel Newton started the publishing house with the vision to publish excellent writing and physically attractive books. With a mere staff of four people who read through drafts on beanbag chairs, Bloomsbury published only literary fiction, commercial fiction, general nonfiction, and reference. Newton swore never to publish children’s books.

“We were new and brave and plucky,” said Newton, who took out 1.75 million pounds venture capital and dreamed big.

His first commitment was to establish Bloomsbury’s name. The company offered an “author’s trust,” a bonus for author’s who were published with them, one which Newton notes was an amount “that you wouldn’t sneeze at.” They put out their first books: a collection of photographs of Marilyn Monroe and A Case of Knives by Candia McWilliam. Whereas the average English company dies by its seventh year, Bloomsbury greeted its seventh anniversary with its success yet and a hopeful outlook for the future.

By 1995, Bloomsbury was floated as a public registered company and raised 5.5 million pounds. While Bloomsbury had stuck to its initial intention of publishing excellence, Newton began to rethink some of the company’s other nascent pillars.

“We realized that if we didn’t publish children’s books, we wouldn’t have a soul,” said David Reynolds, one of Newton’s first employees.

The company used the raise to expand into a publisher of paperback and children’s books.

The decision to publish children’s books, though contrary to Newton’s initial ambition, turned out to be instrumental in the rise of Bloomsbury. In 1997, Newton agreed to publish Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, the first book in a series that would eventually break 340 million sales in the United Kingdom alone. The series is, without a doubt, Bloomsbury’s greatest hit.

“It’s not something that we can replicate,” Newton commented.

By 2002, Bloomsbury had undergone an additional 6.1 million pound expansion, developed Bloomsbury USA Books for Young Readers, and acquired both Walker & Co. as well as A&C Black Plc. In 2007, Bloomsbury published Bloomsbury 21, a reprint series of 21 of its most popular books to celebrate its 21st anniversary. In 2008, Bloomsbury opened a branch in Doha, Qatar, under joint-partnership with Qatar Foundation. The company now has branches in the United States, Australia and Qatar.

With huge success in its past, Bloomsbury is now looking to a prosperous future. However, in order to appeal to the modern reader, Bloomsbury must adapt to the times. Evan Schnittman, Bloomsbury’s Managing Director Global Sales and Marketing, notes that Bloomsbury has grown beyond the book industry’s age-old motto, “pile ‘em high and watch ‘em fly” to embrace a more holistic approach to reading.

“We want you to love reading and we want you to love books,” Schnittman explained. “It’s not just about the sales.”

In order to instill in readers a love of reading, Bloomsbury publishes lovable books. They create book covers to look like keepsakes, rather than just protective panels. Moreover, they use the internet to enhance their publishing. Acknowledging that some readers prefer a portable, electronic book, Bloomsbury publishes electronic novels in addition to hard covers and paperbacks. They also seek to pique readers’ interests both on the web as well as on the page: the latest feats of Bloomsbury’s staff of now 220 were compiling the Twitter Almanac of World Events and helping their authors become online figures whom readers can “get to know” and “associate with” via the internet.

Still, as Bloomsbury continues to relish its success and grow further, its true pride lies in what has stayed the same.

“Bloomsbury began as a company to publish books of excellence and originality,” said Schnittman. “And we can say that hasn’t changed.”

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