Skip to Content

Two indie publishers on how they work

25 May 2015

Independent London publishing house Atlantic has recently had a new managing director, Will Atkinson. He put forward the company's publishing philosophy very clearly in an article for Bookbrunch, which sadly is behind their paywall. It is possible however to quote what he says in his article, ‘Publishing culture and commerce':

‘Publishing is the meeting of commerce and culture. We try to make money and we try to publish books that enhance people's lives and, at its highest aspiration, to make the world more comprehensible and to expand our understanding of humanity. They are two competing forces, and how you mediate them will forge the character of your publishing and your business.

I spent 21 years at Faber seeing how this balance of culture and commerce worked in a successful publisher that had been independent for more than 80 years. When I arrived at Atlantic last October, it seemed that this dialogue between the commercial and the literary/aspirational had been set out for me in publishing terms by the two existing imprints of Atlantic and Corvus.'

With Corvus making sustained and regular profits for the business, the Atlantic publishing can maintain its place on the high ground of literary fiction and quality non-fiction. This is where the identity of the publishing company lives. This is one way for an independent publishing company to make its way and survive in an industry dominated by large corporate publishers with deep pockets and a long reach internationally speaking.'

A completely different approach is shown by Asif Bashir, author-turned-publisher, the founder of Unique Inspiration and creator of children's characters Aku & Kamu. He described the breakthrough in getting his series off the ground:

‘Cross-media has been around for a while, but it wasn't until people truly witnessed the crossover between fixed and mobile internet (eg desktops vs smartphones and tablets) that we saw a real shift in the landscape. The internet was suddenly accessible in more ways than one. It opened up consumers to the world of online content, apps, games, books, videos, music and so much more. Audiences began to play a crucial role in creating and distributing content, and this crossover had to be examined in terms of social, as well as technological changes within society.

For publishers, cross-media provides a platform for creating a rounded brand and parallel revenue streams. This is where the old software development principle, "Create once, reuse many times", really came into play, with one difference: I wasn't working with code any more, but content - real, creative content. The challenge therefore was to consider how Aku & Kamu could extend from print to screen (apps, games, videos) and also offline in terms of licensing and merchandising.'

These two publishers are not typical but show that being an independent publisher means you can experiment, look at different ways of approaching the market and finding an audience that will sustain the company.

Corporate publishers do not have these freedoms and tend to be more risk-averse and to work on the basis that every book must earn its keep. This is why it is currently so difficult to get an editor working for a big publisher to take you on, unless your work is truly extraordinary. In the children's area Bashir's approach will work and his books will eventually interest big publishers - but will that be what he wants by then, after his experience of successfully going it alone?