Next in our creative start-ups series we welcome to the blog Anthony Haynes, Creative Director of The Professional and Higher Partnership.
What sort of books do Professional & Higher Partnership publish & how long have you been trading?
We’ve been trading, first as an unlimited partnership and then as a limited company, for seven years. We publish books about higher education and about creative writing studies.
You describe yourself as a ‘micro-publisher’. How is this different to other small, independent publishers?
Primarily it’s a question of scale: so far we’ve published ten titles. Originally our use of the prefix ‘micro’ was just a way of being candid about that. But since I discovered that micro-breweries are often held in high esteem by beer drinkers, who value them for their distinctiveness and quality, we’ve use the prefix more proudly to indicate something analogous in publishing.
What was your experience of the publishing world before setting up P&HP?
I worked my way up in editorial in professional and scholarly publishing, first at Cassell and then at Continuum.
The publishing business can be a bit of a gamble, with large upfront costs & uncertain return. How did you fund the start-up & how do you keep the money flowing?
Yes, there’s a well-known joke that the best way to make a small fortune in publishing is to start with a large one. In truth, though, the upfront costs needn’t be astronomical. One ‘expert’ told me we’d need half a million pounds: well, that’s just nonsense.
We’ve followed a bootstrapping approach, financing our projects by re-investing profits. We also do some projects for other publishers and for universities in order to generate a steady flow of cash.
We don’t have any banks or venture capitalists breathing down our necks, so we can take a long-term view on return on investment: backlist potential (that is, the potential to keep selling over many years) is a prime criterion in our commissioning.
We’ve also enjoyed some success with selling rights, thanks to our representatives, Harriman House.
What are the main differences in publishing non-fiction, compared to fiction, for a small scale publisher? Do you think niche audiences are easier to locate?
I would hate to be focused on fiction. I’d think: How do we know where our readers are? And how do we reach them? Especially for literary fiction, where there’s little brand loyalty.
When we select our markets, our key criteria are that they must be (a) identifiable, (b) locatable, and (c) well networked – otherwise we won’t be able to market to them.
Do you use print on demand (P.O.D.) for your titles?
Yes, especially in America and Australasia, where we use Lightning Source.
In other territories we’ve reverted to a more traditional model. We use MPG Biddles as our main printer – they compete strongly on quality and cost and their customer service is excellent. Our distributor is Central Books, who provide a great service to small publishers.
How do you feel electronic publishing is affecting the non-fiction landscape?
It’s made it easier to export and it’s prolonged the life of the backlist. It’s also enabled library suppliers to offer a more diverse range of services.
I’m not sure that ‘landscape’ is still the best metaphor. I now find it more useful to think of publishing in terms of ‘ecology’: there are several systems – including self-publishing and open access – that interact in quite complex ways.
The interesting frontiers are now cloud libraries – we provide content to 24symbols, for example – and publishing to mobile devices, such as smartphones: we’ve just signed a contract with Snapplify to help develop our mobile strategy.
Your ebooks aren’t available through Amazon. Do you feel they have less of a stranglehold on the non-fiction ebook market?
I don’t think they have a stranglehold on anything. They’re the biggest player only because they do lots of things well. They’ve made books more discoverable and easier to obtain than ever before. But if they let up, they’ll lose market share.
In fact, a number of our e-books are available via Amazon’s Kindle store: it’s just that we tend to think of Kindle the way people used to think of the mass-market paperback – as the edition you do last, at the lowest price.
Our most important market is the international library market, where Amazon is much less important. Library suppliers such as Dawsonera, Ebook Library (EBL), Ebrary, Ebsco, and MyiLibrary are valuable clients for us.
Can you recommend any good websites for those looking into setting up as a publisher?
Many sites that provide news and views to established publishers would be useful for start-ups too. For example, Digital Book World and Scholarly Kitchen. And some sites aimed at self-publishers: for example, Self-Publishing Review.
I hope my own blog, Monographer would prove helpful! I discovered early on that it had a following amongst students on publishing courses and so I’ve provided a number of posts and links designed for people just starting out.
It also features Publisher’s Bookshelf – a set of reviews of useful resources for publishers.
Many thanks to Anthony for taking the time to answer our questions.