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The large and small of it

It’s always been clear that we are a small independent publisher, but only in the last week have I begun to realize just how very small we are in our sector of the industry.

In trade and especially literary publishing, there are many small publishers. Some produce only a few books a year. Others are sophisticated self-publishing operations, producing and selling the books of the owner-operators. But in our sector, academic reference publishing, the competition is colossal. Smaller reference publishers have been bought by the big guys: Fitzroy Dearborn by Taylor & Francis, Oryx by Greenwood/Elsevier, and even the old New York stalwarts like Charles Scribners Sons by Gale/Thomson.

It was hearing that Blackwells had been sold for £572 million (at today’s exchange rate, with the dollar falling, that’s close to $1.2 billion, not the $1.8 billion I first wrote here–I obviously misheard the first report, as the buzz went round the academic publishing world) and that people are suggesting $4-5 billion for Gale, which is now on the market, that made me see just how crazy we were to decide to launch our own reference imprint two years ago. Funny, at the time it seemed quite sensible, and I couldn’t understand why friends were sometimes a bit concerned. That’s the story of my life, launching into ventures I only partially understand, without the kind of money that the experts say is necessary. The fact is that if you wait till you know exactly what you’re getting into, opportunities will pass you by. And in publishing, like anything else, creativity can make a small pot of money go a long way. Friends and colleagues have helped us tremendously (you know who you are!), and this is probably just the right time to get a dose of reality, recognizing just how formidable the competition is but also understanding our strengths, and our networks, more than we did two years ago.

Here’s an article about the Blackwells sale: “Blackwell Publishing Sold For 572m” from the Oxford Mail.

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