The remarkable triumph of Paul Beatty and Oneworld at the Man Booker Prize this year (and Oneworld last year as well) is testament to a singular writer and an outstanding literary publisher. But it is something that will be celebrated across the IPG’s membership too, and as the achievement sinks in it is worth pausing to think about what it says about independent publishing in general.
Oneworld’s success continues a remarkable run at the Man Booker Prize for independents. Ahead of Oneworld's triumph in 2015 with Marlon James, Granta won in 2013 with Eleanor Catton, Bloomsbury in 2010 with Howard Jacobson, and Atlantic in 2008 with Aravind Adiga.
Independents’ contributions to the Man Booker’s shortlists have been even more impressive. Alongside Oneworld this year were Granta and Contraband, the crime imprint of Glasgow-based Saraband. In both 2011 and 2012, every book on the shortlist save the winner was independently published. Of the 36 titles shortlisted for the prize over the last six years, IPG members have published more than half - 19.
It is not just here that they have been so successful lately. Books from Granta and Fitzcarraldo Editions, founded just two years ago, make up half of this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize shortlist. Carcanet and Peepal Tree Press titles won both of the main categories at the 2016 Forward prizes. Scribe and No Exit Press were among the winners at the CWA Daggers for crime writing.
Independents do particularly well in prizes celebrating the niches of publishing. Salt Publishing had the winner of this year’s Polari Prize for LGBT writing. Vertebrate Publishing has just won two awards at the Banff Mountain Book Competition. The Goldsmiths Prize for original fiction has shortlisted books from And Other Stories, Tramp Press and Cassava Republic. Academic and professionals are prolific too; Kogan Page has five books in the running for the Management Book of the Year awards.
All of these prizes and shortlistings have come in the last month alone. Of course, much bigger publishers have had plenty to celebrate too, and the likes of Penguin Random House and Hachette are not suddenly being elbowed aside by smaller rivals. But the triumphs of independents at awards like the Man Booker does feel like a sustained and significant trend in publishing.
From where we sit at the IPG though, the burst of success is not a surprise. Our members working in literary fiction are consistently ambitious and daring in their publishing, giving voice to authors, especially those from overseas, who might otherwise never be heard. Would Marlon James and Paul Beatty even have a presence in the UK if it weren’t for an independent like Oneworld? It seems doubtful. As Beatty said of it on Wednesday night: “This is a hard book... You took the chance and look what happened.”
Oneworld - the current Ruth Killick Publicity Trade Publisher of the Year at the IPG’s Independent Publishing Awards - has many of the other hallmarks of great independents: tight-knit, nimble and wholeheartedly committed to the authors and books it publishes. It has been all of these things for many years, and it is thrilling to think of the rewards it has now earned from all its hard graft. It will take full advantage of the huge opportunities - to raise its profile domestically and globally as well as to grow sales - that lie in front of it now.
In celebrating the success of publishers like Oneworld, there is a danger of overplaying their image as small and feisty independents, run for passion rather than profit. As our Harbottle & Lewis Independent Publishing Report has just made clear, these publishers are thoroughly professional and collectively make an enormous contribution to the UK’s economy as well as culture. Nielsen, our partner on the report, estimates that IPG members share turnover of £1.1bn a year, and the fact that our membership continues to reach record highs is proof that this part of the industry is thriving - across education, academic and professional sectors as well as the trade.
As Oneworld exemplifies, independents are truly international too. Our report shows that well over a quarter (29%) of IPG members’ turnover comes from overseas, whether through exports or rights. While in many cases lacking the resources of larger publishers, they are active and engaged on the global stage. We had first-hand evidence of that at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where our two collective stands for members were hives of activity through the week.
No-one is pretending that independent publishing is suddenly a bed of roses. Independents face plenty of challenges, including those familiar to all small or medium sized businesses like resourcing and cashflow, as well as digital change and the consequences of Brexit. But IPG members rise to these and other challenges time and time again with boundless creativity and energy. Moments like Oneworld’s Man Booker triumphs give them inspiration and encouragement to keep on keeping on. We couldn’t be prouder of all their successes.
Bridget Shine is chief executive of the IPG.