Independent Publisher of the Year

Introduction

While some independents have suffered during the pandemic, others have not just survived but thrived. Covid gave them the chance to show all their agility and speed of thought, and they pivoted superbly towards remote working, digital working and direct selling. These eight—including four that make the shortlist for the first time—all punched way above their weight. 

Winner

Canongate c.e.o. Jamie Byng

Canongate

Seven years after its last Independent Publisher of the Year Award victory, Canongate returns to the top of the tree after another excellent year for the UK’s indie sector.

Despite bumping nearly a third of its 2020 titles into 2021, the Edinburgh and London-based indie achieved substantial growth through Nielsen BookScan’s TCM. Much of that was down to Matt Haig, whose The Midnight Library shifted more than 310,000 copies in all editions, and was sold into 37 countries. Haig’s total sales with Canongate are now around three million— just reward for a strategic publishing plan that has steered him to new genres and new audiences over more than a decade.

Beyond Haig, Canongate’s authors of the year included Lemn Sissay, Nick Cave, Claudia Hammond and Maaza Mengiste, whose The Shadow King was shortlisted for the Booker and sold 70,000 copies in all formats. Backlist sales rose in double digits too, and audio, rights and export sales all grew even faster. The marketing team adjusted well to digital events, social media campaigns and online browsing.

Throughout the year, Canongate showed the agility of independents, acting decisively at times of crisis and pivoting quickly to fresh ways of generating sales. As one of its authors put it: “It’s small enough to move nimbly, but big enough to be full of people with a huge amount of publishing experience… for everyone there, it’s more than a business.”

Judges agreed: “Canongate is a charismatic publisher… a fantastic story of growth and diversification.” They also admired the way it looked after its team during lockdowns and helped them cope with the challenges of working from home, such as introducing meeting-free periods of the day. “It’s a great company with a great culture.”

The Shortlist

  • Atlantic Books
    Shortlisted here for the third year in a row, Atlantic continued its renaissance as a general indie that combines commercial and critical success. John Kampfner and Chris Atkins gave it Sunday Times spots, and its backlist had a hatful of steady sellers.
  • Canelo
    Digital-led Canelo sold well over three million units in just its fifth full year—a third of them paperbacks. It stepped up its reissues of neglected fiction and launched a new Canelo Crime imprint, all powered by smart price promotion and high royalty rates that motivate authors.
  • Canongate
    Canongate grew sales by £2m despite pushing nearly a third of its new titles into 2021. Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library sold more than 310,00 copies, Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King added 70,000, and it impressed with a nimble switch to digital marketing and events.
  • David & Charles
    The arts and crafts specialist has been reborn since a management buyout in 2019, and sales, profits and output all rose sharply. Online courses have added a new revenue stream, and work on digital discovery and promotion was exceptional.
  • Faber & Faber
    The 2018 and 2019 winner had another record year in profit terms, with a richly diverse frontlist and growth across its massive backlist. It rebranded, picked up 20 awards and was an ally of bookshops and fellow publishers via the Independent Alliance when they needed it most.
  • Harriman House
    This finance and business specialist had its best year in nearly three decades in publishing, thanks to Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money, which has sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide. US sales quadrupled, and direct-to-consumer digital revenue surged during lockdowns.
  • Joffe Books
    Sales topped £5m at Joffe Books, and its titles racked up nearly one billion page views on Kindle Unlimited. It turned out 200 books and marketed them hard across social media. “I’d never want to be published by anyone else,” said one author.
  • Unbound
    Unbound turns ten in 2021 on the back of a record-breaking year—the result of a restructuring and a decision to publish fewer books better. Andy Hamilton and Frankie Boyle were among the stars, and its groundbreaking crowdfunding model was more popular than ever.