Publisher of the Year

Introduction

Achieving the highest value of print sales in more than a decade was a remarkable achievement for UK publishers in 2020. These eleven responded with resilience and innovation to the massive disruption of the pandemic, pivoting to remote working and embracing new opportunities in digital formats and promotion while taking good care of staff, authors and bookshops. 

Winner

Katie Espiner, Orion m.d.

Orion

After a few years in the doldrums, Hachette’s Orion division was firing on all cylinders in 2020. Each of its lists recorded a sharp increase in sales and profits, with Imprint of the Year Gollancz a standout. Eight books topped £1m in sales, and there were number ones from Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and Ben Aaronovitch. Sales snowballed for 2020 Book of the Year Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie, while Arsène Wenger, Noel Fitzpatrick, and Dick and Angel Strawbridge delivered on the non-fiction side.

Orion had huge strength in depth in the midlist and backlist, and broke fresh talent such as Naoise Dolan. It launched a new imprint, White Rabbit, and acquired another, Laurence King. The division impressed in its response to the pandemic, including excellent care of home-working staff, virtual events and effective digital marketing. Adam Kay’s Dear NHS anthology raised nearly £400,000, and Orion made excellent progress on equality, diversity and inclusion, especially through a work experience scheme.

“No publisher does it better,” said one Orion author, and the judges agreed. “Orion’s turnaround under Katie [Espiner, m.d.] is amazing… It’s brought itself back into play with great hires and acquisitions. It’s not just down to blockbuster books—every single imprint has taken a leap forward, and nothing’s been left behind.”

HIGHLY COMMENDED in this category is HarperCollins. Judges recognised not just its commercial success (which included more huge sales for David Walliams and standout years at HQ and Collins) but its support of bookshops and authors, care of staff and repayment of the government’s furlough money, as well as efforts on diversity. “HarperCollins had a great year and stepped up to the plate when most needed.”

The Shortlist

  • Bloomsbury
    Bloomsbury stands apart here as an academic as well as trade publisher, its output now at 2,500 books a year. It has made excellent use of the bonanza of JK Rowling, who provided three of its top sellers, but the highest profile author of the year was Reni Eddo-Lodge.
  • Ebury
    Ebury’s top book was also the UK’s, even though it was published in 2019: Charlie Mackesy's The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. Its titles took 124 slots on the Sunday Times’ non-fiction bestseller lists, and it teed up new lists Witness Books and Ebury Edge.
  • HarperCollins
    HC excelled across the board in 2020. Its top three sellers came from David Walliams and Tony Ross, Hilary Mantel led nine fiction number ones, and Imprint of the Year contender HQ had its best ever year. Collins flourished on the back of home schooling.
  • Headline
    Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet was Headline’s main publishing event, and Victoria Hislop and Matthew McConaughey were among successes. It broke out a good handful of new authors including Bolu Babalola too. “Always behind the author, always ahead of the field,” said one writer.
  • Hodder & Stoughton
    While banker brands like John Grisham and Stephen King delivered for Hodder, it launched new names including Abi Daré and had a surprise international hit with Clanlands, while reinvigorating much of its backlist. Audio and marketing were very strong, and it launched a new imprint, Hodder Studio.
  • Little, Brown
    Shortlisted five times in seven years, Little, Brown has been a model of consistency, but it moved into a higher gear in 2020. Sales jumped by a quarter and it provided three of Hachette’s five top sellers in Delia Owens, Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling.
  • Orion
    Seven Orion books earned seven figures in print, across both established brands like Ian Rankin, debutants including Alex Michaelides and fast-growing non-fiction names like Noel Fitzpatrick. Gollancz and Trapeze were its standout imprints, while the Dear NHS anthology raised nearly £400,000 for NHS charities.
  • Pan Macmillan
    A win here would be the fourth in seven years for Pan Mac. Pinch of Nom was its flagship brand, and it scooped the Booker with Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain. As ever it had huge strength in depth, with 62 different authors making the Bookseller’s weekly charts.
  • Penguin General
    2019’s winner had the biggest new book of 2020, Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, and two more in the top ten from Barack Obama and Bernardine Evaristo. It scooped a host of awards too. “A phenomenal team,” said one author.
  • Simon & Schuster
    A difficult year for Simon & Schuster, with the loss of boss Carolyn Reidy and the announcement of the sale to PRH. Yet the UK arm turned in a fine performance, with a 39% rise in profit fuelled by Philippa Gregory, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, Katie and Kevin Tsang, and Cho Nam-Joo.
  • Usborne
    The 2020 Children’s Publisher of the Year saw very strong growth in its international markets, with 43 titles selling in six figures. Domestically its evergreen pre-school, activity and novelty ranges flourished, and Jenny Pearson led in fiction. Direct sales swelled while shops were closed.