There is something appropriately Bond about the offices of Ian Fleming Publications, the company which looks after his estate and protects its most famous creation. On the edge of London's Soho, an innocuous doorway has a buzzer marked "IFP". Inside, there is a distinctly post-war feel, with a heavy wooden staircase and an ancient lift with a concertina-style metal door. It is easy to imagine the Bond of the Sixties pausing outside to light a cigarette, hands cupping the flame, perhaps having just come from some infamous nightspot, now long-gone.
The company doesn't like to shout about what it does, preferring to act quietly, almost anonymously, a bit like a spy. "We're not advertising that we're here," says m.d. Corinne Turner. "As soon as you put the name up, people are interested. We like it quiet and nondescript. We're a business. This is about getting on with the job, and that's what Bond is about, too."
A family affair
Inside, the atmosphere is a world away from the high-tech sophistication and money of the Bond films. The very ordinariness of the offices highlights the paradox of the Bond phenomenon—that essentially, the James Bond brand is a global cottage industry, one that is still run by the two families who have always run it, namely Ian Fleming's descendants, who look after the publishing side, and Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, daughter and stepson of legendary—and original—Bond film producer Cubby Broccoli, who look after the films.
Simon Winder, publishing director of Penguin Press, is a long-time Bond fan. "The same groups have been in charge of the books and the films since the 1950s, and it works because both have a similar obsessive interest in detail," he observes.
"The estate could easily have fallen among thieves, but hasn't. They are focused on the books and the brand, and have always taken Ian Fleming's views seriously."
Undoubtedly, on the publishing side, Bond is enjoying a renaissance. This is the result of thoughtful planning by Turner and IFP, working in conjunction with the Fleming family and IFP's publishing partners. What comes across is the tremendous respect they have for the legacy and the care with which they keep the Bond flame alive.
This is echoed by agent Simon Trewin of United Agents, who now acts for the estate. "They're a passionate family and their first and foremost concern is that they do right by Ian. Some estates can milk it too much and devalue what they have—the Flemings have a knack of getting it right."
The next two years will see a lot of Bond activity, beginning next month with Jeffery Deaver's much-publicised Bond tale, Carte Blanche (Hodder), the newest writer to assume the Bond mantle after Sebastian Faulks did it so successfully two years ago with Devil May Care (Penguin).
In July, Orion begins republishing the long, out-of-print Bond titles by John Gardner—who wrote 14 Bond novels between 1981 and 1996. Next year will see a number of titles marking the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise that began in 1962 with "Dr No".
Meanwhile, Dorling Kindersley has three titles in preparation: The Bond Chronicle, a film-by-film history of the franchise, which will include the new, as yet untitled Bond film, due for release in November 2012; Bond on Set will also include this 23rd Bond film; while Fifty Years of Bond Film Posters will explore the iconic image of 007. Taschen is also producing one of its XL editions, a large-format coffee table book celebrating the history of the franchise.
Bond has gone digital now, too, with IFP publishing its own e-book versions of the original 14 Fleming titles "to see how it works", according to Turner. The programme started in the US in 2008 and the titles became available in the UK last November. "It's been very successful. We're seeing regular, good sales. Ian Fleming wrote his books for people to read on the train and then pass them on . . . I think he'd appreciate e-books, which are very disposable."
IFP's existing print licence with Penguin runs out in 2012 and Penguin has already said it will not renew the licence without digital rights included. Turner recognises that no publisher will want to take on the licence without the ability to publish electronically as well. "We're in a different world now and we'll always do what is best for the books. We've had a brilliant partnership with Penguin and we absolutely accept that for any publisher to do the best for the books, they will have to have the tools to be able to do that. We can't say ‘you can have these rights, but not those'—no one would want it."
Adapting and evolving
The story of Bond publishing, and the way this highly valued brand is being adapted and marketed, is fascinating. It is a story with connections to the country's most famous book prize as well as to the wider family of publishing. When Fleming died in 1964, the estate was run by his brother, the travel writer Peter Fleming, whose children Kate and Lucy are on the board of IFP today. Ian Fleming's agent was Peter Janson-Smith, father of Patrick Janson-Smith, publisher of HarperCollins imprint Blue Door. It was the older Janson-Smith who helped the family when it sought to find an author to carry on the Bond tradition.
"In the 1960s, Fleming sold half of his off-the-shelf company Glidrose Productions to Booker [the former cash-and-carry empire and first sponsor of the Booker Prize], for tax reasons," says Turner. "Jock Campbell, the Booker chairman, loved the books and had great respect for the family's wishes. The family did much to protect the rights and to keep the Ian Fleming name alive, and came up with the idea of someone else writing a Bond novel. Ian's widow, Ann Fleming, said she would allow it on one condition—that all the directors of the company had to read and approve the novels, something that still happens today."
Although many people thought Sebastian Faulks had brought Bond back, aficionados know that he had never really gone away. Other writers have taken on the Bond mantle: first Kingsley Amis, writing as Robert Markham (Jonathan Cape's Colonel Sun) in 1968; then John Gardner between 1981 and 1996; and finally, the little-known Raymond Benson, who wrote six original Bond novels and three film novelisations between 1997 and 2002.
But come the new millennium, many of these titles were either out of print or had fallen into abeyance, and Bond was being challenged by the likes of Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne. "The turning point came in 2002 with the move to Penguin Classics, which changed how he was seen," says Turner. IFP decided to stop and take stock, to explore how it could develop what it had. The late publisher-turned-agent-turned-consultant Kate Jones joined. It was she who found Charlie Higson and helped launch Young Bond. "My goal was always ‘does this have integrity in its own right?'. Otherwise it's just another branded book," says Turner. "We decided to take a step back with the adult Bonds. What we had been doing until then was series publishing: the books were out, then they were gone. We felt we should do it differently. Churning out one a year was not necessarily right."
So what is Bond's enduring appeal? "Ian's books appeared at a time of post-war austerity and opened up a whole new world to people," says Turner. "He captured people's imagination—even the idea of travel was quite exotic then. But Bond isn't perfect. He's flawed, troubled, and people like that."
The choice of a heavyweight author such as Faulks to "write as Ian Fleming" was inspired, but also a risk, and one that mirrored the risk that the film company took in casting actor Daniel Craig. But it worked magnificently and opened the door for similar moves. Turner declined to comment, but it seems highly likely that following the success of Devil May Care, a new Bond tradition has emerged.
Rather in the same way that there is always much discussion and interest in whichever actor plays Bond, so a similar interest now exists on the authorial side. At a stroke, IFP has a simple, free, marketing device the media laps up: who will write the next Bond?
Properly handled, this situation should ensure the Bond brand burns bright for many years yet. In which case, here's a prediction. The year 2014 will mark 50 years since Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun. What better excuse to approach Martin Amis for his own take?
Bond by numbers
Ian Fleming's first Bond book, Casino Royale, was published in 1953; his 13th and last, the collection Octopussy and the Living Daylights, in 1966—two years after his death. Since 1998, when Nielsen BookScan's Total Consumer Market was created, the books have shifted almost 506,000 copies for £3.3m. That total is almost exclusively Bond titles, but does include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which has had roughly £100,000 in value sales in all editions.
Fleming's bestselling title during this time is Casino Royale, boosted by the 2006 film, the first to star Daniel Craig as 007. It has sold 135,000 copies for £885,000 in all editions, with the film tie-in version accounting for £280,000 of the total. The short story "Quantum of Solace", originally published in 1960, became the title of a collection, released in 2008 to coincide with the film. It is the second bestselling Fleming title—but only just. At the time of going to press, it had sold 42,602 copies in all editions with From Russia with Love marginally behind (42,052).
Yet the bestselling Bond book since 1998 is, by far, Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care, which has sold 295,000 copies for £2.6m, figures that augur well for Hodder as it prepares for Jeffery Deaver's Carte Blanche launch in May.
Puffin's Young Bond franchise, written by Charlie Higson, has proved immensely popular, as well. The six titles (five young adult novels and a Young Bond "dossier") have sold 804,000 books for £4.9m since the initial title, Silverfin, was published in 2005.