The award-winning academic indie is looking ahead with optimism
Edward Elgar, the independent academic publisher that specialises in social science, is about to hit the big three-zero. A year away from turning 30, Tim Williams, the company’s m.d, says it is “quite exciting to no longer be the newbies on the block; we’ve outlived many an independent academic publisher”.
As to how it has done that, Williams is clear. “My feeling is that the economics of the industry have changed a little: print runs have decreased but the number of books being published has increased. Some of the big presses’ costs are lower and so they are pumping content out. As an independent, we have to be careful that we don’t go down that route. We have to concentrate on quality and international interest. Academic publishing is a business where it pays to be strong in niche areas, rather than being a fourth-rate publisher across lots of areas.”
In 2014, Edward Elgar took home The Bookseller Industry Award for Independent Academic, Educational & Professional Publisher of the Year for the second year running, on the back of record sales and profits. It has not been quietly studying for the past three decades, instead it has been growing organically into new markets, new areas of scholarship and new ways of delivering content to consumers.
The indie publishes around 300 new books a year, and in 2014 it launched a new series, Elgar Advanced Introductions, which now has around a dozen titles under its belt. It has also helped Edward Elgar to widen its retail reach. “We have been approached by lots of bookshops to put those [titles] in, whereas your standard academic monograph wouldn’t normally go into your average bookshop,“ Williams says. “So we’ve been able to broaden out into the retail market with those.”
It has also expanded into the realm of professional law titles recently, the success of which Williams says has been “surprising”. “The response from booksellers has been really positive, and we have published a book called Edward and Lane on European Union Law, which has now been cited several times by the UK Supreme Court. That sort of acknowledgement really helps.”
Elgar Online is the publisher’s direct-to-consumer site and online platform for all of its new scholarship; Williams describes it as “ideal for academic libraries wanting to collate [our] content effectively. We have found it difficult to get bookshops to sell Elgar Online, so we have had to do direct marketing to libraries and such, but we are keen to make that work and to work with retailers.”
Edward Elgar has three offices, two in the UK and one in the US, and having that extra international reach is a key component of the independent’s success. Around 90% of Edward Elgar’s sales are to libraries and consumers outside the UK, and Williams says: “That really helps, as having that strong international reach means you can more easily ride out some of the ups and downs of individual markets. Japan has been difficult as the yen devalued a lot, and when library budgets get reduced it is the discretionary spend, the book budget, that really takes the hit. We are hoping that will come back, but we’re not sure when it will. Other Asian markets do well. We have had success in Africa and the Middle East in the past couple of years as well . . . and it is those new markets where future growth will come from.”