Company spotlight: The History Press

Company spotlight: The History Press

The History Press’ leaner, four-pronged operation is paying off 

"I don’t want to be publishing titles for the sake of filling a list. I would rather be proud of every book I publish,” says Michael Leventhal, The History Press’ (THP) Military and Transport publisher. “I am confident that if we are publishing for a niche audience and it is quality material, and a handsomely made product, it will find a route to market.” 

Leventhal joining THP last year was one of a raft of recent changes at the Gloucestershire-based publisher. Last year, the company shed its German and US businesses—selling them on to GeraNova Bruckmann Verlagshaus and Arcadia Publishing respectively—in order to focus on its UK operation. There was also a significant restructure following a company-wide business review, and four distinct business units were created: General History and Gift, led by Sophie Bradshaw; Local History, headed by Jamie Kinnear; heritage arm Pitkin, run by Susan Swalwell; and Military and Transport, Leventhal’s operation. 

Leventhal’s unit has been specifically targeted for growth as THP looks for new ways to reach specialist audiences. With 8% of its business digital, and around 7,000 titles in print last year out of 16,000 ISBNs, THP’s business is heavily print-based. In 2013, it dramatically slashed its losses following the sale of its international arms, and reported an operating loss of £26,000 in the year to 31st December 2013, an improvement on an operating loss of £892,000 in 2012. Group turnover increased marginally, from £11.55m to £11.6m.

Tim Davies, m.d. of THP, said: “We are setting our sights high for 2015 and part of that plan is increased profitability for the UK. There will be more emphasis on Military and Transport, and the structure enables us to concentrate on four main areas of the market more closely than before.”

But growth will not come through increasing its output. In fact, THP’s Military list is being slashed by a third, from 100 to around 65 titles a year. Instead, the books will be created as higher-value products. The company will also be going after US exports and digital sales to increase growth. “We are not reducing our forecast revenues. Instead, we will drive our backlist sales,” Leventhal said, “and only take on books we would be proud to publish.” 

World history

THP will still look to compete abroad through international rights sales, and Leventhal added: “I would not commission a title unless it had an American opportunity. It needs a strong US sell. The UK is our biggest market for Military History but that might not be the case in three years’ time.” 

THP is also taking more risks and launching new imprints. Gift imprint Tumbleweed will launch this year, along with a Pocket Giants series, with external commissioning. Bradshaw, publisher of the General History and Gift unit, said: “There is a lot of room for that quirky, close-to-the-bone humour in the market. It is something we have always wanted to do and now we are making it a reality.” 

Local History will focus on acquiring books by authors who have a proven track record with marketing and promotion. Mystery Press, a crime fiction imprint that publishes stories with a heavy local emphasis—it is particularly popular in e-book format with US customers—will increase its output to 20 titles annually. Meanwhile the company’s heritage arm Pitkin, which has been going strong since 1950, has a backlist of 350 titles and will publish six new books a year. Swalwell, publisher at Pitkin, said: “We have a very separate market from the high street. The books that we produce are targeted at and created for the heritage sector, and compete with everything else in the gift shop.”