Edinburgh-based educational publisher Bright Red Publishing has much to celebrate: last year it reached the milestone of 10 years in business and one million books sold. This sets it in good stead to continue to grapple with Scottish educational reform and launch a new series of educational books.
Founders John Macpherson and Alan Grierson previously worked at fellow educational publisher Leckie & Leckie (then owned by Huveaux, now owned by Collins), but decided to go it alone in a bid to develop more resources for Scottish teachers and students. In 2008, Bright Red was launched as an independent alternative to the established players in Scotland: Hodder Gibson and Leckie & Leckie.
"It feels quite incredible, looking back on when we started," says Macpherson. Bright Red had just launched when the economic recession of 2008/09 hit, and Macpherson’s bank told the pair it was pulling out of small business support. "That was the initial publishing plan up in smoke!"
By that point the company had already secured a contract with the Scottish Qualifications Authority to deliver past papers, so there was real pressure around delivering them effectively from 2009 to 2013. Coupled with that, a reform with Scottish qualifications meant that the company needed to relaunch its entire list for the new examination requirements in 2013.
"To have pulled through it, sold one million books and also launched such a popular digital resource along the way, feels like an amazing achievement," says Macpherson. The resource he refers to is free online revision website Digital Zone, which it launched in 2013 to support the new businesses National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher Books. Since then, more than 100,000 students and teachers have subscribed to the Digital Zone offer. Macpherson says: "It was our first step into digital publishing and, although relatively simple, it is great to see it used so enthusiastically... more than one million tests have so far been taken on the site."
To celebrate 10 years in business, the publisher launched a blog, a YouTube channel and an Instagram presence, and ran offers, sent freebies and sponsored events—including the School Leaders Scotland conference. The publisher also sent a celebratory hamper to the buyer of its millionth book—Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh—and threw a party, complete with a large Bright Red book-shaped cake.
Bright Red usually publishes 12 books a year, although it published fewer during the past year as it dedicated time and resources to updating its backlist to meet further changes to qualification and examination practices. As a consequence, while the business’ sales increased year on year from 2013 to 2017, they have been flat since then. But Bright Red expects to publish more when everything settles down and its backlist is up to date once more. "We are seeing sales start to pick up again, which is always encouraging," says Macpherson.
Although the past decade has seen a lot of changes to the education system in Scotland, Macpherson believes that educational publishing is generally strong. "The change [in qualifications] is set to continue, so it is really important to keep a close eye on the market and build strong connections with schools and local authorities," adds Macpherson.
In general, Macpherson is optimistic about the future of independent publishing. "There are many opportunities out there for creative people brave enough to take a chance on books they believe in.
"There are also many more routes to start-up—funding, business assistance and peer support—than there was back in 2008, so I am hopeful that more young publishers will have a go at it."