A diverse and inclusive children’s publisher has become a Community Interest Company (CIC)—a not for profit organisation that is externally regulated—to challenge what it sees as the publishing industry’s “problematic” structure.
Formy Books, an independent family-run press based in Luton, publishes a diverse range of inclusive children's books, and aims to increase positive Black representation across all genres in children's literature, while amplifying Black creative talent in publishing.
It was launched in 2020 by Curtis Ackie and Ebony Lyon after Ackie self-published a picture book, Later, which is carried in Brixton indie store Round Table Books. Lauren Ackie holds the role of commissioning editor at the indie. The company had only been registered for a few months before it made the switch to a CIC model earlier this month.
A CIC focuses on benefiting the community rather than private shareholders, and is externally monitored by the Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies. To become a CIC, company heads must submit a statement indicating how it will benefit the community and adhere to an "asset lock" — a legal promise stating assets will only be used for its social objectives, and setting limits on the money it can pay to shareholders. The company directors must also file a report annually to show what the company has done to meet its social objectives.
“The CIC model fits really well with what we were doing already,” Lyon, founder and head of marketing, told The Bookseller. "Our passion and commitment to amplifying the lack of representation I suppose sets us apart from traditional publishing. We’ve always operated in this way, only now, the community, we hope, will have confidence that we will platform and actively seek to publish works by Black and underrepresented talent, and marginalised creators in their own voices.”
"From my point of view, the industry constantly tells us it wants to publish more work by POC (people of colour), but just seems to be actively working against this. There are numerous campaigns and initiatives, some of which are absolutely fantastic, but they’re not working on their own — there needs to be systematic change. We just wanted to create something different.”
In October 2020, the company ran a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for four new picture books by Black British creators, which will be released this year. They feature illustrations by artists based in the US, Grenada and France.
Formy Books plans to work closely with the art community in Luton, where it is based, to increase exposure of the creative culture that “bubbles under the surface”. It will also make copies of its books available to local residents who may not be able to afford them, and will soon roll out free digital content to increase access to its publications.
Moving forward, the company hopes to become sustainable from its book sales but may organise crowdfunding campaigns in the future.
“Money won’t be the deciding factor on any of our creative decisions, so we hope that gives us the freedom to exist outside this current publishing structure, which has shown itself to be very problematic. I hope the CIC model is something that catches on within the industry,” Lyon added.
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