Hartwell: 'no reason for Folio's prize sponsorship to end'

Hartwell: 'no reason for Folio's prize sponsorship to end'

Departing Folio Society m.d. Toby Hartwell has said he sees "no reason" why the publisher's sponsorship of The Folio Prize should not be set to continue, despite his own exit from the company.

Hartwell, who will leave on 31st August after resigning his role to "pursue new challenges", has been a major figure in the launch and sponsorship of the prize, which was awarded for the first time earlier this year, to US short story writer George Saunders. The Folio Society made an initial two-year commitment to sponsoring the award.

Calling it "my beloved prize", Hartwell told The Bookseller: "At Folio, we are delighted with how it's gone; I see no reason why it would change. If I were [to remain] here, there would be no question... It was a brave move, the Academy [of notable writers and critics who select the prize shortlist and judge] has grown, and my personal feeling is that it would be a little bit crazy not to continue it."

The Folio Society's owner chairman Lord Gavron and its deputy chair Robert Preece were not available to speak to The Bookseller.

Hartwell's exit will leave the Folio Society without an m.d. or marketing director, since he has occupied both roles, as well as running the editorial department after both the publisher and publishing director posts were axed among a swathe of redundancies last year.

Instead senior editor Tom Walker, who joined the company as editorial assistant eight years ago, has been promoted to editorial director and, in a swift rise, awarded a seat on the board; meanwhile brand director Jean-Marc Rathé has been given the marketing director role in addition to current duties. Rathé also now handles customer relationships following the departure of Matt Button in February.  

Hartwell confirmed that turnover figures for The Folio Society at the end of this financial year (31st August) will see a drop on last year; actual figures have not been disclosed.

The turnover drop is one that has been planned for, Hartwell said. "This reflects that we have stopped giving out costly offers to recruit members…. as part of our strategic shift away from 'offer led' marketing to long-term brand marketing, where the focus is on attracting book lovers who understand the irresistible appeal of a beautifully produced book."

The changes to the publisher's business model, which last year he described as "the biggest change in its history", are working, Hartwell said. "We have moved to four main catalogues a year. The challenge last year was would people buy the books without incentives? This year, there is no discount on new books – a major move forward." All major catalogues have exceeded budget, while 40% of The Folio Society's business now comes directly through its website, as compared to 20% two years ago, Hartwell said. "Turnover is lower but profitability much higher."     

Hartwell pointed to the US as a very important market for the publisher going forward, despite the closure of its small American office last year. "The US office was doing old-style direct marketing which I felt was the wrong thing to do," he said. "We've moving to build brand awareness, with two PR people there, events, and Folio books in one or two stores. We explored whether we should have local distribution, but people don't expect to get the books the next day. We are making a benefit of the fact that we are a UK company, with a great warehouse and distribution in the UK."  

Hartwell said he hoped to find another opportunity in the book trade for his next role.