Last year was certainly a good one for venerable illustrated publisher Thames & Hudson (T&H) and c.e.o. Rolf Grisebach. Full-year results (to the end of December 2015) noted a post-tax profit of £2.7m (on revenue of £26.7m), a massive rise of 1,631% year on year.
Suitably proud, Grisebach says the results show T&H is “financially sound”, owing in part to the huge success of colouring books in 2015. He adds that the vast bounce in profitability shows that the company’s revenues are “part of a cycle”, adding: “In a year when we don’t have a very strong lead title, the margins are much lower and profitability is much lower. We also tend to invest in the company to some degree: we’re starting new lines of business, we’re accelerating children’s publishing and gift-book publishing, and we’re investing quite a lot on the college and university side, so I think profits [are sometimes] slightly depressed by adding to these growth initiatives.”
Grisebach emphasises security as a big consideration of the company, and says that “rather than placing very big bets on big advances, [we prefer] to play it safer”, instead advancing various arms of the business, including its publishing partnerships and its sales and distribution business. T&H’s international distribution arrangements (with publishers including Laurence King, MOMA and British Museum Press) position it as a global player with an overview of the lists of many publishers in the art and design sector, and thus wide penetration in the overall market.
Grisebach says the distribution arm is a “focus point” for retailers, museums and other outlets that sell art and design or illustrated books, due to its ability to curate the offer of specialist publishers and present them to retailers. “In most of these markets, as a sales organisation we are probably the leading supplier for this speciality publishing,” Grisebach says.
T&H currently handles the distribution for 10 “sizeable” and 10 medium-sized businesses and has some single-title agreements too. Grisebach says: “We try to [grow] it in a balanced way. We don’t want to dilute our own activities, or the activities of our main distributed publishers too much. So we try to keep a ratio between what we do for other publishers and our own publishing.”
Part of T&H’s strategic direction for the future of the business is expanding its children’s publishing. The press has recently created a dedicated children’s editorial team and aims to increase its kids’ publishing output to around 30 books a year, up from 10–20.
Hard or easy Brexit?
Grisebach is bullish on overseas growth, stating that “there is more editorial activity in the US and Australian [divisions] than five years ago” and “theoretically [T&H] could do the same in Asia”. He says the company is considering its editorial activity in London and whether it needs to grow its hubs in the rest of the world, yet he doesn’t think Brexit will have an much of an impact on those decisions. “We clearly believe in an open publishing world and we don’t focus so much on the fact that we’re based in the UK. So in a certain way we are agnostic to it,” Grisebach says.
“There is speculation that [Brexit will] change the dynamic nature of London, but the impact is not big enough to think so fundamentally about it. I think London is a great city for a publishing house like Thames & Hudson, so I think that whatever happens we’re going to manage the circumstances.”
Grisebach says that currency fluctuations caused by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will be “manageable to a certain degree” and any effects on business “won’t be long-lasting”, adding that it’s “hard to imagine” there will be trade barriers for books.