In its 40th anniversary year, independent non-fiction publisher Zed Books has posted record results, after seeing its turnover grow 20% to £1.5m in 2017. This year has also seen the culmination of a restructure designed to reflect the press’ ethos of parity in its business model.
Zed, as the world’s largest English-language publishing collective, represents and caters to a community of authors and readers who are "not satisfied with the status quo and who refuse to accept it". According to the press, as well as publishing content that challenges the status quo, it is also necessary to "address the fact that conventional business practice maintains it" and, as such, the business subscribes to a non-hierarchical common ownership organisational model. As of 2015, the company has worked as a collective, meaning that all members of staff are directors of the company with equal ownership of it. Staff have equal shares in the company and they all earn the same salary.
The underlying ethos that informs all aspects of the press’ identity, from its publishing strategy to its business model, is "to give a platform to voices from the margins: voices that otherwise might not be heard [from] people that might have been disregarded [or] censored". As such, the press has worked with authors including Assata Shakur, Nawal el Saadawi and Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and has published seminal books such as Black Marxism by Cedric Robinson, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale by Maria Mies and Male Daughters, Female Husbands by Ifi Amadiume.
The Zed Books team at it south London office
The past couple of years have seen the press transform the way it disseminates content and the way it communicates with external brands and readers. This was achieved by restructuring its staff and formulating a brand new communications department. In early 2016, Laurence Radford joined from Manchester University Press as communications director to strengthen communication efforts with educational institutions in particular, and earlier this year Rik Ubhi (formerly of Laurence King and Simon & Schuster) joined as publicity and marketing ￼￼director, in order to bolster communication with readers. In terms of Zed’s brand identity and editorial content, Kika Sroka-Miller, who was previously editorial director, moved into the newly created role of brand director. These internal changes were supported with consumer-facing improvements which saw the press create a new website and update its visual identity.
Alongside staff changes, in 2014 the company focused its resources on making changes to its operational systems to enable it to push through "considerable increases" in volume, across all channels and territories. This involved changes to both physical and digital distribution in most territories, its sales representation in both the US and the UK, and the implemenation of new internal systems, including a new database. "These changes are now in place and we’re starting to see the benefits," says Ubhi, referring to the press’ best results yet, with turnover up 20% year on year to £1.5m.
As for next year, the press intends to maintain its "unfalsifiable connection" with its audiences. "We think it’s incredibly important for indie publishers to have a strong ethos and to publish challenging material," says Sroka-Miller. "There is clearly an appetite for content that is both challenging and more representative of a multicultural, internationalist and multi-identity Britain, and beyond. We don’t want to publish things just because it will sell or because there is an obvious market for it: we want to publish a piece of content because we trust in it, and because it chimes with the beliefs on which we base our business."