Britain is now a nation of sporting winners. The plaintive, doomed cries of “C’mon, Tim!” at SW19 have been replaced by the triumphant roar of Murray Mound; Britain had its most successful Olympics on home soil; its cyclists have won the Tour de France two years on the trot; and England’s cricketers are currently brushing aside former cricketing overlords Australia with ease.
Yet Robin Harvie, Aurum Press senior commissioning editor, digital publisher and the man in charge of its sports list, isn’t convinced what has happened in the past year or so has overly boosted sales. “Winning does help, of course, but frankly I don’t think the Olympics helped the trade overall,” he says. “Although Bradley Wiggins was a massive boost to cycling. Last year we put out Bike!, a fairly expensive, beautifully illustrated book—basically cycling porn—which sold extremely well. Would those sales have happened a year before? I don’t think so.”
But Harvie is hardly downbeat about the sport market—quite the opposite; he argues the sector is in something of a purple patch, with “quality” titles that are getting resonance beyond the fans—the William Hill Prize end of the market, if you will. “The prize has put sport books on the map,” he says. “I think about the early years, when winning it meant a great deal to people in a very small world. Now you get [Robert Reng’s 2012 winner] A Life too Short (Yellow Jersey), a book about a German goalkeeper who commits suicide. It’s hardly mainstream British publishing, but it has sold tens of thousands of copies.”
So sure are Harvie and Aurum about the desire for quality sport writing that this month it is launching Aurum Sport Classics, a list of “quality reads that have stood the test of time, which we think it is time to repackage and help find a new audience”.
The six-strong launch list includes Arthur Hopecraft’s seminal 1968 book The Football Man; The Hurt Business, George Kimball’s compendium of boxing writing throughout the ages, from Jack London to George Plimpton; and Roger Kahn’s look at 1950s baseball, The Boys of Summer, which Sports Illustrated called the second-best sport book ever published.
The plan for the list is to use the series’ similar livery to attract not just sport fans, but people who simply want to immerse themselves in excellent narrative non-fiction. Harvie says: “Take The Boys of Summer. It’s ostensibly about baseball, and of course that can be a tough sell in Britain. But it is a social history of America in the 1950s—it’s about race and a country trying to define itself—and that’s how we’ve packaged it.”
Harvie has been in publishing for 12 years, but Aurum is only his second company. After reading philosophy at Birmingham and doing a publishing degree at Oxford Brookes, he joined Fourth Estate just as the company was bought by HarperCollins, spending 10 happy years at HC before moving to Aurum in 2011.
Harvie is also a self-described running obsessive. He has run more than 40 marathons, and in 2010 took part in the Spartathon, the 152-mile Athens to Sparta race, which he unfortunately had to give up after a mere 85 miles (“I was a bloody mess”). He detailed his monomania in his book Why We Run (John Murray, 2011). Being an author, he says, helped him in his day job. “You’re just looking at it in a different way, how you build a story brick by brick, constructing the story as you go, so you keep the readers with you. Going through the process as a writer made me much more sympathetic as an editor.”
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