Business profile: Carlton Publishing Group

Business profile: Carlton Publishing Group

A big year for Britain has ensured a big year for Carlton; from books on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the “Titanic” to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, alongside the “largest publishing programme ever” for the Olympics, the illustrated publisher has been going for sales gold. One of three official publishers for the London Games, Carlton’s 35 Olympics titles have now all been published, with just two weeks to go until the opening ceremony.

Chairman Jonathan Goodman says: “We were facing a year of major events, so good things have been happening here and we can look into the future with a lot of confidence. We don’t know what the final sell-through will be, but for the next few weeks there will be blanket coverage in the news. The early signs are encouraging; we have sold a lot of books so far, and will be substantially up on last year.”

Being an official Olympics publisher has not just meant short-term sales success either. Carlton has had “fantastic” take-up of its titles from companies beyond its regular retailers, including British Airways, Cadbury’s and Royal Mail. “It has opened up a lot of doors for us, which I think we’ll be seeing the benefits of in the next year.”

Carlton celebrated its own anniversary this year, too. Turning 20 in April, Goodman says flexibility is one of the keys to its success. Bought up in publishing to “sell books where consumers are shopping”, Carlton is defined by his packager ethos. “We may become more narrowcasters than broadcasters, to borrow a metaphor from televison. I look for clear, strong channels of distribution to reach the end consumer, and we will tailor our publishing to suit that channel and the person at the other end. We will continue to publish for Amazon as a destination and we are building up a lot of our business with supermarkets, which is relatively new for us.

“You will always find 20 times more people in Marks & Spencer in a week than at W H Smith, so I have always been a big believer in packaging and selling books into the channels people are in already. Every market is always in a state of creative destruction; shops and chains disappear and others come up. Right now it is the growth of the cheaper retailer instead of the luxury one we saw five years ago, so as a publisher you just produce books that can fit that environment. We price to market.”

Publishing in 32 languages, Carlton will publish more than 200 titles this year across its five imprints: Carlton, Andre Deutsch, Prion Books, Carlton Kids and Goodman—which now includes the recently acquired fashion and architecture publisher Fiell. Other lead titles for the publisher this year—Olympics aside—are geared towards the gift market: Freddie Mercury: A Life in Pictures; The Treasures of Nöel Coward; The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook; Alexander McQueen: The Legend and the Legacy; and Churchill: The Treasures of Winston Churchill.

The publisher only moved into the children’s market five years ago, but Carlton Kids is already a £5m business that Goodman is “looking to grow significantly in the UK over the next year or two. We’ll be investing heavily; Fiell came to us and said they were looking for a backer, so if there was someone in the children’s market similarly interested, I’d be keen to hear what they have to say.”

When it comes to digital publishing, Carlton, like many illustrated publishers, has been waiting for the right platform to show off its wares. “We are open to anything, but I don’t immediately see the guaranteed route to market success for illustrated publishers digitally.”

Testing the digital waters for the first time this Christmas, Carlton will release an enhanced e-book version of Harry Doherty’s 40 Years of Queen, 2011’s biggest revenue-earner—which saw sales of close to £500,000 last year. “That will be good to see, because it is highly marketable and we have good history with the printed edition. So we’ll see whether the public will come and find it on the platforms we put it on.”