Friday, March 26, 2010

Publishers star in new history of the trade

25.03.10 | Catherine Neilan in The Bookseller

The last 100 years of the publishing world is going under the microscope in a new book launched by the British Library this week.

Released on 22nd March, Book Makers: British Publishing in the Twentieth Century, looks at the many influential companies throughout the industry, and how they have responded to the social, economic and cultural trends of the period. Key figures such as William Heinemann, Allen Lane, Paul Hamlyn and ­Robert Maxwell are looked at in depth, as well as "less well known but often very significant figures whose contributions were also vital".

According to the publisher, the title "reveals a fascinating tale of creative genius, individual endeavour, personal idiosyncrasy, occasional duplicity and bad behaviour and far-
sighted vision".

Author professor Iain Stevenson, who is director of teaching at University College London's Centre for Publishing, conducted his research predominantly through publishing house histories and interviews. The book is largely split by decade, and covers the period from shortly before the introduction of the Net Book Agreement to its abolition, although with reference to recent events such as the collapse of Borders UK over Christmas.

He said: "I have primarily been concentrating on the people, not the books as such . . . and the chronological approach works very well, because I tried to trace the industry from when it was a very elite trade to where it is today. The century is a story of how a small, quite specialist, trade became the biggest, most important, centre for books in the world."

He added: "Publishing people are fascinating, interesting, occasionally horrifying and astounding. This book shows that their contribution to 20th-century British history and intellectual life was enormous."

One of Stevenson's "revelations" includes the "extraordinary revolt" of authors and editors at STM specialist Pergamon Press during the 1970s when Robert Maxwell was made to leave. "The people said they wouldn't work for the company unless he came back. That's something I don't think anyone had picked up before. Love him or hate him, Maxwell invented a whole new genre of publishing and did it very well."

More contemporary figures include the likes of George Weidenfeld, Hachette UK boss Tim Hely Hutchinson and the founders of Bloomsbury. "I am hoping people will be grabbing [the book] when it comes out to see if they are in the index," Stevenson said.

Book Makers
is being published by the British Library as a hardback, priced £25.

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