Thursday, 5 January 2012

The year just ended - annual report

Given the current Dickens' craze, we shall report Five Leaves' 2011 as the best of times, the worst of times. On the positive note, we published more books than ever, and, save for an historic reprint and a new edition of an old Five Leaves' title which were held over, managed to bring out 28 new books this last year. These included new young adult fiction from David Belbin, Maxine Linnell and Dan Tunstall, all of whom have we have published before; the relaunched Crime Express series; five books for the Battle of Cable Street 75th anniversary; two Catalan interest titles; a new Bromley House editions historic reprint; new and old fiction by J. David Simons; a new art book by Anita Klein; one poetry pamphlet; a very creative book on Roman Nottinghamshire (which went to reprint within weeks); a memorial anthology for our writer Colin Ward; the first issue of an annual journal; three books in our New London Editions series, fifty years after first publication - much to the pleasure of the writers, all of whom are still with us. Such output is challenging, but it was possible with the first full year of Five Leaves no longer being a one person business - with Pippa Hennessy picking up an increasing range of work.
Of these, some performed much better than expected - Roman Nottinghamshire has already been mentioned. Others needing reprinting within their first year included the new edition of our Crime Express title Claws, which keeps on selling, the New London Editions' book Baron's Court, All Change and - twice - our journal. The first edition was called Maps, the second, Utopia is coming along nicely. We also reprinted one of the Cable Street books, The Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s thanks to the author running a long series of meetings on the subject of the book. Others - and here is the bad news - did not perform well, primarily our more commercial titles that depended on Waterstone's. Anybody reading this will know that bookselling has had a rough year, and unfortunately we published our commercial titles at exactly the time Waterstone's was up for sale, then sorting itself out. It is no great surprise that the book trade does not see small press publications as their saviour... but on the other hand competing on 50% off, 80% off does nobody any favours either, leading only to books being seen as cheap, while holding less and less specialist stock drives people to Amazon. There is good news from the radical sector, with the formation of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, where we remain strong, and from many good stockholding independents, or those with a great programme of readings and events.
Overall our sales slipped slightly during 2011 - a few percent down in terms of money banked, but the latter part of the year picked up very well meaning we go into 2012 without a lot of cash, but with a lot owing on trade sales for the last three months which will underpin our trading this year. We are happy with that.
Being very small we have little spare capacity but, a bit late, we are turning many of our books into eBooks, with thirteen of our backlist now available as eBooks, with many more moving into that format in the New Year. By summer it should be standard practice to publish eBooks at the same time as our real books, if it seems appropriate. We don't think eBook sales will replace sales of standard books, on our list, or even form a very significant part of trading income, but we could be wrong.
It has not been an easy year financially (since we are not hedge fund pillagers) but careful control of stock and the use of digital printing to keep our live backlist working has helped a lot and stopped books going out of print when there was still a small but regular demand for them. This compensates for the steady drift to wholesaler buying by shops and chains (where we need to give larger discount). With some reluctance we are now supplying Amazon direct (at 60% discount!) but increased availability of and information on our titles there should lead to increased sales. Do feel free to add customer reviews to Amazon - it does help.
Five Leaves is known for its projects and events. Our second Leicester States of Independence day event for small publishers was well attended, and Lowdham Book Festival continued to thrive. We have set up the Bread and Roses prize for radical publishing which will see its first award this year (and Ross Bradshaw is one of the trustees, in an individual capacity, of the East Midlands Book Award). We were particularly pleased to be involved in the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street - for its own sake, and to publish five books (a novel, a young adult fiction book, an oral history of the Street and an academic title). We had about 350 people at our joint book launch and about half that at our seminar on the literature of the 1930s. We were also involved in local campaign against library cuts leading to a 500 strong read out and mass borrow at one Nottinghamshire library and a letter signed by 100 local writers in protest against the cuts.
Our review coverage this year ranged from international (Romani, Gujarati) to parochial (Nottingham Post, Camden New Journal) to national (two recent reviews in the Guardian) to specialist, in print and online. Modesty forbids repeating the Time Out review of Maps but that aside, this is our most recent review - covering the three new New London Editions titles, which we rather like.
We have have lost some friends this last year, Peter Preston passing away recently. These deaths are a reminder that publishing is never just about the books.
We ended the year, however, in celebratory mood, in Nottingham, with a knees up attended by regional writers, friends, a couple of writers from London, one from Coventry, trades union activists and a surprising amount of people who form the wider Five Leaves' team.
We posted our plans for this year a few days ago. In summary, it was a busy and difficult year but we got through it, and we are looking ahead with a degree of confidence.
Thanks to those who support Five Leaves by organising events, helping with particular books, by writing and editing, by doing practical things and by buying our books.

No comments: