This blog post is the second post of an ongoing series by Rosie Johns, exploring the challenges and opportunities involved in book publishing in the current 21st Century environment. These posts are being written as part of Rosie’s second project on the Project Management and Research undergraduate module at Cardiff University.
Interview with John Adler, Part 1: Background
John Adler founded Pomegranate Books in 1999 and established his subsequent imprint, Herbert Adler Publishing, in 2008. He has over 20 years’ experience in journalism and photography, and his skills and experience enable him to manage most aspects of publishing in-house. During his time at the University of Bristol he combined lecturing with arts administration; he edited New Theatre magazine, as well as writing the 8-volume Responses to Shakespeare. The following are extracts from a transcript of the interview that I conducted with John on 3 February 2014.
So John, what would you say your role and responsibilities are in terms of running your imprints?
I run the company and do my own design, photography, layouts and marketing … I’ve got quite a wide range of skills that I developed in my time at the University and the theatre before that.
What would you name as your biggest achievement to date?
I don’t tend to think in that way really. I suppose the biggest achievement was a novel that I published, David Pownall’s The Ruling Passion (2008), which was done as Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4. I suppose something I’m really quite good at is marketing – my friends all tell me so. I’ve had a lot of exposure for several of the books that I’ve published.
On a very basic level, how does the publishing industry work? What is the process that takes place for a book to reach the customer?
If you go into a book shop and say, ‘Right I’d like to order a copy of such and such a book,’ the book shop will get in touch with one of the wholesalers – Gardners or Bertrams – they will then contact me or my printer – whoever happens to be the distributor. [The distributor] will then send them the book, then [the wholesaler] will send the book to the book shop, and the book shop will let you have it. Now, think what a ridiculous system that is!
Why isn’t it possible to go straight to the distributor?
Well this is what a new system I was designing intended to do, to cut out all of this waste of time, energy and expense. If I were younger I would seriously consider doing it.
[The ‘new system’ John mentions here is the idea of setting up an online database which would allow publishers to sell books straight to the customer, be it an individual or a book shop, thereby cutting out much of the running around.]
Do you think that is how it will happen in the future, with customers directly approaching the distributors for copies?
I hope so.
Do you enjoy running your own company, or is it a lot of hard work?
I enjoy producing books, I enjoy designing them, I enjoy marketing them, and I enjoy selling them but what I don’t enjoy are all the hassles! And the other problem with the business is that authors can sometimes be difficult to deal with.
These negatives are difficult to take on for someone like me who wants to go in to publishing! Has it always been this way?
It’s not necessarily like this, but it can be frustrating. There was a time when it was a much more viable business, but on the other hand you didn’t have things like desktop publishing, print on demand or eBooks, which have made it more economically viable for small publishers. You see, I’m not a specialist publisher; but a lot of small publishers are. They publish books in a particular area. They have a list of books which are all on the same subject, which makes it easier for marketing purposes.
And how did you get into publishing?
I left the University [of Bristol] and I started a marketing and design consultancy, and gradually got into publishing after a friend asked me to produce a book privately that her late partner had written. In fact I am about to republish it and sell it publicly because it is a very original book and one that aroused a lot of interest when it first appeared. Publishing has more or less taken over completely now. I don’t do much marketing, other than for myself, but it’s been a very useful experience. I publish books that I like, and that I think people might be interested in buying, and I have produced quite a wide range of stuff. The computer and desk-top publishing came along and that’s what enabled people like me to become a publisher. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.
What is the main reason you continue to publish books?
I just hope that enough people enjoy my books, and feel that they’re worth reading. From the feedback I get I think that is possibly the case, which is quite gratifying.
What are your hopes for the future of book publishing?
There should be more well organized, well funded and capable collective or cooperative enterprises, involved with the book selling and distribution business. That’s my hope.
I would like to thank John Adler for allowing me to conduct this interview, and for consenting to the publication of this material online. My next post will cover the recent advancements in publishing – the eBook, Amazon, self-publishing and the globalization of the publishing industry, with reference to a number of the points raised during this interview.