Skip to Content

Groundbreaking new initiative from Bloomsbury

8 September 2008

Bloomsbury has dipped into its reputed £50m ($88.32m) Harry Potter war chest to set up an innovative new publishing venture, Bloomsbury Academic. The new business will publish a new list online for free, with the venture sustained by sales to libraries and academic institutions.

Print on demand will be used for the actual publishing but the books will be made freely available to students online. The list will consist of academic monographs, rather than reference titles, initially concentrating on humanities and social sciences, building thematic lists on "pressing global issues". The intention is to go for fast growth, with 50 titles in 2009.

The publisher of this new venture will be Frances Pinter, a distinguished academic publisher who started her own publishing house at 23 and, after selling this in 1994, took on a role at the Soros Foundation. Pinter is a proselytiser for Creative Commons and has contributed an article on the subject to WritersServices. Bloomsbury Academic will make use of Creative Commons licences to allow non-commercial use of all its titles on publication. Pinter said the new venture would have: 'a major commitment to spreading knowledge more easily throughout the world with a sustainable business model'.

Bloomsbury Academic will be breaking new ground in its plans to make books freely available online. This and other initiatives should provide a new direction for the company too. The publisher recently announced results which showed its revenue and gross profit shrinking by 18% and 11% respectively in the first set of post-Potter results.

Bloomsbury's American company has suffered recent high-level losses of staff and redundancies as it faces up to a difficult market with a relatively small backlist to cushion it. Life after the Potter years is not going to be easy, but if the firm invests carefully it believes it can develop and acquire new businesses which will take it forward. New Executive Director Richard Charkin (who used to write the provocative Charkinblog) rebuts recent talk of closing down Bloomsbury US: 'People don't understand: it's not about America. You publish your authors to the best of your ability wherever people want to buy their books.'

Certainly it is unthinkable that Bloomsbury would back away from the most important English language book market. The company's expansive new internationalism is based on using the web to publicise books by making them freely available as a way of promoting sales. Although it will not be equally applicable to all areas of publishing, we are probably now in a position to see that this approach will represent a major way forward for the book business.

Frances Pinter's article on Creative Commons

Inside Publishing on Creative Commons

Frances Pinter's website