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Small company doing big things...

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Ian Randle

... Ian Randle Publishers marks 20 years

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Twenty years in the life of any organisation is a big deal, but even though Ian Randle Publishers (IRP) observed that milestone this year, its founder is in no rush to bring out the champagne.

In an interview with Arts and Education, Ian Randle said the progress of the company he started in 1990 has been stalled by sluggish sales, one of the debilitating side-effects of a waning industry.

"It's (publishing) very much marking time. In some respects we are caught in a time warp as far as what we publish and how we do it," Randle said.

But for a stint in the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation's newsroom, Randle's professional career has been in publishing. He started IRP after working with Sangsters, then as a Caribbean agent for the internationally respected Collins and Heinemann publishers.

The IRP catalogue has just over 300 titles, most of them academic works by Caribbean scholars. The listing has diversified in recent years with easy-readers like Robert Lalah's Roving With Lalah, Beverley Anderson-Manley's sensational The Manley Memoirs and Kevin O'Brien Chang's Jamaica Fi Real.

Randle points out that unless IRP comes up with a blockbuster, making a profit from its catalogue is not guaranteed.

"If you're doing three or 4,000 (copies) in a year you're doing well because it's a rare case for us to do an initial print of say 3,000," he explained. "What we do is print enough to sell off in the first three months."

IRP has had some strong sellers. Roving With Lalah, a collection of stories mainly about life in rural Jamaica, is one of them. Another was Anderson Manley's revealing memoir about her early life and of being the wife of former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley.

Older titles, such as Enid Donaldson's enduring cookbook, The Real Taste of Jamaica, still do well sales-wise at home and abroad. So too high-school textbooks which cater to students sitting exams like the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).

Other books, such as Usain Bolt: My Story, about the record-breaking Olympic and World Champion sprinter, did not live up to IRP's expectations.

"It did well but not as we would have liked. It's really hard to come up with a big winner nowadays," Randle said.

The pinch IRP and other local publishers are feeling is not unique. Some of the largest markets in the world are experiencing tough times as the publishing landscape changes.

24.8 per cent drop

According to the Association of American Publishers, there was a 24.8 per cent drop in print format sales in the United States in January and February. In contrast, digital sales (ebooks) went up by 202 per cent.

The publishing industry's international downturn has not dampened Randle's passion. He said he still gets excited about projects close to his heart which are mainly the academic pieces which dominate the IRP catalogue.

In February, the company reissued Trinidadian thinker C L R James' 1962 cricket masterpiece, Beyond A Boundary. He hopes to do the same with two other Caribbean epics: Eric Williams' Capitalism and Slavery and In The Castle of My Skin by Barbadian George Lamming.

Randle said IRP hopes to make a mark next year when Jamaica celebrates its 50th year of independence from Britain. Two books on athletics - Black Meteors: The Caribbean in International Track and Field, and Running for Black Gold - are scheduled to be released in March, five months before the London Olympics.

Despite the economic challenges, Ian Randle said he has never considered closing the company he launched with Jamaican writer Carlene Edie's book, Democracy By Default.

"My motto, from day one, is that I want it (IRP) to remain a small company that did very big things," he said. "Certainly, in Caribbean terms, we have achieved that."