Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
Ian Randle, founder/owner of Ian Randle Publishers (IRP), will today collect the prestigious Prince Claus Award for his outstanding work in the field of publishing. In an in-depth interview with The Gleaner, Randle spoke about his journey to the present and the way forward.
It might be surprising to learn that the respected publisher did not set out to pursue a career in publishing.
"I didn't deliberately choose it; it was just a job at the start. However, I stuck with it, moving from working with one publisher to the other and taking 20 years to reconcile with my accidental profession," Randle offered by way of an explanation. Randle has remained because he saw an opening to do something other than text book publishing. He has not contemplated leaving at all.
At the relatively late age of 40 he set up his own business, so failure was not an option and in spite of the fact that textbook publishing remained the most profitable, he has not gone that route. Randle knew he had to be the best; failure was not an option. What he was about to do had not been done here before. "textbook publishing was all the rage and it was the most profitable," he noted.
He decided early not to publish children's books, neither would he touch poetry or young adult fiction, however, if something interesting in those genres was presented, he would take a look. But what made him decide to focus on academic works was his concern that the region's writers and academicians did not have a voice. "I wanted to give them that voice in the dialogue about us; others were writing about us and academic publishing was dominated by the established metropolitan publishers," Randle revealed.
He said young Caribbean writers experienced difficulty in getting their material published, so he wanted to give them an option. Second, in our university system, academics were being told to either publish or perish. His third reason for, choosing academic publications was that Caribbean studies was growing in popularity in North America and Europe, and whatever we published was being gobbled up there.
Having established himself as a publisher of scholarly and academic books, Randle has now seen where the bottom has fallen out of the latter because today's student is able to download everything from the Internet.
"Open access is now available from authors and this is not good for small companies like mine in small countries," Randle said. "Authors are more powerful now. There is better access to their work, something that is encouraged as authors need to be cited and quoted; open access is now where it's at," he offered in explanation. Plus, students are no longer buying books because they can photocopy material or buy second-hand books, thus casting a dim shadow on the future of textbook publishing for entities like IRP.
Such realities mean varying what is now on the roster to include cookbooks, travel books and picture books. And, a logical return to textbook publishing. "That is what is building us up again; we are now the leading publishers of CAPE texts and we are doing CSEC syllabuses, as well as past papers for CXC. That's where revenue will come from," Randle said.
Randle had relative ease with gaining acceptance from the publishing world. "I started from scratch but I was fortunate to have mentors to guide me. James Curry Publishers introduced me to international publishing and my first few books were handled by them in the United Kingdom, giving me automatic access to two markets. Randle also had friends at the Indiana University Press in the United States of America as well as St Martin's Press, so he could guarantee his authors simultaneous publication in three countries. He later established connections in Africa.
The award-winning publisher got more exposure when authors from around the world began to cite the work of IRP, recommending it among the best place to go, thus the name got around. And over the years, the quality of IRP's book designs has been one of the hallmarks of its excellence.
Among his greatest thrills is to se a child reading one of his texts or someone in a store purchasing one. His best-seller to date is Enid Donaldson's Real Taste of Jamaica, more than 10,000 copies are sold annually worldwide . But perhaps the biggest source of satisfaction for Randle is that his daughter Christine is now at the helm of the company.
"After studying law, she initially showed no interest in the company. She worked elsewhere, then one day she told me that whenever I was ready for her to come on board, she was," Randle said as his entire frame seemed to come alive at the happy recollection. He said she only took two months to join him after that decision was made and after starting out with legal publications, she gradually took on everything else.
Randle used his daughter's entry into IRP to take a six-month sabbatical. But upon his return, he got a panic attack and he realised that it was time to gradually let go. Today, his son Graeme Randle runs the Florida operations .
For the future, Randle hopes that IRP continues to be a small publishing company that does big things; a philosophy that has guided his dealings over the years. "I resisted the temptation to be big, as I could lose control that way."
On the subject of doing anything differently if he could, Randle explained that the early years were exciting but challenging. They were the years when you took out loans at 65 per cent interest and if you exceeded your overdraft, you had to pay back 100 per cent on the excess. "Having been through the rough '70s I was not fazed. If I could those years, I could survive anything. The '90s called for innovation and skill and proved to me that money is not everything," Randle noted. He added that IRP's greatest asset is goodwill as the trust of people helps you survive anything.
What he would still love to achieve is to bring back the best works published by our authors but owed abroad, to us here in the region. These include: Eric Williams' Capitalism and Slavery; George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin and C.R. James' Beyond the Boundary. He would love to see us repatriate the intellectual capital that has left us.
Randle hopes he never gets tired of reading a manuscript, he always gets excited and can tell right away if a book is good. He has no regrets except that we have still not built a reading culture.