Middle Farm Press holds exclusive launch party at Waterstones
Middle Farm Press Holds Exclusive Launch Party at Waterstones, Shrewsbury
With a turnout to be proud of, new venture Middle Farm Press held its launch party last night in Shrewsbury’s Waterstones.
With canapés provided by Momo•No•Ki,, guests included: Jenny and Marcus Bean (Brompton Cookery School); Colin Young (BBC Radio Shropshire); John Barton (Coach and Horses); Chris Burt (Momo•No•Ki.), Sam and Claire Barker (Greak Berwick Organics) and Suree Coates (The King and Thai), who all turned up to support Sam Gray and Kate Taylor as they celebrated their new company and its first book, Doing it in Wellies, which was launched at last week’s Ludlow Food Festival.
The evening is perhaps best summed up in the speech given by previous President of the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, and Middle Farm Press’ Chairman, Bing Taylor:
“Like many other industries, and perhaps the music industry is the closest analogy, the publishing world has changed dramatically since I started my career as a university publisher at Longman in the early 1970s. With a little more experience under my belt I realized, by 1975, that people not only needed access to books (and large swathes of Britain didn’t have a bookstore within 100 miles in those days) but they needed selection, advice and guidance – the sort of help you would get from a good local bookshop. A friend of mine and I started The Good Book Guide which made English books available all over the world, at English published prices. We even published a separate edition for children. At about this time a man called Tim Waterstone and I were invited to speak at a conference called Children’s Books and the Chocolate Factory. Tim said he was thinking of starting a thinking person’s bookstore chain but that he would never stock children’s books as they were low ticket items and could never be profitable. He quickly changed his mind. Both Harry Potter and Waterstones were no doubt grateful.
A great deal of what I learned about people and books I learned from working at The Good Book Guide. For us, a quality selection and customer care were all important to retaining customer loyalty. Being a mail order operation we couldn’t provide on the spot guidance that you would expect from a friendly local bookseller so we got people with specialist knowledge to recommend books for the general reader such as Yehudi Menuhin on Music; Antonia Fraser on Biography and somewhat unexpectedly the Duke of Edinburgh on Wildlife Conservation. We learned a lot from our customers – the girls in the order processing department even got marriage proposals from people whose orders they had sorted out satisfactorily. And from our mistakes – one lady, who turned out to be one of our loyalist customers, lived in Papua New Guinea and ordered a copy of Quick Headache Relief without Drugs. We sent her The Joy of Sex. She wrote to say that miraculously her headaches had never returned.
When I was MD of Jonathan Cape in the mid 1980s we had, as our offices, a five story house in London’s elegant Bedford Square. Now Cape is housed in two rooms on a floor of Penguin, lately merged with Random House. When I started in the 70s there were more than fifty publishers, now there are about five major publishers with the number ever dwindling. What is missing from these vast, foreign owned, conglomerates is the personal care, nurturing and involvement of the editor / publisher. Some publishers have been able to retain this to a degree – Bloomsbury and their John Lewis style partnership with their authors is a rare example – but many books by major authors these days are far too long as editors dare not edit them for fear that the increasingly promiscuous authors will go elsewhere. Loyalty and trust between author and publisher, as between bookseller and customer, is an increasingly rare but highly valued commodity.
Fortunately here in Shropshire you are lucky enough still to have, against all the odds since the disappearance of the net book agreement and the advent of Amazon, surviving independent bookstores and to have branches of a chain that act as independent book shops with their emphasis on the customer of which this branch of Waterstones is a prime example and something which will I believe become increasingly the case under the leadership of Waterstones CEO James Daunt.
You are also the host town to an excitingly original new publishing enterprise Middle Farm Press, the brainchild of two indefatigable, multi-talented young ladies Sam Gray and Kate Taylor. Sam’s background as a pig farmer might not strike everyone as the logical training for a publisher (and if you think that you don’t know much about the publishing industry) but she is a natural entrepreneur as is Kate Taylor who has a more conventional background as a writer and publisher and despite that, has retained an endless supply of energy, enthusiasm and expertise. She’s come a long way since, as a little girl, she remarked to a dinner guest named Salman Rushdie that she didn’t read books as she thought all books were boring.
Now they have channeled their enthusiasm to form a remarkable partnership approaching publishing from a fresh perspective, cutting out all unnecessary middle-man costs, electing to sell books through the traditional book trade rather than through Amazon and putting a high premium on providing the sort of customer advice, support and guidance that used to be a hallmark of British publishing but has now all but disappeared from the scene. As a former President of the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland who fought long and hard to protect the independent bookseller it is a particular pleasure for me to be associated with their company as Chairman and to be here at the launch of, I’m sure the first of many beautifully produced books Sam Gray’s entertaining, informative and above all inspirational account of her year as a pig farmer on her 35 acre small holding in Church Stretton ‘Doing it in Wellies’.
Middle Farm Press is putting the book, and its proceeds, firmly back in the hands of the author. The publishers won’t be taking their traditional 85% to 90% of the profits from the authors but instead MFP will be relying on their personal relationships and experience to get the best deals from their designers, printers and suppliers. Thus allowing the author to not only benefit from the publisher’s business acumen but to keep the proceeds from all their book sales.
Amazon excitedly announced a few weeks ago that they will be the sole suppliers of Paris Hilton’s jewelry designs – no doubt a mouthwatering prospect for some but the writing is on the wall – the times are changing. A self-published book was on the Man Booker Longlist for the first time; HMV onetime owners of Waterstones, went bust a few years ago. It now has a new Chief Executive and has reopened its flagship Oxford Street store emphasizing the need to return to offering advice, guidance and support and to putting the customer first. And here in Shropshire Middle Farm Press is opening its doors to authors everywhere and enabling them, for the first time, to reap the true benefits from their creativity and plain hard work.”
Middle Farm Press makes high-quality books, specialising in produce, food and cooking but by no means exclusive to this genre. The company makes stunning books that allow authors to make a real profit. They support bookshops and champion authors – with a particular focus on producers, small farms and passionate chefs.
Middle Farm Press is the brainchild of writer and editor Kate Taylor and her author colleague Sam Gray, who runs her own smallholding. They set up the company to help authors who are considering self-publishing. Bringing with them the very best designers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, photographers, food economists, printers and cartographers, their aim is to help authors produce the same high-quality books produced by leading UK publishers without having to give away most of the profits. Since the founding of Middle Farm Press, it has been evolving to include all manner of things.