We have been the proud holders of an ‘Excellence Plus’ Product Data Excellence Award from the Book Industry Communication (BIC) for a few years now (and there are a few previous posts about our journey elsewhere on our blog!). While they may not be the most glamorous of awards to win, and are marked by a certificate arriving in the post, rather than an Oscar’s style ceremony, they are still very important. In short, they are the book industry’s way of certifying that we provide all the ‘behind the scenes’ information about our books to everyone in the industry, in a complete and timely manner.
This year, BIC extended their award scheme to include the new Supply Chain Excellence Award, alongside the Product Data Excellence Award. We are absolutely thrilled to have been awarded an Excellence award, one of only seven publishers in the UK to receive this award (seating ourselves alongside the likes of HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Sage) and to be one of only two UK publishers using a third-party distributor to get this award. What an achievement for a small independent publisher!
The Supply Chain Award differs from the Product Excellence Award in that it focuses more on working processes, rather than on the books themselves. BIC describe winners of the award as ‘modern, technically-capable, efficient to do business with, and compliant with industry standards and practices…the best in their class for business efficiency, customer service, environmental concern and innovation.’
The questionnaire application itself was surprisingly easy, and future applicants shouldn’t be daunted by the 22-page form(!) nor the technical terms. It’s certainly simpler than it looks! For me, the tricky bit was getting the hang of the lingo…the publishing industry is full of its own wonderful list of acronyms and systems, so while most of the questions related to things that we already do, they often happen behind the scenes (and seamlessly) and I had to write to some of our partners to check how the systems work. In happy news, our distributor, NBN International, and the database company we use, Stison, were also among the tiny list of award winners in their categories. We are happy to be working together with such great partners, and it goes to show that sometimes in order to succeed, you need the support of top teams too.
We don’t like to blow our own trumpet, but we think that achieving this award demonstrates that not only are our books among the most exciting in our field, but that we too as a company rank among the best in the industry.
This year marks 35 years since we published our first book. Naturally, this has got us all feeling a bit reflective, and in this post we wanted to share how each of us ended up working at CVP/MM, from Tommi’s story that arguably began at the age of 6(!), to Alice who joined us at the beginning of this year.
We’ve told the reasons behind the founding of Multilingual Matters several times before, so I won’t go into those details. I have always done some work for the company, whether it was helping to stick labels onto envelopes aged 6, or processing subscription renewals and sales after school aged 15 to earn a bit of pocket money, so the family business was very familiar to me and I was always interested in how the business of publishing books actually worked. On finishing my literature degree at Essex University, I knew I wanted to work in the book trade. I also knew that I didn’t want to work for the family business as that might feel too much like pressure. My parents were also adamant that they did not want to employ their children, for much the same reasons, they did not want us to feel like we were being pressured into the business. As I was living in Colchester at the time, I would often meet Dad at the Independent Publishers Guild monthly seminars in London. It was a nice chance for us to catch up, and for me to learn a bit more about independent publishing. After one of these monthly meetings Dad and I went for a drink in the pub close to the meeting rooms. It was clear that they were looking to recruit someone, and I was still looking for work myself. We avoided the subject for the first few drinks, and after the third drink one of us floated the idea of me coming to work for the family business…we were both a little sceptical as to whether we could actually work together without constant argument or worse, but agreed to give it a go for 6 months and then have a family meeting to decide whether or not it was a good idea…we never got around to having that meeting!
Why it’s Useful to Know More than One Sarah Williams
I am actually a Multilingual Matters’ reject! On a snowy spring day in 2001 I arrived for what turned out to be my first interview with Marjukka, Ken and Mike. I felt I had made a good impression but was concerned that my lack of a coat (it was April and I had a suit jacket?? 😃) and bus timetable may have counted against me! I was disappointed to learn that I’d narrowly missed out on the job. This left me to carry on at my government office job. I also moved house and changed telephone number shortly afterwards.
In the summer of 2002 MM/CVP had another opening but no way of getting in contact with me. Around this time I bumped into the other Sarah Williams from the government office in the supermarket (she lived on the same road, had the same middle name and her sister was also called Catherine). She told me that some place ‘possibly beginning with M’ were trying to get hold of me about a job. I called the MM office, spoke to Marjukka and the rest is history! 😃
I have always loved books, so a career in publishing should have been an obvious choice. However, in idiotic early-20s fashion I thought it was a bit of a cliché for someone with an English degree and so I loftily avoided all the publishers at the university careers fair (I have no idea what else I imagined I might do!) I met my partner at University and as he was staying on do a PhD, my main concern was to find a job that allowed me to stay in Bristol. Being utterly unqualified for and uninterested in the main Bristol industries of finance and engineering, I applied for every job in the local paper that I thought might have me, including training as a librarian at UWE and setting the crosswords for the Bristol Evening Post. One of those jobs, and in fact the only one to even ask me for interview, was journal editorial assistant at Multilingual Matters. I made my way out to Clevedon on the bus, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Coming from a very rural area, options for graduate level work experience were severely limited, and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do when I left university. One day, I was sitting in the university library completing the references section on an essay, when the place Clevedon caught my eye. I had a feeling that Clevedon might be near Bristol, just about a commutable distance from my home. I looked up the company Multilingual Matters and promptly wrote to Tommi, asking if there were any work experience possibilities. I was immediately (and politely!) turned down flat – the company was too small and they didn’t need any extra help. A couple of months later, out of the blue came another email saying that they’d reconsidered and might be willing to have an intern. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and spent 2 months over the summer doing the work experience, as well as commuting 4 hours each day to get there and working evenings and weekends in a pub! I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the office, learnt a great deal and headed back to university with an interest in publishing and new skills, but also the knowledge that my placement wouldn’t lead to employment as the company was too small. The following February, as I was back in the library, another email from Tommi popped up. This one had the title “An Enquiry” which I thought sounded quite ominous and deduced that they were trying to sort out some mistake I’d made back in the summer! Luckily for me it contained a job offer, which I didn’t need to think long about accepting. I went down to the lobby to call my mum and stood next to the machine where users return books. On top of the stack of returned books was one of ours, Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which I’ve always thought as a very strange but good sign!
I had just graduated with a degree in French and Russian and not quite knowing what to do with myself, I decided to move to France. I found a job teaching English to adults, got a CELTA qualification and lived there for two years. But I missed Bristol and eventually started to think about coming home and what I could do once I got there. Although I had enjoyed it, teaching wasn’t quite the right fit for me, so I began to think of other options – casting around for ideas, publishing was something I kept coming back to. Once back in Bristol, I did some work experience with a literary agent, but I was doubtful that there would be many opportunities in publishing for me in my hometown, having heard that ‘all publishing was in London’. Then one day my mum, an avid Googler, came across Channel View’s website. I sent Tommi a speculative email, not knowing that there did actually happen to be a (rare!) vacancy for an internship at exactly that time. To my surprise and delight, I was invited to come in for an interview and a couple of days later I was in the supermarket when I got an email offering me the internship. That was over three years ago now – time has flown!
I graduated from the University of Bristol just over two years ago, with a degree in History. Following my graduation I decided that I couldn’t leave lovely Bristol so stuck around and considered what I’d like to do job-wise. I had publishing in mind but couldn’t find anything that suited, so for the first year I tried a few different odd jobs – working in a pet shop, as well as for The Green Register (a not-for-profit organisation who promote sustainable building) and volunteering for a number of charities, before finally moving to London to give marketing a try. After a 3 month internship I headed off to India and then came back to Bristol with a fresh head. This time I was lucky – in my search for academic publishing roles I came across Multilingual Matters… I applied and got the position! I was particularly drawn to the small size of the company and the topics of publication, as I’d just begun a TEFL course. First impressions told me I’d come to the right place, with lots of quirky questions, tea, biscuits and entertaining playlists.
With the recent publication of the 6th edition of Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, we hit a real milestone and published our 1000th book since the company began. In this post, Tommi reflects on the last 35 years leading up to this point and discusses how the company and wider world of publishing has changed over time.
At the recent AAAL conference in Portland, OR, we celebrated the publication of our 1000th book, the 6th edition of Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, co-authored by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright. Since I remember the publication of our very first book in 1982, Bilingualism: Basic Principles by Hugo Baetens-Beardsmore, this led me to reflect a little on what has changed at Channel View Publications/Multilingual Matters (CVP/MM), in the world of academic publishing, and attitudes to bilingualism since then.
Many of you will know that CVP/MM is a family business, founded originally by my parents in response to being told by our family doctor not to speak Finnish to my brother and me, stating that “they didn’t know what damage they were doing”. Fortunately, being a formidable combination of a stubborn Finnish mother and an entrepreneurial Essex-man father, they not only refused to take such unwelcome advice, they took it as an opportunity to find and publish world-class research focusing on the many positive benefits of bilingualism. Although we now publish in a very wide range of topics – including applied linguistics and sociolinguistics, educational research, language disorders and translation studies under our Multilingual Matters imprint and, under our other imprint Channel View Publications, tourism studies – language rights and positive attitudes to bi- and multilingualism remain at the heart of what we do. We believe that no mother or father should ever be told not to speak the language of their heart to their children without extremely well-informed reasons for doing so.
Although in many cases attitudes towards bilingualism may have switched towards the more positive and even aspirational, this is often only the case if the languages you speak are privileged western languages, and in many cases only if you are of the majority population. It is fine and admirable to learn Spanish or Arabic if you are white, but society might be less positive about you retaining your Spanish or Arabic if you are an immigrant. There is still much work to do in changing attitudes towards languages where these languages are associated with immigration or are minority indigenous languages.
Some of my first memories include sitting under our dining room table, “helping” my parents stick the mailing labels onto envelopes that would carry our first catalogues out into the world. Among the many addresses we sent catalogues to, 252 Bloor Street West stuck in my mind. As a 6 year old child I struggled to understand how so many people lived in this one house! In the years since then I have come to know the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) well, and have got to know the very many authors and friends who are based there. We no longer pack and mail our catalogues ourselves, this is one of those tasks that computers and automation have simplified, but as the editor of my local orienteering club newsletter I have to pack and mail all the copies to our members, so I like to think that I have retained those valuable skills!
In 1982 we were already using computers for journal subscription processing, but all correspondence with authors and editors was by mail. We used to do so much mailing back and forth that the local post office gave us our own postcode! All of our records were kept in large filing cabinets and a system of racks, T-cards and folders would track the process of book and journal manuscripts from initial proposal to published book. Sales reports from our distributor would be couriered once a month to us in a large box, and even as recently as the late 1990s we would wait with excitement to go through the monthly sales reports and see how well our books had been selling. These days everything we do is reliant on computers, the internet and data. We only have to log in to our distributors’ reporting sites to get the sales figures from the day before, and we can communicate easily even while travelling. This availability of data and immediacy of communication brings with it a new set of demands and challenges. There is a sense that we must respond to everything as quickly as possible and that we absolutely have to know how many books were sold in the last 24 hours. A lot of time is taken up by responding to queries that in the past would have waited for a single letter, and of course we put the same pressures on to other people.
In the early days of our company the only reliable way to purchase books was via the bookshop, or to put a cheque in the post with an order form from our catalogue. These days the rise of companies like Amazon, Books etc. and the Book Depository, as well as our own website, means that wherever you are you should be able to order a print copy of our books and have it posted to you quickly. If you choose to purchase an ebook, you can place an order now and have the full text, even in some cases with embedded video files and links to relevant websites and resources, delivered direct to your computer, tablet or reading device within seconds.
Libraries are able to buy one multi-user license of a digital book, which does not degrade with age and usage, and are able to share this with multiple users of the library, even off-site users of the library, at the same time. Shelf space is making way for more computer spaces and learning environments, and university campuses are changing accordingly. Of course the downside of this is that the number of copies required to service the same population has fallen, and so in general across the publishing industry we have seen the total number of sales of any one academic title fall quite dramatically in the past 10 years or so. Since the majority of overhead and fixed costs of publication have not fallen, this means that book prices have risen much faster than inflation in order to cover those costs.
While it is interesting to look at what has changed, it is also very instructive to consider what has stayed constant over all this time. Digital technology and distribution has meant that the barriers to entry into the publishing industry have fallen dramatically. In a world where anyone can write, typeset and publish a book relatively quickly, easily and inexpensively, the role of the publisher in providing a measure of review, revision and quality control is just as important as it was in 1982. It is arguably even more important now, given the recent attention to fake news stories and alternative facts. CVP/MM has always believed in reviewing manuscripts thoroughly and as transparently as possible, and while peer-review is not a flawless system, it is a vitally important step in ensuring that the books we publish can be trusted by students, researchers, parents and policy-makers.
We continue to grow as a business, this year we will publish 60 titles across all of the various subject areas, where just 10 years ago we would schedule 30 titles. But we remain a small and friendly operation with approachable staff. We have fostered an atmosphere where we can thrive and grow within our jobs, and so our staff turnover is extremely low. It is highly likely that you will deal with the same people through the life of your book project, if not your whole career! You will have seen me at every AAAL for the past 19 years, but you may not be aware that Sarah and Anna will this year celebrate their 15th anniversary of working for Multilingual Matters, and Elinor and Laura are not that far behind. Our most recent full time colleague, Flo, already feels like part of the family, and our intern, Alice, reflects the values that we all share.
Although my father, Mike, is no longer around to see the progress we have made since he and my mother, Marjukka, retired, he would still recognise everything that we do and be proud of how we have continued to build on what they started 1000 books ago. We would not have been able to publish 1000 books if it wasn’t for the many authors, series editors, reviewers and readers who have contributed in so many different ways. There are too many to name here, but I hope you know just how important you are to us. It has been a pleasure to work with you all and I hope that you will continue to partner with us, to work with us and to hold us to account when we do occasionally get things wrong, so that as we go on to publish books together we can all grow and improve, and look back on the next 1000 books with just as much pride!
Since the UK referendum result to leave the European Union, I have often been asked what effect this will have on our business. These questions have come from authors, colleagues, interested friends and my mother. The honest answer to all has been “I really do not know”.
To a very large extent, this is the biggest issue with Brexit for any business. “Brexit means Brexit” is the often-quoted line from government, but the reality is that we are none the wiser now than we were during the campaign.
In the short term, Brexit has provided a very timely and much-needed boost to our income. The fall in the value of sterling has meant that our books now appear cheaper in many currencies, and we have seen a rise in orders from many countries, including Japan and China. Where we price in other currencies like the US Dollar, our sales have been worth more to us. In a time of tight budgets in higher education institutions around the world, this has been welcome.
On the other hand, any fall in the price of sterling will most likely lead to inflationary pressures in the UK economy at some stage, and whilst we might currently enjoy a small boost in our income, we may ultimately be hit with higher office rents, higher salary bills, higher paper and printing costs, and higher cost of supply. There is no doubt that any reintroduction of customs borders between the UK and the rest of Europe will have something of an administrative cost to us.
We have heard many anecdotal tales about UK researchers and UK institutions having joint projects with European colleagues put on hold until any funding situation has been confirmed. This is of course a concern to us as many of our books arise from such European cross-border projects. Equally if it is harder for overseas students to come to the UK to study, how will this impact our institutions?
On a personal level, I am a Finnish-English dual national. Since Finland joined the EU in the 1990s, I have happily been able to travel between the UK and Finland, my two home countries, without any concern. My friends and family from both countries have had the same rights in either one, and I have thought of myself as much European as Finnish or British. I spend significant amounts of time in both countries, and I will be very interested to see whether any exit from the European Union would complicate this for me.
Ultimately, we just do not know. Until the actual process and terms of Brexit are negotiated, we can only guess as to what the outcomes might be, and for a small business that needs to make staffing and investment decisions, this uncertainty can be very daunting. The current government is not doing anything to help make this situation clearer. With such friends as Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, calling British businesses fat, lazy and more interested in playing golf than exporting, I am not sure we need any enemies. All I can say to Dr Fox is that we have certainly exported more books to the world than he has over-claimed money in parliamentary expenses.
Putting aside all this uncertainty, we are in the fortunate position of not having any external debt or shareholders pressuring us to make decisions, and our market has always been a global market, so we are well-placed to continue to trade globally, and I am certain that we will be able to overcome any obstacles and take advantage of any benefits of Brexit once the process has been decided.
Last week Sarah and I attended the London Book Fair at Earls Court. The London Book Fair gives us an opportunity to meet all our contacts in the publishing world in one place. We meet everyone from printing reps to ebook retailers, distributors to publishing consultants. It’s also a good chance to see what other publishers are doing and share ideas with each other. We only visited the book fair for one day this year but had a busy day of meetings.
This year the market focus was China and over 180 Chinese publishers attended the Book Fair. There was a special area entirely devoted to China which highlighted the importance of this growing market. There were also various talks and seminars from Chinese authors and publishers. Next year the featured country will be Turkey and no doubt we’ll be reporting on their participation this time next year.