Meet the Member: Countryside Books
1. What's your company called?
2. What do you publish?
We publish local interest books, spanning subjects as diverse as dog walks, pub walks, British architectural styles, Second World War aviation and lost railways. Walking guides are at the core of what we do. In March 2020 we made our first significant foray into digital publishing with the launch of the Dog Walks App, which pulled together 400+ dog walks from our back catalogue to make them available at the touch of a button.
3. What's the story of the company?
Countryside Books is a true family business. It was started in 1976 by Nick and Suzanne Battle, working from their dining room table in Newbury in Berkshire. We’ve grown a bit since then, but we’re still a pretty compact unit. In 2016, Nick and Suzanne’s daughter Alex joined the business so the company will continue for at least another generation!
4. How's business?
It can certainly be challenging, but we’re hanging in there! The tumultuous weather of early 2020 certainly hasn’t helped. People generally don’t want to go walking in monsoon conditions! Operating in an unstable market means we have to focus extremely hard on a) making sure the core of what we do is exceptional and b) capitalising on opportunities to diversify when it makes sense. For example, a couple of years ago we launched a new arm of the business, Local Heritage Books, to service an increasing demand for private publishing. People often approach us with family memoirs or passion projects that they are happy to finance themselves. The revenue model for these is of course completely different to our other titles—one-off fees paid in advance make a nice change!
5. What do you enjoy about being independent?
For us it’s about speed and agility. If we want to launch a new product or commission something new, we just go ahead and do it—no bureaucracy, no red tape, no having the idea systematically eroded by committee. It gives us the opportunity to act on our instincts. Our new Dog Walks App took about four months to take from inception to launch. We actually got it done a month ahead of schedule. That would never happen at a bigger company.
6. What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
Probably still the long-term ramifications of Brexit—coupled now with the Coronavirus disruption—but that’s boring so let’s look at something else. Something of huge importance to us is reinforcing the point that, despite everything we’re told about shrinking attention spans and the supposed need to deliver instant gratification, humans still crave long-form content. We’re hard-wired for it. People love books and stories and they appreciate quality. This argument will continually resurface, but the outcome will always be the same. You, as a publisher, just have to find your unique way of delivering the answer.
7. What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
People are everything. Ours is a family business, but we’ve always made it clear that we consider everyone else in our small team to be part of the family too. We hope that ethos shows through to our customers. Remember that being an independent publisher gives you a uniquely intimate connection to the people who buy your products. Do your best to make that relationship a two-way thing. If it’s just you selling stuff to them, you’ve lost the opportunity to make the most of that relationship. Forget what you heard: business is always personal.
8. What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
We go to the Spring Conference every year and it’s such a great event—an opportunity to meet inspiring, like-minded people overcoming similar problems and happy to share their knowledge. We always come away from it charged up with enthusiasm and new ideas.
Visit the Countryside Books website.