Say Craig Potton Publishing and the immediate mental image is of a mountain range or sunset on a beach, strikingly composed and wonderfully lit by nature…
But in this century, stunning Kiwi scenery is not all you’ll find on their list. Take two of 2010’s releases: Truth: The Rise and Fall of the People’s Paper by Redmer Yska, and Ian Mune’s autobiography Mune, both of which achieved their expected sales numbers. True to the company’s roots, one of their best selling title last year was a new Craig Potton classic: Mountain Biking South: 41 Great Rides in New Zealand’s South Island.
Robbie Burton, publisher and co-owner of the Nelson-based company, explains he and managing director Jane Connor relish ‘the luxury of being independent’, which is what a smaller publishing house can offer. “Good nonfiction remains our core but our list has got increasingly diverse. If a subject interests us, we publish it – within commercial constraints of course.”
For instance, they’ve published only one children’s book, Herbert, The Brave Sea Dog. “I’ve been surprised how easy it has been to step to outside of what people expect. We were lucky with Herbert, it continues to sell really well and we’ve sold the overseas rights to Walker Books.”
However, plans for expanding into children’s publishing, mainly nonfiction, have been slowed by the economic situation. “I’ve got young kids and Jane’s got grandchildren and we remain very interested in developing that area, but it is taking longer than we hoped.”
But back to Craig Potton Publishing’s photographic foundations. The company was built on Craig Potton’s photography skills, and calendar publishing, begun 25 years ago, is still a valuable asset to the business, contributing slightly less than a third of core publishing revenue. “The original timing was right,” says Robbie, “and we remain the only substantially sized NZ-owned calendar publisher, though it is a tough field today, with huge pressure on margins.”
Robbie joined the company in 1990, and has overseen its growth since then. Interestingly, CPP is a vertically integrated company, with most of the production in-house. The principals are very hands on – Robbie came from checking calendar proofs on the light box to the phone for this interview. Sales, marketing and publicity are all in-house, and CPP has a team of commission reps on the road.
Printing is shared between New Zealand and China, with books coming back into CPP’s warehouse to be dispatched out of Nelson. “We find no disadvantage with working out of Nelson, as almost all bookshops in New Zealand receive orders the following day.
“Controlling our own sales and distribution is a huge advantage. In the last 12 months we have decided to focus more on distribution, and picking up the agency for Lonely Planet has been a great boost and increased the diversity of our business.
“Being smaller gives us flexibility. It is easy to change direction – and if necessary, we can turn on a dime to respond when needed.”
As with all publishers, backlist, says Robbie, ‘is fundamental’. “When I started in publishing I was given a crucial bit of advice, and that was to build a backlist. At CPP we’ve knocked ourselves out to have backlist titles that will endure – it is a real driver when choosing titles to print.”
CPP’s 2011 list will remain about the same size as last year, but it does have a major new landmark book being published in October. New Zealand’s Native Trees, by Rob Lucas and John Dawson is a comprehensive illustrated encyclopedia for the over 250 species of trees in New Zealand. “We see it as a successor to John Salmon’s The Native Trees of New Zealand which has been around for over 30 years. So Jane has given the book the attention we think the subject deserves.”
Other titles on the list are a history of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan hospitals by Mike Gill, a new book on bone carving from Brian Flintoff, poet Sam Hunt’s latest collection, a further book on Wearable Art, leading international mountaineer Pat Deavoll’s account of her climbs in the Himalayas and the Karakorum, two titles for parents, Growing Tiny Minds and Feeding Little Tummies, and Sally Blundell’s history of Trade Aid and fair trade in NZ.
In line with Robbie’s pragmatic assertion that “There is little kudos in publishing scenic photographic books, but we are a solvent company because of that,” CPP happily continues to publish photographic books aimed at the visitor market, including this year a big book from leading landscape photographer, Rob Brown.
“In these tough times we are looking very closely at what we publish and the size of print runs. Books we would previously have looked at, we can’t currently consider.
“How much of this is caused by the recession and how much by a change in book culture it is too early to tell. Meanwhile, we are focused on running a very lean and mean operation, and making sure that we are still here publishing for the next twenty years!”