Dipping a toe in the international market rewarding for Ryan workbooks
Ryan Publications Ltd’s Anna and Peter Ryan decided to go to Frankfurt for what might be deemed the wrong reason – but they returned with the right results!
Anna thought a business trip would be a great excuse to combine a family visit to daughter Katie, living in London.
As Kiwis, they also believed it would be patriotic to use New Zealand’s Guest of Honour Year at the Frankfurt Book Fair to test their educational workbooks on the international market.
To achieve this, they joined PANZ earlier this year. “It’s taken 10 years to do that – I only wish we’d been in a position to join sooner,” said Anna of the many benefits the PANZ liaison has brought to their company.
Ryan Publications has been building incrementally since starting with its first secondary school workbook English to Go, published in 1999. As you’ve probably guessed, Anna is a former school teacher, and Peter is still teaching. Their write-on workbooks are written for the New Zealand curriculum; they are not textbooks, but rather exercise books that are already partially filled with teaching notes included.
The Ryans have been conservative in growing the business: Anna wrote the first book and more since then; Peter is also an author for some titles. Other teachers have written their now 25 titles (50 if you count the teacher texts relating to each workbook) and design is handled by contractors. Originally targeting Year 9 and 10 secondary school levels in a variety of subject areas, the range has extended to cover primary level English. This followed the approach of a school requesting help for their teachers in grammar and offering assistance in developing the workbooks.
“The company milestones are measured in the release of each book,” says Anna. Ryan Publications was home-based for many years, but they have had office and warehouse premises since 2007. You’ll still find Anna running dispatch – the Kiwi ‘running on the smell of an oily rag’ is almost a business principle!
The firm still uses local printers. “They held our hands through the start-up years while we were learning the publishing business,” says Anna. “I also believe we should keep all possible work in New Zealand and support our own economy.”
Twelve appointments were set up before leaving for Frankfurt. “Only one did not turn up, and the rest expressed huge interest.” In fact, there are two contracts sitting on Anna’s desk right now. There’s strong interest from the UK, Canada, US, Australia, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. The simplicity of the workbooks with their black and white interiors makes them particularly suitable for third world countries and print on demand situations. “The whole Frankfurt experience has been very energising!” Anna comments.
Further developing the digital side of Ryan Publications’ business is one post-Frankfurt initiative the couple will be working on – with help from son Martin who has IT and accounting degrees – to set up the company website.
In the New Zealand market, Ryan Publications is known for the fact that they charge lower decile schools reduced prices for their workbooks. As their website explains, the standard price is the price paid by all schools, regardless of decile – so nothing extra is added. The $1 discount for decile 1–3 schools (for orders of 20+ copies of student books) is funded from their profit margin.
The workbooks often come under stationery lists which parents provide, rather than textbook allocations for schools, which is why the Ryans have taken this step;an action resulting from Anna and Peter’s religious principles and humanitarian beliefs.
While there are thousands of students using Ryan workbooks, one downside is that because of a perceived conflict of interest, the college where Peter teaches does not use the workbooks! But one secondary school nearby still leaves another 459 receptive to the advantages the workbooks offer.
Anna and Peter would like to thank other publishers for help in preparing for Frankfurt and their encouragement during the Fair. “Mark Sayes, Linda Cassells, Joy Allcock, Lesley Stead and Wendy Pye – your advice, camaraderie and sense of fun are all appreciated. And Anne de Lautour was so patient with the dumb questions I kept asking!”
Anna in turn has advice for future small independent presses tackling Frankfurt for the first time: she used international website Homelink to line up wonderful accommodation in a Frankfurt home. They met their host’s friends over dinner and enjoyed the comfort of a private home for their whole stay at less than the cost of a single night at a Frankfurt hotel!