Alban’s MD, Jonny Gallant, looks back over twenty years of the company’s operations and to continuing to be ‘the voice of the publishers’ they represent.
Alban Books was founded in Bristol in 1995 when a group of American Christian publishers (Wm B Eerdmans, Orbis Books, Augsburg Fortress, Abingdon Press and Crossroad) decided that the best way to get the UK and Europe distribution service they needed was to found their own. At that time, the net book agreement was coming to an end and the founding publishers wanted to ensure a degree of control over pricing, terms and stockholding.
Over the years three of the founder publishersl eft and other US publishers joined Alban as clients, rather than owners. These include Hendrickson and Ave Maria who are still with us. Our list of clients has gradually increased, recently taking on publishers from Europe and the Middle East in addition to the US. We now distribute for eleven publishers, including the two remaining owners, Orbis and Eerdmans.
Whilst all decisions on new clients are approved by the owners, the decision is never one of dogma or denomination. Alban’s owners and clients are best served if Alban maintains a high standard of publishing quality without deviating too wildly from its strengths and identity. Whether Bibles, Theology, Spirituality, Biography or Children’s books, the defi ning and unifying characteristic of our 7000 active titles is quality Christian publishing.
One of the great challenges that has always faced Alban is stock management. On a monthly basis, we ship between four and six tons of books in from America. It’s a fine balancing act between ensuring that we can meet the immediate demand for books and not overstretching ourselves. Every month the Alban team works on stock orders to publishers and it’s amazing how right we get it most of the time. If demand is urgent we can fly over copies.
Alban’s small team is split between offi ces in Edinburgh and Bristol. Nigel Parkinson, our sales manager based in Bristol, has been successfully selling the Alban list for over seventeen years now and we’re delighted he’s still with us. Margaret, who works as our bookkeeper and marketing assistant has been with us for 13 years. My three-year-old son refers to the Edinburgh office as ‘Margaret’s office’ and he’s completely right. Elaine Reid came to Alban 10 years ago to combine her bibliophilia, organisational abilities and marketing acumen in the position of marketing manager. Nadia Suchdev joined us in 2013 after completing her MA in publishing at Napier University taking on the role of sales & marketing assistant, with an emphasis on sales.
Alban Team (L to R) Margaret, Elaine, Nadia,Jonny, (Nigel was in Bristol!)
I joined Alban having worked in sales & marketing at Saint Andrew Press. Prior to that, my publishing career had been in general trade books, mainly literary fiction. Leading Alban Books is as close to a dream job as I could imagine. The team all work so hard and are fantastic at what they do. It’s lovely to manage a
group of people who are all better at their jobs than I would be.
Since 1995, the UK Christian book market has gone through some profound changes, but the core principles remain the same. The Christian books industry in the UK is strong, important, adaptable and always relevant. Alban is really proud to be a part of that community. Fundamentally, Alban’s role is telling
people about books and expressing their value. We need to get that message across to our colleagues in the bookselling trade and to the readers. There are now more ways than ever to effectively communicate that value – there’s no excuse for not being heard!
Along with the rest of the trade Alban has suffered from the decline of the high street bookseller, but I am hopeful that downward trajectory has halted. The bookshops that have survived are better and stronger than they were and those brave enough to open new stores can look to the models of success for inspiration.
With fewer bookshops, Alban had to fi nd new routes to market and that has meant selling through online retailers, but we would genuinely prefer readers bought through their local Christian bookshop.
I don’t have all the answers, but I am always keen to hear from booksellers if they want to work with us in promoting the Alban list to their customers. Whilst it takes up a huge amount of time, headspace and warehouse space, Alban’s raison d’etre is not stock, it is communication; it is about being the voice of publishers unable to reach the trade and readership in the UK directly.
I have talked with US Christian publishers (not ours, thankfully), who envisage a near future where all their books are printed on demand through Amazon
and they have no need for a physical distributor. They can manage the metadata globally, but can they speak to the UK trade and readership through metadata alone? I like to think not.
June 12th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine