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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40
The Book Depository: What do you see as your primary market?
Iradj Bagherzade, Chairman and Publisher at I.B.Tauris: We publish on History, International Politics and Current Affairs, and Film Studies. We’re particularly strong in books on the Middle East. We see ourselves as academic and general publishers with a wide global reach. We also have a paperback line – Tauris Parke Paperbacks – which specialises in popular history books, biography, memoirs and interesting travel writing. So our primary markets? A mix of informed general readers, academics and students. I particularly like the expression “discerning readers”.
BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?
IB: The principal challenges we face are the uncertainties surrounding the traditional retail book trade and the question marks over the electronic future. The book shop difficulties are most obvious in the UK, where book shop rents have risen so fast that independent booksellers have had to close and all booksellers – whether independents or chains – now rely on more rapidly-moving stock generating faster cash flow to cover their increased overheads. The shallowness of their stocking policies – I mean that in a strict marketing sense – means that booksellers no longer carry the varieties that literate and informed readers expect from their bookshops. And on the electronic front, the perennial question on the future of the printed book is always an issue. BUT both these challenges obviously also represent opportunities. So as the traditional, conventional book trade declines, the growth in our online selling is very significant and continuous. As a result we have shifted to marketing strategies which encourage online selling. And on the future-of-the-book we, like others, recognise that we are in the business of supplying information and analysis; that we don’t just have to view ourselves as upstream suppliers to the print industry or downstream distributors for the print industry. The way we generate and disseminate information and analysis, which is our product, is changing and this provides real opportunities.
BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?
IB: An I.B.Tauris book has to make a worthwhile and original contribution. It must also be saleable and commercially viable. So quality and commercial viability have to be the key factors. We publish on quite a lot of politically sensitive issues. Though we can never allow our publishing decisions to be affected by political winds. This is a completely apolitical publishing company. And as an independent publisher we don’t have to answer to shareholders and backers: we really can publish exactly what we think should be published. Of course we’re not the only independent publisher left, but independents are a species in decline, and I really feel that pound for pound, head for head, there are many more books coming out from independent publishers than the corporations. So the choice of what we publish is determined purely by originality, quality and commercial viability.
BD: What books are you most proud of having published?
IB: That’s like asking parents: which are your favourite children? Every book arouses a memory. Perhaps a particularly dramatic one was Israel’s Fateful Decision by General Yehoshafat Harkabi who had been the Chief of Military Intelligence in Israel. I’d commissioned him to do a book after I’d read about his – for that time – rather unorthodox views. He was the first senior Israeli who openly advocated Palestinian statehood. In the mid-1980s this was still quite extraordinary. So when he was in London for the launch of the book, I asked him whether he’d be interested to meet, very discreetly, the then PLO representation here – Feisal Husseini. To my surprise he agreed, provided the meeting was kept completely secret. It was against Israeli law in these days to have contact with the PLO. Husseini also agreed to meet. So I arranged a dinner in my house. It was a very dramatic evening. When the PLO man arrived he was accompanied by two Special Branch officers and a sniffer dog who had to check security in the house before letting their man in – this was a period of assassinations and internal strife among Palestinian factions, not to mention concerns about Israeli reprisals. Anyway the two men met, were cordial to each other and, after some small talk over the first course, my wife and I excused ourselves from the dining room and sat with the Special Branch men and the sniffer dog in our kitchen for the next few hours. When the Israeli general and the PLO man emerged, they were still cordial, perhaps even more so. I have no idea what they discussed. But I like to think that the publication of an I.B.Tauris book contributed, if only in the tiniest way, to some form of back-channel dialogue between Israel and Palestine.
BD: What books are you working on right now?
IB: We’re publishing nearly 200 books in the next year and it’s difficult to land on some without mentioning them all, but let me try anyway.
In International Politics and World Affairs we’ve got coming up The Price of Fear: the Truth Behind the Financial War on Terror by Ibrahim Warde which looks at the terrorism issue from a completely new angle; Frontline Pakistan by Zahid Hussein which will become essential reading as Mussharraf’s regime moves closer to collapse; Ahmadinejad, the first biography of this very unusual man (to put it mildly) written with access to him and his entourage; Defeat: How Bush and Blair Lost their War in Iraq by Jonathan Steele, the Guardian journalist who’s such an original mind and has a completely new take on Iraq; and Lord Howell’s Out of the Energy Labyrinth which has a new slant on the global warming issue.
In Religion we have The I.B.Tauris History of the Christian Church, a series we’re very excited about which will eventually comprise 7 volumes – we imagine it’s going to become the definitive general History of the church: and in History proper there’s The Witches of Warboys by Philip C. Almond, which reveals one of those very English, unknown but totally fascinating stories in which British history is so rich. A wonderful book is Chrysalis: Maria Sybilla and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd, which is the fascinating tale of a seventeenth century middle-aged woman who travels to the Caribbean and documents the fauna she finds their in beautiful, delicate pictures.
In Visual Culture and Film Studies there’s Engaged With the Arts, where John Tusa fulminates on the British arts establishment and The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque by Jacqui Wilson – we’ll have a lot of fun publishing that! And Federico Fellini: His Life and Work by Tullio Kezich, which will remind me of my teenage years and my discovery of film.
These are The Book Depository's favourite I.B. Tauris titles:
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