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Ten years on: the Vertebrate journey

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

As Vertebrate Publishing approaches its tenth anniversary, Managing Director Jon Barton considers the journey so far…

Publishing can be tough. It’s a lot like climbing or, indeed, most adventurous sports. Producing a book is hard work, but the rewards are there at the summit. It’s not necessarily a lucrative business to be in and, as in climbing, you must be able to handle praise and criticism in equal measure. Despite this you keep going back for more – weathering the storms, always trying to do interesting books, challenging books, books no one else has done.

We’ve been publishing for ten years, and producing books for twenty. Our frontlist is strong: we’ve published ten books so far this year, with another four or five at the printers. These will join the 150 already published. But there’s more to Vertebrate than the shiny new books – we see publishing as a responsibility. We’re the custodians of hundreds of old backlist titles, many rare and almost forgotten. These books are important, they talk about history, they document ethics and heritage – the likes of Martyn Farr’s cave diving book, The Darkness Beckons, and Frank Smythe’s Camp Six are irreplaceable. We’re republishing these titles, mainly as ebooks, and making them as accessible as we can, whether through affordable pricing or improved distribution. There’s lots of work to do – new editions of books by Smythe, Tilman, Shipton, Tasker and Boardman only begin to scratch the surface.

The Vertebrate crew are creative professionals, but we're climbers, cyclists, sailors, runners, cavers and skiers first. By sharing our passions, we want to inspire people to enjoy the outdoors and encourage a healthy lifestyle. I get an uneasy feeling watching generations grow up glued to iPads – nothing is better than when we read a tweet along the lines of ‘Just read #Moffatt book. Got 2 go climbing now’.

We also know that outdoor adventure can inspire readers and encourage literacy. Our first fiction title, The Everest Files, a novel for older children and young adults, has found its way onto the reading lists of many UK schools. Author Matt Dickinson is out there, talking adventure and running workshops on creative writing, geography and storytelling, and inspiring thousands of children. We’re hugely encouraged by this and will be exploring the fiction avenue further in the coming years.

Tom Fenton biking near Sheffield

Dynamic, creative businesses like Vertebrate can be thin on the ground outside the limits of the M25. We pride ourselves on being based in the North, on the edge of the Peak District, and are integrally connected with our natural surroundings. Every year the swifts return and nest in the eaves of our office, and the sparrows collect the seeds from the front garden; the redwings arrive from Scandinavia each autumn and pick every last berry from the rowan tree. I think of this as – with each print order – we pay that little bit extra for FSC-certified paper at printing plants working to reduce their environmental impact.

Even more than our location, it’s the team here that really gives Vertebrate its edge. John, in charge of it all, spotting typos within typos, annoying the hell out of his two designers Nathan and Jane who try their damnedest to lay out a book to schedule! Tom sits in the back office, usually editing, always drinking tea – engrossed in a text written in the 1930s by Shipton, Tilman or Smythe perhaps. Simon draws the maps, Teija works out the royalties, Tori tells the world about us, and Wilbur the dog barks at the postman.

And that’s us. We’re not out to conquer the world, but given enough time (and a bit of luck) we hope that the books we’re producing today will find themselves into the hands of tomorrow’s generations. We hope that they’ll read with astonishment of the bold adventures of a different era – adventures saved from the brink of obscurity and given new life.



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