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Jon Barton's Christmas Message

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Pour a glass of sherry, pull up a comfortable chair and gather the household round. Christmas wouldn't be the same without our managing director's traditional end-of-year review ...

Blimey, that was some year: surprise bestsellers, four international awards, some sadness, a few hellos, some goodbyes and lots of books.

2016 brought a degree of stability to the global publishing industry, and book sales remained a foundation of the creative inspiration in our society. Ebooks aren’t growing in popularity, but the humble book is as trendy as ever. We defined ourselves in the last year; ‘Inspiring Adventure’ became our strapline, and we aimed to do just that by producing beautiful, thought-provoking books. We released twenty-one new titles in 2016, not including our ebook programme, which gives out-of-print classics a new lease of life. The Water Vole was the first, and Distant Snows the last. In the Shadow of Ben Nevis – the autobiography of Ian Sykes – was a surprise bestseller, while Punk in the Gym was perhaps the most raw and honest book we have ever published. If you climb up rock faces in your spare time I would encourage you to read Andy’s emotional tale.

Banff and the Kendal Mountain Festival were highlights of 2016 for us. In particular, award-winning titles 1001 Climbing Tips and The Bond stood out as two books at the very top of their game. Slipping almost unnoticed into our summer programme was the beautiful 1865 Golden Age of Mountaineering, a lavish coffee-table book recording the finest 100 years of alpine climbing – described by one reviewer as ‘a welcome addition’ to existing alpine histories. Steve Bell produced the first of his trilogy of memoirs – Virgin on Insanity, a tale of not-so-carefree youth. The Annapurna chapter is essential reading for any aspiring alpine warrior, especially those of us who have stood under a giant alpine face and turned away scared.

Much has been said of The Bond; personally I’d be happy if that was the highpoint in my publishing career. I’m immensely proud of this book; it has been a pleasure getting to know the author, and meeting many of the book’s protagonists.

Our final highlight must be publishing Chris Bonington’s photographic autobiography Mountaineer. Chris was – as always – a pleasure to work with, and it was great to get Leo Houlding involved, as well as Ian Parnell of Climb magazine to help with the editing. I’d like to give a shout-out to the Vertebrate team here, John, Nathan and Jane who worked very closely with Chris, but also Teija, Camilla and Lorna who administrated, proofread and promoted the title, respectively. Vertebrate is an enormously successful company; we are creative, inspirational, and provide exceptionally high-quality products. We try to be generous and work responsibly with an environmental conscience – it is the team that make this success.

On an unhappy note, in 2016 two great friends of Vertebrate were lost this year: Ken Wilson and Jim Curran. Both were fantastic people who didn’t stand still and lived life to the full, leaving a fantastic heritage. Tigers in the world of publishing.

Building a successful publishing business has been relatively straightforward; building a profitable one is a little more challenging. Books are long-term investments, and it hasn’t always been easy. Our company has evolved over the last twelve months and the next twelve months will be different again. We’ve had to get a bit smaller, and a bit smarter – but we were sad to see Tori give up her War and Peace of commuting and move on to a job closer to her home. As always, our loyal customers have been great; we see the same names on our sales reports with every new book release, we see great sales year after year for some of our classics, and best of all we see books sticking out of map pockets, being read on trains, talked about on websites and resting among the toilet paper in friends’ houses. Thanks guys.

2017 promises to be the year of the guidebook; if truth be known one gets a hankering to visit new places, and what better excuse than to write a book once you’re there? This year our focus will be walking, climbing and running guides to North Wales, the Cotswolds, Devon, Pembrokeshire, the Peak, the Lakes, and, maybe, if we work really hard, Scotland. Great to see new authors and a few returning names helping us with these, Steve Franklin, Harri Roberts, Jen and Sim Benson, Judy Mills, Greg Chapman, Graham Hoey, Steve Goodwin and Svenja Timmins.

Inspiring young people is at the heart of our mission (getting them off the iPad and into a pair of boots to be precise), and to help this effort Matt Dickinson will conclude his Everest Files trilogy in 2017 and we will also have new books from Sarah Mussi – the second instalment of the Snowdonia Chronicles, Here Be Witches – as well as the brilliant Ruth Eastham with her debut novel for Vertebrate, Chariot.

Exciting titles for 2017 include Steve Birkinshaw’s book about his six-day run around the Wainwright fells – There is no Map in Hell; Norton of Everest, the first biography of E.F. Norton; and Kinder, combining the creative talent of Ed Douglas (the words), and John Beatty (the photos), this book is not to be missed. Our final offerings of the year will maybe be a new Bernadette McDonald book, and maybe a new Nick Bullock book. 

In the meantime, while we wait for the evenings to get lighter, embrace the shadows, as this spring we publish The Darkness Beckons, in which Martyn Farr takes us underground and underwater exploring the very last frontiers on our planet. As Joseph Conrad said, ‘the tranquil waterway flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness’.

In short, it’s been a crazy year with some wonderful highs and some testing lows. But here at Vertebrate we love a challenge, and the team can’t wait to see what 2017 brings. Thanks again for your continued support – I hope you have a very happy new year.

Jon doing a bit of Peak District Mountain Biking. Photo © John Coefield.

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