April 20, 2018

Publishing At Warp Speed: A Q&A With Rowman & Littlefield International CEO Oliver Gadsby

Rowman & Littlefield International, the newly minted London-based partner of the American publishing company, is hoping to build a streamlined new publishing platform that can focus on quick turnarounds to respond to modern issues faster than traditional presses.  With its inaugural volume, scholar Sean Gaston’s The Concept of World from Kant to Derrida, out the door earlier this month, we caught up with CEO Oliver Gadsby to explore how the new imprint plans to carve out a space for its authors by taking advantage of disruptions in publishing, and maybe cause a few of its own along the way.

LJ: How did Rowman & Littlefield International come into being?

Oliver Gadsby: When I was running Continuum publishing I came into contact with Rowman & Littlelfield as a distribution contact and came to admire the company very much. Through that I got to know the management team and publishing operation, so when Continuum was sold in 2011, we got to talking about whether there was an opportunity to start up a new publishing business in Europe, and that’s what we’ve done with Rowman & Littlefield International. It’s been great so far, an opportunity to start something afresh, but with this great partnership with Rowman & Littlefield in the U.S. It’s a chance to take advantage of all the opportunities available to us and the new ways of working and come up with something that is efficient, fast, attractive, and creative.

Where is Rowman & Littlefield International looking to change the way publishing operates, and where are things not changing?

On the technology side, we decided from the start we wanted to use an all-digital, XML workflow. That means you’re creating content digitally, so you can output it as an ebook, as chapters, and in print as a whole book as well. So we have a model where we’re publishing simultaneously in paperback, hardback, and ebook. And there’s no longer any need to ship books around the world, since we’re publishing simultaneously in the U.K. and U.S. We’re taking advantage of all this technology, as well as a good transatlantic partnership, but we need the creative heart of a publishing company, so I recruited a creative team here in London with experience and a focus on the niche community they’ll be publishing for. It’s now the familiar challenge of creating a distinctive list that has an edge that is interesting, that will attract both authors and readers.

What is the catalog going to look like in the first few years of the imprint?

Initially, philosophy, politics and international relations, and cultural studies are our areas of focus. We have said that we will be global in outlook from the start, and we’ve got some great things going on in Asian cultural studies, for instance, and in East Asian comparative ethics and politics, looking at global issues of change and disruption. We’re also interested in interdisciplinarity, because while academics are seen as sitting within traditional silos, they’re actually interested in the connections between subjects. We’re finding that that resonates a lot with the authors we’re talking to, and that events in politics and culture are kind of breaking down these boundaries that have existed in the past.

How are you looking to engage the community of readers and scholars?

We are very actively out there in the academic community. We’ve got some good partnerships already with research centers like City University of Hong Kong and the National University of Ireland, where new series are being created, including one based around new forms of radical politics, from Tahrir Square to Wikileaks. We’ll be building further such partnerships in the future. At the same time, we’re also blogging, we’re encouraging authors and editors to blog, we’re on Twitter, we’re having little competitions and hosting events, including some film screenings at our offices. Building sort of an intellectual salon here in the middle of London is also part of the venture, and that’s all part of building a publishing program of scale and high quality with an edge to it, and doing so rapidly—we’re looking to publish about 50 titles in 2014.

We’re publishing from manuscript to transatlantic publication in about four months.

In a publishing platform that puts so much emphasis on speed, talk about the role peer review plays in the works you’re publishing.

Every proposal goes out to the academic community, and we will typically seek a range of voices and a range of geographical locations for comment on the proposal. That can be a very useful steer for the author in finalizing the work, and for the editorial and marketing teams. We ask reviewers about the originality and quality of the ideas presented, and also about where they think those ideas will find most application and what kind of audience is addressed by the work, which helps to steer the later dissemination of the work into the academic community.

How does the Rowman & Littlefield Intl. workflow differs from traditional publishing?

In this connected, digital age, the processes that used to be one department doing something and then handing off to another department—for instance, from commission to copy editing to design—made for a laborious process. Now the material is coded in XML from a very early stage, and that tracks all the way through the design process. It still has peer review and a rigorous editorial process, but we can go through it much more efficiently now, and before you know it, you’re looking at a manuscript that can be output in print or digital format. And of course these days, print doesn’t mean filling warehouses with books you hope you’ll sell. Print on demand technology means you might print a small quantity for publication, but can respond to individual orders on demand. And all of this information resides in a database, so it can be made available in other forms, whether that is in collections or in chapter or extract form. And that is very attractive for the academic community who want their work to be available to anyone who wants to read it.

Why publish in ebook, hardcover, and softcover simultaneously?

We want readers to be able to access our content through whatever channel is most appealing to them, and that means choosing the format that suits them. There is still a market for the carefully and beautifully bound hardback, in the institutional library setting in particular, but there’s also a community of independent scholars who may want a paperback or ebook edition of the work. Offering every format at once lets us maximize the impact and the reach that these works will have.

It’s obviously a little early to speculate, but are there fields you see the press expanding into in the future?

Economics seems to be a particularly rich area at the moment. The emerging strength of Asia and the different societal and economic models that are at play there is another area we’ll be looking at. I could see that in the future, we might well establish a base in Asia as well and be publishing from there, but that’s a little while off, shall we say.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.