Ian Randle in conversation with Katherine Salahi
Ian Randle is President and Publisher of
Ian Randle Publishers, 206 Old Hope Road, Box 686, Kingston 6, Jamaica.
Tel +1 876 927 2085, fax +1 876 977 0243, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, and
Managing Director of The Caribbean Law Publishing Company based in Kingston,
Ian Randle has lost count of the times he has
met people for the first time, right at home in the Caribbean, to
be told, 'You can't be Ian Randle of Ian Randle Publishers!' 'Firstly
they think that I'm an old white man', he laughs, 'and in their perception
the name has been around for so long that it has to be an old house.'
Yet Ian Randle Publishers came into existence only in 1991. 'We've
filled a gap; it was so obvious you can't help noticing it.'
Ian has been in publishing for 29 years, all
his working life. 'I stepped out of my last exam (gaining a first
in history at the University of the West Indies) and straight into
a job with Caribbean Universities Press', which was then a new venture,
funded by Ginn UK. 'I was approached by John Macpherson, who was leaving
the University of the West Indies to work for Ginn. He was setting
up headquarters in Barbados and wanted somebody in Jamaica.' Ian went
straight to Britain to spend some time with Ginn training to be a
From Ginn he went to work for Collins, still
in Jamaica, as a commissioning editor. Five years into his working
life he took a break to study again, for a further degree in international
politics at Southampton University in the UK. He was toying with the
idea of moving out of publishing. But fate and Heinemann decreed otherwise.
'I was working at Collins, which at that time represented Heinemann
in the Caribbean. I discovered that I was actually doing more work
for Heinemann than for Collins. Heinemann's list was much stronger,
and I developed a very close relationship with the Heinemann people.'
While he was in Southampton Heinemann told him that they wanted to
set up an operation in the Caribbean, and asked if he wanted to go
back and run it.
'I did that for 15 years. I set up Heinemann
in the Caribbean. We produced some of the best textbook publishing
ever to come out of the Caribbean in those years. Most of those books
are still in use in schools today.' He worked closely with James Currey;
together they built up the Caribbean Writers series, introducing new
writers into the series.
Then he started feeling restless again. 'Every
now and then I go through this phase in life where I feel I want to
stop and make a new start.' He was having difficulties with his local
partners in Heinemann, 'And I remember coming over to the UK and going
out to have dinner with James Currey and Keith Sambrook, to some London
restaurant, and I think James at that time had just celebrated five
years as an independent publisher. The talk around the table was about
how wonderful it was, and I simply said, "I'm going to do it
It could have been the influence of the wine,
he confesses, but once he'd said it he had to do it. 'The very next
day I called my wife and told her what I was going to do. I called
my daughter, too. I had to tell her because she was about to finish
high school and enter university, and obviously I had no idea how
we were going to pay for it, as I had no money!'
He went back home, promptly resigned, and within
two weeks he had incorporated Ian Randle Publishers. 'I walked out
of Heinemann after 15 years empty-handed, and started completely from
scratch again.' He had no money - 'I borrowed money from day one'
- but he soon discovered that 'when starting a business, as important
as money is your reputation and the contacts you have'. He was able
to call in a lot of contacts. 'I sent a notice to The Bookseller and
one to Publishers Weekly and they were both used. For example, Lynne
Rienner read the notice and wrote to me asking, "Anything I can
do to help? In fact, I'm about to produce a book related to Jamaica,
are you interested?" I said yes, and she put my name on the book,
so the day I opened my doors I published my first book.'
Through his contacts he picked up some good
agencies too - Stanley Thornes in the UK, and Harcourt Brace in the
US - which meant he immediately had income coming in on a regular
basis. 'It started to go very quickly.' He chose to specialise in
academic publishing. 'I had spent most of my publishing career doing
educational publishing and I decided I was tired of it, I didn't want
to touch school books again, I wanted to get out of the rat-race.'
It was, after all, how he had started up, because at Caribbean Universities
Press 'I was doing tertiary, academic-level publishing and I felt
very comfortable with that. It was also a question of seeing the opportunity,
it was a totally untouched market. And you needed less money to do
it than textbooks.'
Neither of his parents had much education. 'My
father was an overseer on a sugar estate, which meant he was the top
man on the estate. I lived in a great house with servants all around
me.' That was until they moved into Kingston. Ian was about 11. 'My
parents migrated to the city with absolutely no skills. Those first
years were very, very tough, but gradually my father got better and
better jobs,' good enough to send all seven children to high school,
and to send four out of the seven to university.
He remembers reading a lot at school, 'making
and breaking friends over books' and vividly recalls 'the only fight
in my life' being over a book. 'I won the fist part of the fight but
I lost the wrestling part.'
At school he thought of being a lawyer - 'I'd
have made a damn good lawyer' - or a journalist. Publishing happened
'by accident'. Now 'I have absolutely no interests outside what I
do. I've been a slave to my work. I keep the same hours, I work with
the same intensity, I take total responsibility for everything. It's
been a total, complete passion.'
This is his company's ninth year. On average
they now publish about 20 titles a year. 'It's got too big, I really
don't like big things. But it has its own momentum and I can't stop
it.' Nor, one suspects, would he really want to. 'Nothing gives me
greater pleasure than seeing someone reading one of my books, though
I didn't write it.' So he won't stop publishing, but he will take
on other things as well.
Ian Randle is restless again. The solution
is a new challenge. Recognising that independent publishing in the
Caribbean is generally weak to non-existent, Ian's next project is
to establish a Caribbean-wide publishers association, with the aim
of strengthening local publishing throughout the islands. Judging
by his track record, consider it done. [end] [BPN, no
25, 1999, p 17.]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 25, 1999>>