Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 25, July 1999 


Talking books
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:, and Managing Director of The Caribbean Law Publishing Company based in Kingston, Jamaica.

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 rep.

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 too!"'

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.]

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