Lotti and Martin de la Bedoyere in 1997
Search Press was founded by my mother, Lotti de la Bedoyere, in 1970, in an attic room in Kensington, London. My brother and I were settled in school and my mother found herself wondering what she could do to occupy herself. She had an interest in craft, a love of nature, and had helped my father publish a monthly religious newsletter (he was editor of the Catholic Herald at the time.)
So, with a vague knowledge of publishing, a dogged determination to succeed, and little or no capital, she founded Search Press, and embarked upon her publishing journey. Her first publications were a small series of staple-bound, 32-page booklets in the Leisure Craft series, co-editions with the German publisher Herder. The inaugural title was Basket Weaving, closely followed by Batik and then Pin & Thread*.
The road was by no means smooth for Lotti in the male-dominated world of publishing at that time, but she was not one to be intimidated or deterred. She continued to grow and expand her publishing range and the business through the decades. In 1997 when she felt the time was right to take a step back after 27 happy years at the helm, she handed the reins over to me. But she wasn’t quite ready to retire, so she continued as the photographer for all our books for some time after that.
At the time I had several years’ experience of academic publishing, but I joined Search Press with virtually no knowledge of craft publishing, so it was a little daunting to begin with. Here I am, however, 20 years later with a £7 million award-winning company, celebrating half a century so I suppose I must be doing something right! Actually, speaking of awards, we were thrilled to win Best Craft Book Publisher earlier this year for the seventh consecutive time and the ninth since the awards began in 2006. That was very special, particularly in our 50th anniversary year.
How large is the company today?
We have over 35 full-time staff in Tunbridge Wells, working in editorial, design, production, sales and marketing, customer service, warehousing and accounts. We also have offices in the USA and Australia.
Every aspect of the publishing process – from initial idea to dispatching finished copies – takes place in-house apart from the actual printing of our books, and probably uniquely for a book publishing company of our size, we have our own on-site warehouse, allowing us to service consumers, booksellers and art and craft shops around the world quickly and effectively.
The company started as a small family business all those decades ago, a culture that my mother very much engendered and encouraged with dogs in the office, fun days out and great parties. It’s important to me that we’ve kept that ethos – we’ve had to change and introduce some more rigid and professional systems in order to remain successful in this competitive market, but we have retained all that is wholesome and fun within a family business. We still enjoy dogs in the office, great parties and quite a few staff who were employed by my mother in the early days are still with the company today.
The first Search Press Christmas party, 1973 (Lotti seated)
Which books sell well today? Have you seen changes in media and subject popularity over the years?
Watercolour is still the best-selling medium, with drawing and sketching following closely behind. There is also a definite trend towards artists wanting to be more innovative and experimental, exploring all kinds of mixed media. With that in mind, we’ve launched a brand-new series, The Innovative Artist. The first will be published in July: Drawing Dramatic Landscapes by Robert Dutton (www.searchpress.com/book/9781782217589/the-innovative artist-drawing-dramatic-landscapes).
Pastels and oils are still hugely popular and there will always be a strong demand for those media. We are lucky to have a wealth of best-selling artists in our list, but if I had to single any out, it would be Giovanni Civardi for drawing, Jean Haines’, Matthew Palmer’s, David Bellamy’s watercolour titles, and Billy Showell’s botanical books, all of which are hugely popular.
Search Press’s 40th anniversary Meet the Artist day
How has the rise of the digital age affected book publishing and book selling?
The ethos of the company, then and now, is to publish the very best we can in high-quality, good-value, beautifully produced books that inspire and nurture creativity.
The digital age has certainly had an impact on mainstream publishing, but highly illustrated instructional books, such as those we publish, seem to have been protected against the digital revolution. New technology has not quite been able to replicate the reader experience of learning an art or craft from detailed illustrations and well-written instructions.
People still love to own and cherish books, building a bond with them that is not at all possible to do with their digital content. That’s why every book we bring to the market is lovingly produced and a thing of beauty in its own right.
How do you set about sourcing and commissioning authors and book ideas, and how does the process take place?
I have a highly skilled and experienced editorial director, Katie French, who drives our output for us. Her starting point for commissioning a book can be either the subject or the author. So, Katie might identify an emerging trend or a new take on an established subject and then research a suitable author for it, or she might discover a fantastic new artist who is doing amazing work and develop a book idea with them. Whichever route she takes, it begins by spending time getting to know the author, and ultimately developing a clear, shared vision for the book which she then discusses with myself and the other members of the board prior to exchanging contracts.
Our books are very much a fusion of author, editor, designer and photographer all working as a team, honing their individual expertise together until the book is born. In fact, this is what one of our author artists, Adebanji Alade said recently on publication of his first book, The Addictive Sketcher: ‘I’ve had a book in me for years, but I didn’t know how to bring it to life. I am so grateful that Search Press contacted me; they were like the midwives who helped me give birth to my first baby!’
Search Press’s author’s party, 2013
Plans for the future
This is a year for celebration and we plan to celebrate with our staff, authors, friends and associates throughout the year at various events and shows.
Looking forward into the future, publishing beautiful inspiration books that people want to own and enjoy will always be our passion, and we very much look forward to continuing on that happy journey.
Haidee-Jo Summers in the Search Press marquee, Patchings Art, Craft & Design Festival, July 2019
* Search Press thought it would be fun to release some of those early titles from the Search Press archives and make them available as free PDF downloads to celebrate its special anniversary. Please visit www.searchpress.com and click on the 50th Birthday tab to access all the free downloads.