Pioneering independent is to be wound up, with many back catalogue titles to be licensed to Penguin
One of the UK's most adventurous independent publishers, Marion Boyars, is being forced out of business after more than 40 years by the adverse climate of today's book trade.
The publisher of authors including Ken Kesey, Georges Bataille, Nobel prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, Ivan Illich and Shel Silverstein, Marion Boyars said this morning that it had sold licences in 38 literary titles to Penguin Classics, and that it would be winding down its operations once it has completed its autumn programme.
'I didn't go bust but I would have, maybe by March,' said publisher Catheryn Kilgarriff, daughter of Marion Boyars, who started the firm in the 1960s as Calder and Boyars, running it jointly with John Calder. When the firm split in 1975, it became Marion Boyars, and when Boyars herself died in 1999, Kilgarriff took over as managing director.
'As an independent with no backers, we don't have any resources, so I owe it to my family to stay in the black,' said Kilgarriff. She blamed the closure on the changed structure of the book trade, which is now 'all about discounting', on the lessening influence of press exposure, and on the proliferation of literary prizes, diluting the effect which a shortlisting can have. 'Even if I get a book on a shortlist I couldn't afford the fee, so I no longer wanted to win prizes,' she added.
Having been in profit since 2002, she 'wasn't willing to lose what I'd built up – and I would have,' so she decided to wind down operations, and was pleased to find a home for 38 books with Penguin. These include a host of Bataille, Silverstein and Heinrich Böll titles, Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn and Henri-Pierre Roche's Jules et Jim, as well as two books by bestselling Turkish author Elif Shafak.
'I feel like it's a good solution,' said Penguin Classics publisher Adam Freudenheim. 'I've been aware that some small publishers have been finding it a difficult market, particularly over the last 18 months. A lot are thriving, like Canongate, but the next tier down are in a difficult place. This is a wonderful list, and I'm glad we're able to publish so many in Penguin ... I feel really excited about it – it's a great opportunity for us. It's sad for Catheryn and Marion Boyars, but they had a good run.'
He will be publishing the majority of the titles under the Penguin Modern Classics imprint, with the intention to bring them all out by the end of 2011.
Kilgarriff said that the rest of the Marion Boyars backlist is now available for acquisition, in particular its drama and social science titles. The independent press will continue to operate throughout the autumn, for which it has a full line-up of titles, including the Spanish prize-winning author Luis Leante, who is coming to London in September to promote See How Much I Love You.