An Exclusive New Column Series: Richard Charkin on the Vocabulary of Publishing

In Opinion & Commentary by Richard Charkin

If “unputdownable” means “putdownable” and “educational publishing” is “anything that’s not trade publishing,” what does “quality” mean in an insider’s lexicon of the book industry? Ask Richard Charkin.

Richard Charkin. Image: Bloomsbury

Editor’s Note: Last month, it was announced that Bloomsbury’s total revenues had jumped 13 percent in 2017 with a 10-percent rise in profit. The good report paralleled the news that Richard Charkin, for 11 years the iconic independent house’s executive director, would be stepping down from the board. Charkin has held leadership positions with Macmillan, Holtzbrinck, Reed International/Reed Elsevier, Pergamon Press, and Oxford University Press, and he preceded Michiel Kolman as president of the International Publishers Association. We’re delighted that today he starts a monthly column series with us here at Publishing Perspectives. Please do take him at his word: we’d be happy to hear from you in the comments. Welcome, Richard! –Porter Anderson

By Richard Charkin

‘Fearing a Hostile Reception’
This is my first column for Publishing Perspectives. It coincides more-or-less with my leaving the Board of Bloomsbury Publishing after nearly eleven very happy and very interesting years. My departure has coincided with a resurgence in the Bloomsbury share price which is great for investors and a fair reflection of the excellence of the business, but nonetheless a tad deflating for my self-esteem.

“In this age of user-generated content, you are all invited to contribute and one day we may end up with a major reference work on our industry.”Richard Charkin

In any event it signals a career change and reminds me of exactly 30 years ago when I left Oxford University Press in order to set up a mass-market paperback business for Paul Hamlyn and Reed International Books. There was a degree of surprise that an apparent “academic” publisher might turn his hand to general publishing, and as a result I was invited to address The Society of Bookmen (now uncontroversially rebranded The Book Society for obvious reasons) on my first impressions of general book publishing.

I don’t know what the distinguished audience was expecting, but I was fearing a hostile reception from literary agents and experienced trade publishers. I turned to what I thought I understood, alphabetical reference works, and recited an A-Z of Trade Book Publishing which I share with you, albeit with some updating (although I discovered I really didn’t have to update that much).

  • Advance against royalty = outright payment
  • Bookseller = book borrower
  • Contract = piece of paper
  • Drivel = celebrity publishing
  • Educational publishing  = anything that’s not trade publishing
  • Finance director = landlord
  • Gross sales = 50 percent more than sales
  • Hardback = strip and rebind opportunity
  • Incremental sales = excremental profits
  • Jacket = sell-in material
  • Kiss ‘n’ tell = be sued
  • Literary = won’t sell
  • Management = something to do with football
  • Nonreturnable = a myth
  • Overhead = someone else
  • Profit = gross sales
  • Quality = won’t sell
  • Royalty = Meghan Markle now
  • Sales = loans
  • Traveler = managing director
  • Unputdownable = putdownable
  • Volume = sales without profit
  • Write-down = caused by predecessors
  • X-rated = might sell
  • Year-end = invoice early
  • Zeitgeist = learn German

In this age of user-generated content (incidentally the citations in Oxford English Dictionary were effectively sourced that way in the 19th century) you are all invited to contribute and one day we may end up with a major reference work on our industry.

Join us monthly for Richard Charkin’s latest column. More coverage of his work from Publishing Perspectives is here.

About the Author

Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin is a former president of the International Publishers Association and the United Kingdom’s Publishers Association. For 11 years, he was executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. He has held many senior posts at major publishing houses, including Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Current Science Group, and Reed Elsevier. He is a former president of the Book Society and non-executive director of the Institute of Physics Publishing. He is currently a board member of Bloomsbury China’s Beijing joint venture with China Youth Press, a member of the international advisory board of Frankfurter Buchmesse, and is a senior adviser to and Shimmr AI. He is a non-executive director of Liverpool University Press, and Cricket Properties Ltd., and has founded his own business, Mensch Publishing. He lectures on the publishing courses at London College of Communications, City University, and University College London. Charkin has an MA in natural sciences from Trinity College, Cambridge; was a supernumerary fellow of Green College, Oxford; attended the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School; and is a visiting professor at the University of the Arts London. He is the author, with Tom Campbell, of ‘My Back Pages; An Undeniably Personal History of Publishing 1972-2022.’