Nigel Roby Sells the UK’s ‘The Bookseller’ to Stage Media Company

In News by Porter Anderson

British publishing’s news medium of record: Calling his ownership and management of The Bookseller ‘the greatest privilege of my working life,’ Nigel Roby hands off to The Stage’s Hugh Comerford.

Nigel Roby announces The Bookseller’s British Book Awards shortlists with Cathy Rentzenbrink at the 2017 London Book Fair. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘All My Energy and Care’
The United Kingdom’s longstanding news medium of record for book publishing, The Bookseller, has announced this morning in London (August 7) that it has been acquired by Stage Media Co., publisher of The Stagethe counterpart trade medium to The Bookseller for the British theater and performing arts industry.

Terms of the deal have not been made public, and media messaging from The Bookseller says that the new ownership is effective immediately, a result of talks that began in the autumn.

While The Bookseller is only being sold for the third time—remarkable for a an operation more than 150 years old—some may feel it’s had too short a time under the leadership of Nigel Roby, who bought the publication 10 years ago when Nielsen was divesting itself of its magazines, which included The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

Roby had been managing director of Nielsen Business Media, which in the UK was focused on The Bookseller and on Kirkus in the States. Prior to this, Roby had been with Haymarket Publishing, Centaur Media, and Mountside Media.

Known for his wry asides in hosting duties at The Bookseller’s FutureBook conferences and a hands-on interest in the magazine’s development, Roby expanded the company’s presentational capability, as the magazine embraced the widening UK industry with reliable analytical coverage and an energizing spirit of book-business celebration.

In addition to the flagship FutureBook conference, The Bookseller now produces a marketing and publicity conference, a children’s book business conference, and the YA Book Prize, created in 2014.

Roby would also work with the staff to stage industry-nudging events like a 2014 FutureBook Hack at University College, London, a nonstop hackathon weekend that brought key publishing players into contact with coders who teamed up on developing digital bridges between the industry and consumers.

In January 2017, Roby acquired the British Book Awards, the Nibbies, from the estate of Publishing News founder Fred Newman, setting up what now is—in non-pandemic years—an annual black-tie gala in Mayfair, merging industry and book awards.

In the magazine, features originated under Roby’s tenure have included “Books in the Media,” “Jobs in Books,” and the public-facing BookGig site that catalogues and promotes author events in the market.

‘Leaving Was Never Going To Be Easy’

“This is a bittersweet moment,” Roby says in a prepared statement for today’s news. “Owning and running The Bookseller has been the greatest privilege of my working life.

Philip Jones

“My overriding desire over the years has been to adapt and galvanize The Bookseller so it can continue its position at the heart of the book trade. To know that The Bookseller and the brilliant team behind it can go forward with confidence is profoundly heartening.

“I have put all of my care and energy into The Bookseller so leaving was never going to be easy. And it isn’t.”

By contrast even the scant three sales The Bookseller has undergone in its history, The Stage has been owned and operated by the Comerford family since it was created by Maurice Comerford and Charles Lionel Carson, its first editor.

Hugh Comerford, its managing director today, is quoted this morning, saying, “The Bookseller and The Stage occupy very similar positions in two of our most important sectors.

Emma Lowe

“Bringing the two businesses together will make both of them stronger and give both companies a far better chance of enduring and thriving in the current, challenging environment than they would have done alone.

“Nigel has passed on The Bookseller and all its operations in robust good health and I am looking forward to building on his work.”

Industry players today will be relieved to know that Philip Jones remains as editor, and Emma Lowe as director of publisher relations.

Jones and Lowe remain senior executives of the publication’s operations and will be joining the executive management team of State Media Co.

Hugh Comerford

The Bookseller staff is expected to relocate, physically, to The Stage office space in Southwark’s brick-solid Bermondsey Street in the autumn.

And while the two companies serve separate but equally important elements of the UK’s creative industries, one of the most easily spotted parallels between the two publications is heritage.

The Bookseller was established in 1858, the year in which Beatrice Potter was born, the first transatlantic telegrams were exchanged between Queen Victoria and president James Buchanan, and a 14-year-old saw the first reported vision at Lourdes.

The Stage would be set up 22 years later, in 1880, when Thomas Edison patented the incandescent lamp and Sarah Bernhardt made her US debut at the Booth in New York City.

The Bookseller is produced daily online and weekly in print. It also produces the lead show dailies annually at London Book Fair. The Bookseller’s print editions, like Publishing Perspectives, is currently on summer break.

Nigel Roby during a break at The Bookseller’s FutureBook Hack, University College, London, 2014. Image: Porter Anderson

More from Publishing Perspectives on the UK market is here, more from us on The Bookseller is here, and more on the FutureBook is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site. Porter Anderson was associate editor for The Bookseller’s The FutureBook prior to becoming editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.