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Martin and Caroline de la Bedoyere, MD and Director of Search Press, chart the challenges and milestones of running an influential publishing house as it celebrates half a century of success.


Search Press will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, what qualities does this company possess that have ensured its longevity in the publishing industry?
 

At Search Press, unlike many other UK publishers, we concentrate on only publishing practical and inspirational art and craft books. This gives us focus and a closer relationship with the market. We publish more art and craft books than anyone else and have a better reach into the art and craft market and community.

Our reputation for producing books that are not only beautiful but of a high professional quality means that we attract the very best authors and our readers trust the Search Press brand. For 50 years we have been publishing well-priced, beautifully produced books across the art and craft sector that meet the demands of our audience. We have never just published for here-today-gone-tomorrow fads.

A collection of Search Press's early titles
A collection of Search Press's early titles

What key trends will Search Press be looking to capitalise on in 2020? 

Most of our publishing is based on a steady demand for support material for the art and craft market rather than on short-term market trends. Our best-selling books are currently in drawing, watercolour painting and embroidery, where we have been publishing for many years and are respected as a world leader.

We do, however, keep a close eye on the longer-term art and craft trends. 2020 will see us publishing one of our strongest embroidery lists yet in response to its growing popularity, cementing our reputation as the best embroidery publisher in the world with many international authors who have worldwide reputations.

People are rediscovering the crafts of the past such as macramé, bargello and punch needle, and next year we are publishing books that put a modern twist on all three of these subjects. Needle felting, sewing, knitting and crochet continue to thrive, and 2020 will see us developing our list across all of these areas, with books that showcase the talents of some outstanding new authors and provide instruction as well as ideas and inspiration for the growing craft market.

In art, there is a strong trend toward people taking a more creative, experimental approach to painting and drawing, and we look forward to publishing new artists with modern styles and innovative techniques across all media. 

We’re very aware that there are more craft consumers coming into the market looking to learn crafts as therapy, and as a way of switching off from technology and the stresses and strains of everyday life. Our list will continue to appeal to this growing sector.


How important has social media been in terms of growing your business?
 

We have a dedicated social media community who love to hear news of our new books and authors. We offer them insights into how and why books are published, new projects that our authors are working on, and where our books are available within the art and craft community. Each year the number of followers on all the sites we run continues to grow and our customers love to share with us the projects they have made. Often the first announcement that a book is available is via social media.

Social media offers our authors an opportunity to speak directly to the customers who have followed their work and have invested in their expertise. One of the challenges of social media is how we resource the market’s demand for information on so many different platforms, which are in constant flux in terms of their popularity. 


What are the biggest challenges that Search Press has faced over the last 50 years?
 

The biggest challenge is making sure that books are still relevant in a world that is increasingly dominated by online information. We recognise that people buy books because they treasure them and want to own them, and therefore we have made our books more and more beautiful, better value for money, and – in short – irresistible purchases. We have never, however, lost sight of the importance of high quality content. This is why, despite YouTube and the vast amount of free information available online, we have ensured the longevity of Search Press as a book publisher.

We never want to see independent retailers crowded out of the market by online shopping. Shopping for craft materials should be an enjoyable experience and books are an important part of this. They inspire consumers to enhance their existing skills and learn new ones, and that in turn means that they buy more product. That’s why we support the retail sector as much as possible as we truly believe beautiful books for sale in bricks and mortar shops benefits the sector as a whole.

The book publishing industry has not helped itself over recent years by heavily discounting and so lowering the perceived value of books. There is now consumer expectation that all books should be cheap. But we have proved that well-priced books in the right subjects continue to sell in good quantities. 


How do you feel the needs of the craft consumer have changed since the business first started? 

When the business first started, small instructional books with colour were revolutionary but now consumers expect more than basic instructions and project ideas. The books we produce have to be both beautiful and functional in order to be valued by our audience. It is easy to simply go to the internet for basic information, so books have to offer much more than this. They are therefore not just a source of instruction presented in an accessible, easy-to-understand way; they also provide inspiration and ideas to spark people’s creativity, and often include supporting material such as templates, patterns, tracings and transfers.  


Are there any new book releases coming up that you can tell us about? Why are you excited about them? 

There are so many 2020 books that really excite us!  The Addictive Sketcher, the first sketching book from Adebanji Alade, the winner of many Fast Sketching competitions and the art presenter from the BBC1 The One Show, comes out in January. We’ve superb new collaborations with Kew Gardens: The Kew Book of Embroidered Flowers, The Kew Book of Painting Roses in Watercolour and The Kew Book of Painting Orchids in Watercolour. There’s Wendy Gardiner’s new series featuring easy sewing projects using fat quarters (the most popular way to buy fabric in the UK) - Take Two Fat Quarters Gifts and Home.  A new Sewing Room Secrets title from best-selling author Debbie Shore on Quilting, and Fairytale Crochet Blankets, the cutest children’s blanket book, from Lynn Rowe. Needle Felting for Beginners introduces newcomers to this hugely popular craft, and Felted Animal Knits shows the reader how to create the most adorable animals using a combination of knitting and felting. How to Draw Kawaii (the cute Japanese style that is currently our best-selling drawing subject) comes in May. New books on macramé, thread doodling, gingerbread, yarn spinning, silver jewellery making and napkin folding show the incredible range of our 2020 publishing. 


Why do you think that printed books have stood the test of time amongst competition from so many online resources? 

Craft books take the crafter away from the screen and provide a permanent resource that can be read from beginning to end or dipped into over and over again, with no fear of the information vanishing or being no longer available. Our books are beautiful possessions in their own right. They provide a place in which ideas, expertise and examples of an author’s work can be gathered together for readers to keep on their shelves for many years to come, and many people find it easier to follow step-by-step photographs and written instructions in a book than to watch a video.

Digital content has never really held readers’ interests in the same way as books, and there is an increasing movement away from spending huge amounts of time in front of screens. 


What key craft shows will Search Press be attending this year? How will you be marketing your books to retailers during these events? 

Search Press books will be available at all key craft shows across the country in 2020. We work sometimes with customers such as Purple Valley who run a travelling craft bookshop, but we will also be at shows ourselves offering customers a chance to see all our new books. They can then place their orders with us or buy from their local craft shop. We always believe that the best way to sell our books is to get them directly into the hands of our customers. 


Do you have any tips for small businesses who are looking to start selling your books in store and online? 
 

  • Carrying a good range of books is a great way to sell extra product – a book on how to use fat quarters, for example, may well encourage people in a fabric store to purchase more fat quarter bundles, particularly if they are placed next to each other.
  • We offer great trading terms so you’ll benefit from extra profitable business. 
  • Use books in any classes or workshops you offer – they’re a great way for your customers to remember the techniques they’ve learnt, or to give them project ideas to try out at home.
  • Make up some of the projects from the books you stock and display them in your store. They’ll inspire your customers to craft. 
  • The next best thing to having a big crafting personality physically in your shop is to carry their books. They’re a great reference and provide endless inspiration for your customers. 
  • Hand-written reviews instore at the front of the shop will give a great idea of curation and inspire your customers to buy books and materials. 


What genres of craft books are the most popular 
at the moment? 

Drawing, particularly Kawaii, continues to be huge as do simple watercolour technique books (we’re seeing consumers moving away from adult colouring in to learning to paint). Sewing, both hand and machine, continues to be huge, and of course crochet, knitting and embroidery remain very popular. 


How have you managed to communicate the passion and drive behind Search Press to new employees as the company has expanded? 

We have always maintained the family ethos and all employees are welcomed into the Search Press family. People are allowed to bring their dogs in to work, and we run flexible working so that staff can tailor their working week to their personal needs. Our open-plan office is all on one floor and we share lunch together each day, both of which help communication across all departments.

Every new member of staff is valued and we make sure they feel valued too. We encourage them to let us know their views, and to share their ideas on how we do things. We all get excited when an author delivers the finished projects for a book, or when a new book arrives in the office - it feels like a true team achievement!

Search Press feels like a big family and we all look after each other, and we stress this to everyone from day one. 


What are the pros and cons of running a business as a family?

We never stop talking about work - to be truly successful means that you live it 24/7!

But it has also given us the opportunity to travel the world together. Our daughter, when only a small child, visited printers in Malaysia, met with new distributors in South Africa and spent Christmas in Australia. When you run a family business, people expect to meet the family and it’s a wonderful chance to share the excitement of creating and selling new books together. 


How do you maintain a strong level of communication between your offices in the UK and overseas in Australia and the US?

We have regular scheduled Skype conversations with our team around the world, but we also believe in face to face interaction. We travel a lot to understand how our books are being sold across the world and to really understand the problems that different markets face.

We have annual get-togethers with all our reps, distributors and agents where we learn about new products, and also take the opportunity to party. Search Press parties are famous, and we never forget that it isn’t all about hard work – it’s about enjoying yourself too!


What are your goals for Search Press over the next five years? 
We intend to carry on doing exactly the same as we have been doing for the last 50 years! Publishing beautiful, inspirational books will always be our passion and our main focus. 


The Search Press Timeline

70s 

Lotti de la Bedoyere starts the business in an attic in Kensington publishing small, A5 instructional craft books starting with Basketweaving. Eventually over 100 titles were published in the Leisure Crafts series and it was followed by Leisure Arts and Needlecrafts.

The first Search Press Party
The first Search Press party

In 1978 the business moved to a basement in Fulham and opened a craft shop.

A nationwide soft toy competition was held in conjunction with the WI, which began a special relationship with the WI and its local guilds.

80s 

The company moved to High Brooms, Tunbridge Wells in 1981, taking over the end of a warehouse and adding small offices. We shared premises with a printer and a repro house.

The first extension was built after the company had expanded into portacabins on site. Some of the current staff still remember those days.

90s 

In 1997 Lotti retired and her son Martin  and his wife Caroline took over the business. Lotti continued to provide much of the photography for the books, working from a studio at her home.

Lotti celebrating 21 years of Search Press
Lotti celebrating Search Press's 21st birthday

2000s 

2004 saw the building of a second extension, after a rapid period of expansion with year-on-year growth. More office space and more warehousing were added.

In 2009 we purchased the adjoining building from the printer and repro house, allowing us to hugely expand the warehouse and build our own photographic studio in 2010.

Search Press 40th anniversary staff picture (2010)
2010 Search Press 40th anniversary party

In 2014 we won the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous string of knitted bunting, in conjunction with Woman’s Weekly.

Woman's Weekly award-winning knitted bunting in Search Press's warehouse at Author Party 2013
Woman's Weekly award-winning knitted bunting in Search Press's warehouse at Author Party 2013

Since 2014 we have won Best Craft Publisher in six consecutive years.

In 2015 Search Press won Independent Publisher of the Year and Specialist Consumer Publisher of the Year in the IPG Independent Publishing Awards.

Caroline and Martin winning the IPA Best Publisher of the Year 2015 award
Caroline and Martin winning the IPA 2015 awards

Stitches 2018 winning Best Book Publisher 2018 award
Stitches 2018 winning Best Book Publisher 2018 award

2018 saw the launch of Search Press’s first subscription-based online club, the Half Yard Sewing Club.

Search Press stand at CHSI Stitches 2019
Search Press at CHSI Stitches 2019

 

Reproduced from an interview with Craft Business Magazine, January-February 2020 issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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