Even if Charlesbridge Publishing in Watertown, Mass., weren’t turning 25 next year, its decision to give up distributing its own books makes 2014 noteworthy. The company has inked a deal with Random House Publisher Services for U.S. and international sales, excluding Canada, starting January 1. “From a publishing perspective, we’ll have more time to think strategically,” said Brent Farmer, president and publisher. But, he clarified, “it doesn’t mean we’ll do more books.” That’s because Charlesbridge increased its book production by 50% in 2010 when it added an adult line along with high-profile children’s titles, including a Peter Yarrow imprint, with its acquisition of Imagine Publishing. The publisher went from 35 books a year to about 50–60.
“It’s different to plan what your needs are in a digital age,” said v-p and associate publisher Mary Ann Sabia, who with Farmer decided to look into other options rather than continue doing its own distribution and renew the company’s lease with an 18,000-sq.-ft. warehouse facility nearby. Last November they began contacting distributors and reassessing their storage needs, which shifted not just because of the growth of e-books but also because of their decision to discontinue the classroom side of Charlesbridge Publishing Inc., which launched in 1980 and which spawned the trade division in 1989. Although Charlesbridge is no longer publishing school curriculum materials, the press is using its 6,000-sq.-ft. basement to continue to fulfill orders.
In some respects what is now Charlesbridge, formerly the trade division, was created at the height of the whole-language movement – when teachers began using trade books in the classroom – is at a similar juncture today. Educators are once again looking to integrate more trade titles into their classes with the adoption by most states of the Common Core standards. And Charlesbridge could see a consequent boost, particularly with an assist from its new partnership with Random House.
Farmer is pleased with how much Charlesbridge has accomplished to date, not least of which is its ability to survive and thrive as an independent. “We’re small and nimble. And we’re really fortunate to have an amazing staff, and staff that’s been here for a long time,” he said. He looks forward to moving to full-service distribution, instead of just outsourcing storage and shipping. Charlesbridge will gain benefits of scale, and, for the first time, the press will have a dedicated adult sales force.Charlesbridgestaffers will also be able to take advantage of Random House’s educational gatherings for client lines, mix with other publishers, and gain exposure to best industry practices. The press will also have an ally during difficult industry situations. “When you look at the Borders bankruptcy,” said Farmer, “that’s something we had to handle on our own.” In addition, Sabia said, she looks forward to the fact that “all the day-to-date operational headaches will be eliminated.” That includes ones induced since the beginning of May to make the transition to full-service distribution seamless. “Once it’s done,” Farmer said, “we’ll be in a position to transition.”