River North Editions may have just launched in March, but IPG's rebranded distribution program for scholarly titles published by approximately a dozen international presses is already making a big splash, as is one of its clients, a four-year-old company located far from River North's offices in Chicago. River North is the distributor in North America of Décadence Mandchoue, written in 1943 by Sir Edmund Backhouse, a British scholar who lived in China for 40 years. Décadence Mandchoue was published for the first time by Earnshaw Books, a company with offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai that specializes in books about China. Backhouse's racy memoir of his life and adventures in China in the early 20th century was released in April with a 2,500-copy initial print run and has already gone into a second print run of 3,000 copies. More than 2,000 copies shipped out in April, 700 of them to accounts in North America.
Chinese language rights to Décadence Mandchoue have been sold to New Century Press in Hong Kong. Although many mainland Chinese publishers were interested, none of them would agree to publish without censoring some of its more salacious passages.
The book, in which Backhouse claims to have had affairs with notables ranging from Oscar Wilde to Tzu His, Empress Dowager of China, has been written up in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Britain's Daily Telegraph, and twice in the South China Morning Post. Additional major media profiles and reviews have been also scheduled.
Paul Murphy, IPG's director of professional and academic markets, says that Décadence Mandchoue is exactly the kind of title that River North wants to emphasize in its distribution program—a "provocative" book about "intellectual pursuits" that would appeal to the academic market as well as to the trade.
"This book could be used in Asian studies courses," Murphy explains. "It's also got strong appeal for anyone who likes historical fiction or nonfiction about Asia."
Earnshaw Books also is exactly the kind of publisher River North hopes to draw to its rebranded distribution program, having, as Murphy described it, "an eclectic list, but has an appeal to an academician." The press, founded in 2007 by Graham Earnshaw, a British journalist and former Reuters Asia Bureau Chief, originally was meant to publish reprints of books relating to China's history and culture. In 2008, however, the press started publishing original releases, with such titles of interest to antiquarians as Tales of Old Singapore and Two Years in the Forbidden City. There are currently 37 Earnshaw titles in print; the press expects to release half a dozen titles this fall, and at least seven, up to 10, titles next year.
Fall 2011 releases include Red Rock by Jon Campbell, a history of Chinese rock 'n' roll, and The Cultural Revolution Cookbook by Sasha Gong and Scott D. Seligman, a combination cookbook, history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and personal narrative.
Previously, Earnshaw Books was distributed only in Asia, by APD and Foreign Press. After acquiring Décadence Mandchoue, the manuscript of which had remained unnoticed at Oxford University's Bodleian Library since the 1970s, the press decided to use its publication as an occasion to formally enter the international market. Last summer, Earnshaw signed an agreement with River North after doing extensive research on distribution companies in the U.S. Company executives considered River North small enough, yet with an extensive reach in both the academic and trade markets, to give Earnshaw Books the attention and guidance they need to effectively break into the North American market.
"We thought our books had academic appeal that we weren't currently realizing in our home market," explains Derek Sandhaus, Earnshaw's chief editor and general manager, who edited Décadence Mandchoue. "Our titles should appeal to an academic market, and several of them are aimed at a more general market. River North has strength in the academic market, but is branded in such a way that better suits our catalogue."
More recently, Earnshaw has signed an agreement with Orca Book Services to distribute its titles in the U.K. and Europe. Besides Décadence Mandchoue, Earnshaw's bestselling title that's available beyond Asia is Stateless in Shanghai by Liliane Willens, with 1,200 copies sold, Sandhaus declares. "We expect that having most of our titles available in the U.S. and Europe for the first time will result in a significant uptick in our sales."
Paul Murphy of River North will be at the BEA in New York next week, booth 2738, and Earnshaw's Derek Sandhaus will also be at the show.