Jed Lyons entered publishing after what he acknowledges was a failed bid to become a writer. An attempt to find a job with New York City publishers didn’t bear fruit, but in December 1975, Lyons says he stumbled into an opportunity to help start a publishing company in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Originally known as RF Publishing, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group now has more than 450 employees in nine offices, as well as a backlist of more than 64,000 titles.
A key to RLPG’s growth has been acquisitions; over the course of his career, Lyons and his team have made 48 acquisitions of publishing companies and imprints, including five deals within the past year. Among the past year’s purchases was one of Lyons’s biggest, the book division of Hal Leonard, a purchase that added 3,200 titles to RLPG and about $4 million in sales. Also joining RPLG in 2019 were Prometheus Books and McBooks, plus two niche imprints: Astragal Press, which specializes in books on blacksmithing and antique tools, and Skipjack Press, which does books on metalworking.
Before RLPG bought McBooks, the publisher of nautical fiction was a client of NBN, RLPG’s sister distribution company that Lyons founded in 1986. Despite consolidation and new competitors, NBN remains one of the largest independent distributors in the U.S. Lyons attributes its success to remaining “small and nimble enough to be responsive to client and customer needs, but we are also large enough to offer the same clout as larger distribution and publisher service companies.”
Lyons also sees RLPG as being nimble enough to take advantage of trends in its two publishing areas, academic publishing and trade publishing. He says RLPG is one of the top five publishers in the country selling books to academic libraries and sells books to schools, colleges, universities, and professionals in diverse fields. On the trade side, Lyons has focused on acquiring regional publishers, a strategy that he believes makes RLPG one of the country’s largest regional publishers. “In short, we publish books for a variety of targeted niche audiences,” he notes.
To reach its various audiences, RLPG has invested heavily in list research to support its direct marketing efforts. RLPG mails two million catalogues annually and has ramped up its digital marketing. This year also saw the launch of Rowman & Littlefield Audio; it released 35 titles in 2019 and 50 in 2020.