After packaging for a number of American publishers, among them Focal Press, St. Martin’s, Abrams, and Chronicle, U.K.-based Ilex Press is entering the U.S. with its own line of books that is being distributed by Ingram Publisher Services. Founded in 2000 by U.K. publishing veteran Alastair Campbell, Ilex specializes in books on photography, art, comics, and Web design, and also has a growing gift line.

Ingram will initially sell a modest number of Ilex titles and stationery products, and then add 30 titles a year as U.S. sales grow. Executive publisher Roly Allen, who worked in foreign rights for several publishers before joining Ilex in 2008, believes this is the right time to make the switch from packager to publisher. “The changing climate in the U.S. book market—for instance, low advance commitments from B&N and the collapse of Borders—have made it difficult for publishers to commit to serious, weighty books. They’d love to acquire them, but they know that their sales teams will have a hard time getting them into stores,” Allen explained. The move to become a publisher, Allen said, will allow Ilex to deal directly with IPS to create promotional packages, develop media opportunities, “and make things happen.”

Campbell started in publishing in 1977 as the cofounder of Quarto, where he stayed for more than a decade before leaving to work in the digital graphics end of publishing. He opened Ilex after being asked by British publisher Ivy Press to commission a series of digital how-to books for creative people—photographers, illustrators, and so on—who need to understand the new technology. Instead, he started Ilex as his own specialist list alongside Ivy, which now has 200 titles in print and publishes 40–50 books a year, along with stationery products. Although Ilex and Ivy Press each has its own editorial and publishing team, the presses refer to themselves informally as sister companies in the Ivy Group, and share a common managing director, Stephen Paul, and offices in Lewes, East Sussex. Ilex employs 13 people.

As a packager, Ilex’s bestselling title is Michael Freeman’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography (2001), which has sold 400,000 copies worldwide in updated editions and is published in the U.S. by Sterling. The Ilex list has evolved over the past decade, Allen said, and digital photography books now make up about half of the line, while fine art books are also a significant component. Ilex’s lead title for fall 2012 is The Collier Campbell Archive: 50 Years of Passion in Pattern by Emma Shackleton (Nov., $75). The book will bring this legendary British textile firm, known for its vibrant hand-painted patterns and cofounded by sisters Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell, to American audiences for the first time. In addition, IPS will distribute Pring’s Photographer’s Miscellany and The Subway Graffiti Sketchbook.

Ilex’s gift line includes note cards and journals featuring the floral designs of the Collier-Campbell design archives, postcard books with manga, inspirational campy vintage images, tattoo art, and the Build Your Own Glow-in-the-Dark Robot. “Looking at the marketplace, we could see that bookshops, from local indies to B&N, depend more and more on nonbook products as part of their offering,” Allen said. “We saw a gap in the market for fun, kitsch, and romantic stationery, and went ahead and filled it.” Ilex has done very well with its gift line in the U.K., and expects similar sales results in the U.S.