THE world of Scottish publishing was last night reeling at the news that leading Edinburgh publisher Mainstream is to close at the end of the year.
Both rival publishers, Publishing Scotland and Mainstream employees had no inkling that the company, which was founded by Bill Campbell and Peter MacKenzie in 1978, was facing closure. Up to ten jobs will go.
Over the years, Mainstream has vied with Edinburgh rivals Birlinn as the Scotland’s leading publisher of commercial non-fiction.
With titles such as Scotland’s Music by John Purser and Scottish Art 1460-1990 by Duncan Macmillan, they produced books that played a vital part in explaining Scottish culture to the wider world.
But they also had a keen eye for commercial advantage, and often took on board projects where once-lucrative newspaper serialisation rights could also help the bottom line. In 2005, publishing giant Random House took a 50 per cent stake in the company. At the time, Mr Campbell said that the deal would increase Mainstream’s clout with the major book chains, opening up new markets in the UK and overseas.
Last night, Mr Campbell pointed out that the Mainstream imprint – which includes award-winning writers of the calibre of Hugh McIlvanney, Eugenie Fraser, Carol Ann Lee and Donald McRae – would live on as part of the Random House, who would publish the final mainstream title in March next year.
“We’re just bowing out after 35 successful years at our own pace,” said Mr Campbell. “Mainstream will continue to appear as an imprint, there will be a home for the backlist and so the books won’t just disappear.
“Publishing has always been a difficult business ever since the collapse of the Net Book Agreement in 1994. We succeeded because we were innovative in what we call guerrilla publishing – spotting a niche in the market, whether it was in sport, misery memoirs and true crime. We’d clean up and then the big boys would pile in.”
In a joint statement, Campbell and Mackenzie said last night: “In some hopefully lengthy paragraph in the great history of publishing, there will be recognition of Mainstream’s contribution as a successful, innovative and profitable company. We’re going out on a high. For Mainstream there should be no other way.”
Hugh Andrew, managing director of Birlinn, said last night: “I think it’s difficult to say more than how shocked and saddened I am that a publisher that has been central in Scottish public life for so long should effectively disappear. We are losing this year Wiley, Blackwell’s journals division, with the loss of some 50 jobs, and now this. Will Creative Scotland once again ignore the slow death of Scottish publishing or will they finally actually recognise that creativity is impossible without the vehicles to bring it to market?”
Marion Sinclair, CEO of Publishing Scotland, was also shocked to hear the news. “Mainstream have been stalwarts of the Scottish publishing scene for decades and, along with Canongate, were often seen internationally as the face of Scottish publishing,” she said.