Publishing Case: Alma Books


In the age of e-books and publishing conglomerates, can small publishers of high-brow books from foreign authors survive?

Alma Books suggest they can.

The company, is based in Richmond, west London and was started in 2005 by Alessandro Gallenzi and Elisabetta Minervini, the founders of another upmarket publisher, Hesperus Press.

In 2007, Alma Books, launched Oneworld Classics as a joint venture with the Oxford-based publishing house, Oneworld Publications, which published newly commissioned classics titles and acquired Calder Publications.  In 2012, Alma Books acquired full stakes in Oneworld Classics, which was renamed Alma Classics. It also has a sales and distribution agreement with Bloomsbury, the UK publisher.

Alma now publishes around 70 titles a year – mainly of fiction, both by authors from the English-speaking world and in translation from languages such as French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.

The company believes that its multi-lingual staff (at the time of writing it estimates that it has employees who can speak seven different languages at mother tongue level in its small office) is one of the things that sets it apart from other publishers.

It has won notable awards for translations including the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld.

In the same year it was awarded the Premio Nazionale per la Traduzione by the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali for its contribution to the promotion of Italian culture abroad. It was the first British publisher to receive the award.

In 2013 Alma Books was also named Independent Publisher of the Year by the Bookseller, the UK's leading book trade publication.

In an interview uploaded to YouTube here, the company’s founders have explained why thy think that publishers work best when they are small in scale.

Alessandro Gallenzi told the interviewer, Nils Kahlefendt: “We don’t believe in the model of the publisher having to be big. We really believe that small is beautiful. Small is a good model for publishers because you can look after your authors. You can give them very good service.

 If you have to look after a list of 300 or 400 authors a year, you cannot give the same attention to your authors, whereas for us, both from an editorial and a marketing and promotional point of view, all our authors are equal.

Many people are giving up on classics…We believe that you can add value to classics in the way you annotate them and present them. We still believe that the book has a great advantage over the hand-held tablet.  It is much handier. It is much more beautiful and it is something that you want to treasure and keep and pass on.

We had a tremendous success with our classics lists. More than we hoped. There is still, I think, a strong and vibrant market for classics.”