13 October 2016

Hoxton Mini Press: The small publisher that’s created a book-selling brand

People don’t tend to shop for books by publisher. But three years after Hoxton Mini Press released its first photobook, it has built up something of a cult following.

Big publishers have long dominated the market for expensive coffee table books, but now a tiny two person book maker is edging its way into people’s living rooms. Hoxton Mini Press’ 23rd book in three years, East London Food (£26), has been the most successful yet, with the first 4,000 copy print run selling out in five months. In total it has sold 50,000 copies of various books since launching in 2013.

From a small office in London Fields, husband and wife Martin Usborne and Ann Waldvogel have shepherded impressive growth amid what is widely reckoned to be a tough time for selling books.

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The market for photography and art books however has been growing steadily in recent years, reaching close to £70m in the UK in 2015, a record high, according to industry figures. Tom Tivnan from The Bookseller magazine says: ‘It stems from an anti-ebook sentiment and celebrating the book as a desirable object.’

The east London theme for Hoxton Mini Press kicked off after strong sales of its first book, a peek into the life of life-long Eastender Joseph Markovitch, photographed by Usborne. The winning photobook formula prompted collaborations with other photographers looking at a variety of east London related themes, that soon turned into a series.

It’s made Hoxton Mini Press a rare thing: a publisher with a clear identity that has been anathema in an industry where publishers see themselves as blank canvases. ‘I think it does help some of the books that they’re part of this family,’ says Waldvogel. ‘People will buy what you produce next because they have the other ones in the series,’ adds Usborne.  But Usborne is aware that the east London identity poses constraints to growth.

Setting up a Manchester or Paris Mini Press was one option.

Instead, the pair are now trying out a broader photography series around urbanism – taking a theme that’s worked well and applying it to any city in the world.

The next stop is New York. A US distribution deal has recently been agreed and the startup publisher’s decision to have a local identity will now be put to the test.

Hoxton Mini Press’ hits over three years

I've Lived in East London for 86 1/2 Years, Hoxton Mini Press, 2013

The First Book
I’ve Lived in East London for 86 1/2 Years, 2013
Sales proved there was a market for affordable and well-designed photobooks.

East London Swimmers, Hoxton Mini Press, 2014

Collector’s Editions
East London Swimmers, 2014
A nod to the high-end market, each book has a standard and limited edition cloth-bound collector’s version.

Field Guide to East London Wildlife, Hoxton Mini Press, 2014

Illustrated Adult Books
Field Guide to East London Wildlife, 2014
A less successful venture. ‘I don’t know if the market isn’t as big as for photography or we just don’t know it so well,’ says Usborne.

Makers of East London, Hoxton Mini Press, 2015

Bigger Formats
Makers of East London, 2015
Larger, one-off books like East London Food that focus less on photography have tapped into the coffee table market.

Hand Jobs: Life as a Hand Model, Hoxton Mini Press, 2016

Playful Photo Series
Hand Jobs: Life as a Hand Model, 2016
So far, less popular in east London than other series but a big order from Japan came in recently.

People of London, Hoxton Mini Press, late 2016

Standalone Books
Planned for 2017
In the same vein as the east London photobooks, but free from the size and format constraints of a series.