March 25, 2013

Some people never learn: Johnson & Merians start a new company … Melville House UK


Last Friday, in an exclusive with Philip Jones, editor of the UK’s leading book-trade magazine, The Bookseller, Melville House founders Valerie Merians and Dennis Johnson announced they’re starting another publishing house: Melville House UK.

The doors open today.

Here’s the UK press release:

Brooklyn, NY 22 March 2013 — Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians, founders of the vanguard US independent publishing house Melville House, winner of the 2012 Bread and Roses prize for Radical Publishing, have announced they’re opening a British publishing company, Melville House UK, to be headquartered in London.

Johnson and Merians founded the US company in 2001, as an activist publishing effort aimed at opposing the Bush administration. It has since become known as a widely-respected publisher of not only political and currents events titles, such as David Graeber’s Debt, but also as a publisher of literary fiction, including that of Nobel Prize-winners Imre Kertesz and Heinrich Boll, and well-received fiction and nonfiction by new writers such as Alejandro Zambra, Raj Patel, and Lars Iyer. Johnson was also the re-discoverer of international bestseller Hans Fallada, whose Every Man Dies Alone he sub-licensed to Penguin UK, which published it as Alone in Berlin.

The new company will, at first, market the US firm’s titles, but will move into acquiring its own line by the end of the year. “It’s time,” says Johnson. “Our classics line, The Art of the Novella, has always done well in Britain, but sales of our other U.S. titles have grown explosively there over the last few years, some of the best writing we’ve published lately has been by British writers, such as Lars Iyer and Lee Rourke; we’re winning British book awards, I hear more and more from British booksellers and media about our books … And so rather than simply expand our US company’s operations here, we wanted to form a distinctly British company that would respond more particularly to that kind of welcome. It’s not a branch, nor an office. It’s a distinct, British company.”

Running the office will be Director of Marketing, Zeljka Marosevic, who joins the firm from 4th Estate, were she was a marketing executive. “We’re very excited about Zeljka joining us,’ Merians said. “We interviewed a lot of people for the position, but her ideas really stood out as being smartly innovative for a business that is itself undergoing radical change.  She was involved with several campaigns at 4th Estate—including, internally, the campaign to recruit Lena Dunham to their list—that we think showed brilliant insight into the future of book marketing.”

“There’s much that’s familiar to us about the British book market, but there’s much that’s extremely different from the US, which is why it was critical for us to have a UK company with a British staff,” says Johnson. “But even from Brooklyn I could see that, compared to the US, there is still vibrant discussion of books in British culture, and an appreciation and excitement that is reflected in the media. And we’re very keen to join in that conversation.”

The couple also noted they were happy to have a London correspondent for the company’s influential—and often controversial—book blog MobyLives. “Moby has almost as many readers in London as it does in New York, and ever since we started the blog in 2001 we’ve felt it was important to cover the British publishing scene,” says Johnson. “But now, we’ll finally have someone who knows how to spell ‘colour,’ and ‘humour.’”