We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.
Meet Martin Usborne, one of the owners of Hoxton Mini Press, which is an independent publisher located in East London, near London Fields. We sat down for a talk with Martin about how a random meeting with 86 1/2-year-old Joseph Markovich from East London, created the foundation of Hoxton Mini Press. His passion for creating collections of books and the challenges of being an independent publisher of niche publications.
Hello, Martin! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of Hoxton Mini Press from the beginning until today?
Martin: I am a photographer, and I came across an old man wandering the streets of Hoxton Square. His trousers were too short and his jacket was too long, he carried a plastic bag and talked to everyone. He looked so different from all the people at Hoxton Square in Shoreditch, and I thought, “Should I photograph him?” It was a personal project that I wanted to do, and a simple request to snap a portrait, ended with an entire self-published photography book called I’ve Lived In East London For 86 1/2 Years. It tells the story of the native, 86 1/2-year-old Joseph Markovich from East London and our unique friendship, which evolved during numerous interviews and the years we spent together. The process of creating the book was quite interesting and fun since all Joseph wanted to talk about was Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage and the love lives of celebrities. The book turned out to be a huge self-publishing success and it sold out in six weeks. After that happened, I was wondering “There’s so many artists and photographers in East London, maybe we can work with other creative people and tell stories about East London.” So we did. Hoxton Mini Press was founded in 2013 by me and my wife Ann Waldvogel, and it basically turned into an independent “couple” publishing company.
Tell us a bit about the process of making a book, from idea to finished publication?
Martin: It’s a huge amount of work, which is reflected by a mix process. The first couple of books that we created have been projects or photographers that we have sought out. We contacted them and told them about Hoxton Mini Press and that we would like to do a project with them. For example, the book we did with Zed Nelson “A Portrait of Hackney” is a project that was based on the initiative from us. We also have photographers that have approached us, and, in general, we are receiving a lot of submissions from people that are writing in with ideas. At Hoxton Mini Press we are always on the look out for photographers, projects and ideas that really interest us.
When creating a book, the process leads you many ways, and there are a variety of different aspects you need to consider, from design, printing, marketing and distribution, which are something, we are very aware of during the entire process. For example, when we are creating photography books, we think very carefully about how the pictures are communicated and about the focus, object, and the selection of materials, since it all comes to the fact that you want to make people pick it up and buy it. So beauty is not enough, you have to consider all the different aspects of the process if you want to maintain a unique and solid expression for your audience.
Going through your collection of books, I have noticed that they all have the same format — Was that a conscious choice from the beginning or is it something that has evolved during the process?
Martin: I’ve always liked the idea of series of books — the idea of collectability. I think that now, there’s so much online and books need to justify themselves as a physical object. How the book presents itself on a shelf or table and how they fit as a series is very cool and fascinating. From a more practical aspect, I think it’s also easier when you’re starting out to do books that fit into a template rather than trying to do a whole new book each time with a new look and a new thought.
Do you get your books printed in East London or abroad?
Martin: We spent a long time thinking about this because we want to print in East London, but we also want to sell the books at an affordable price. We went to look at the printers here and they’re great, but it was five times the cost. So that left us with something to think about. “We can either do one book a year, and they’ll make us money and just do it as a hobby, or we can make more books, work with more photographers and do it more as a sustainable business and sell it for affordable prices.” We wanted to do a sustainable business and for the moment our books are printed in Asia.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects about being a book publisher in a digital age?
Martin: The most challenging thing about begin a publisher is managing the business because it’s so much work and financially it can also be very difficult. If you are an independent bookseller and you are dedicated to books which are quite niche, you don’t expect to sell huge numbers, then you might sell a thousand copies. It’s surprising, right? You might sell 300 copies you might sell 2,000 copies. Even at those numbers, it’s very, very difficult to make money unless you’re selling for a high price. We’re trying to do a business model where we’re doing fairly niche books at affordable prices, which mean that we really have to sell two and a half thousand copies or more, just to get our money. Financially, it’s not easy because we have too much of the work and we want to have staff, but we are just not really equipped financially to have lots of staff. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges.
The rewarding aspect is it’s incredibly exciting to work with different creative people, to dedicate yourself to artistic projects, to work with the local area and do something which is new and unique and to feel the other end of it. For me personally as a photographer, having a book with your work feels like it’s sealed and it’s packaged and it’s done. That’s the really satisfying aspect of being a photographer, and I think that it’s nice to supply that for other people, as well.
Which market and sales channels do you use at Hoxton Mini Press to reach out to your audience?
Martin: We have a website, we have shop sales and we have a distributor. We get most of our book sales through distribution, but we also get a good amount of money from our webshop.
Our audience is a real mix – from 20-something students to pensioners! But I suspect that most of our audience is in their 30’s and interested in design and art. We also of course have tourists as well as avid photography collectors. However we have made the price accessible to attract non-photography specialists too. To reach out to our audience we use social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m no expert on this but I would say Twitter is fairly successful for us. It gives us a good response when a new book is published. In general we try to post most days but we are so busy making content for books we don’t spend enough time spreading the word! Another important channel for us is email marketing. Our newsletters has turned out to be surprisingly powerful. We try and use them as little as possible and keep them short – because we are aware they can be too much if overused – but they help us sell new titles very well.
Where do you see books and technology in the future?
Martin: I don’t know, really. I have a fairly simplistic view, which is that, information can go online, but books can´t go online. When you buy a book, you’re buying more than information. You’re buying an object, a gift, something to keep, a memory maybe, and the books which celebrate that will continue to thrive because there’s nothing like having a room full of beautiful books.
Finally, what will the rest of 2015 bring for Hoxton Mini Press?
Our main book that we have been working on is a 300 page coffee table book about Makers of East London. It’s our most ambitious but also most costly project – we have spent a year going into the studios of craftspeople in the area to see what it takes to be a maker in a world of mass production. There is a real revival in the handmade at the moment. We are funding it on Kickstarter right now here:
To learn more about Hoxton Mini Press and experience
their universe and books
go visit: www.hoxtonminipress.com