“I thought actually it was setting ourselves up for a fall, for people to turn around and say, you know, you can’t say that.” But to his delight, that hasn’t happened. “And that’s something I’m really proud of,” he told me in an interview over Zoom in early April (the Search Press staff was working from home due to COVID-19).
This year, the UK-based craft publisher celebrates its 50th anniversary and it’s got a lot to be proud of.
The early days
Search Press was founded in 1970 by Martin’s mother, Lotti de la Bedoyere, in Kensington, London. Lotti’s husband had served as editor of the Catholic Herald for 25 years and had then begun publishing a small religious newsletter called Search for Truth. After his death, she bought out another small publishing house, changing its name to Search Press in homage to the newsletter. “Our name isn’t about searching for craft,” Martin explains. “Its search as in ‘search for the way.’”
Lotti loved nature and crafting and soon partnered with German publisher, Herder, to publish the English language versions of a series of their craft booklets, alongside the religious books she was producing. The first one was on basket weaving, the next on batik dyeing. The books took off.
“We’re the same company today as the one my mother set up all those years ago,” Martin says. Lotti was at the helm of Search Press for 27 years, until 1997 when she handed it off to her son. She stayed on as the publisher’s photographer for several more years. In 2000 Search Press ceased to publish religious titles, honing in on art and craft instruction books exclusively.
“We still do exactly the same thing as we did from the start, produce high quality affordable, practical craft books that teach a particular skill or craft,” Martin explains.
Before becoming publisher of Search Press, Martin spent years working in academic publishing. Learning about crafting was new for him, but clearly he’s got figured things out. Today, Search Press is a £7 million company that’s been named Best Craft Book Publisher by the Craft Business Awards for the 7th consecutive year, the 9th since the award was established in 2006.
A recent photo of Lotti.
Photo courtesy of Search Press.
Caroline and Martin with their award at the International Publishers Association conference in 2015.
Photo courtesy of Search Press
Books on watercolor painting sell the best, and those about pastels and oil painting do very well, too. Billy Showell’s botanical drawing books are top sellers, as is Giovanni Civardi’s drawing book. According to Martin’s wife, Caroline de la Bedoyere, who serves as Director, Search Press is the world’s currently largest publisher of embroidery books. The company’s singular focus gives them a competitive advantage.
“We only do art and craft books,” Caroline explains. “We don’t move into another field when there’s another trend. Because we focus on art and craft all the time. I think that makes a difference in terms of why what we do has been successful.”
The publishing world has seen dramatic shifts over the last 50 years, and especially so in the last 20 with the rise of internet, but Martin says Search Press has figured out a way to keep their books in high demand. “Our books are prettier now,” he says. “They’re objects of desire rather than objects of necessity.”
Another trick is to ensure that each book contains a little something special, whether it’s a pattern in the back, tracing paper or watercolor paper, or just some piece of content that isn’t available anywhere else. “That way the book is both a treasure and a unique resource as well,” Martin explains.
The company currently has a full-time staff of 35 located in Tunbridge Wells along with offices in the United States and Australia, and they publish between 100-120 books a year. The de la Bedoyere’s take great pride in the culture they’ve fostered at Search Press, both with authors and among the office staff.
Authors come to the studio and develop their book with the team, step-by-step. “We try to get to the heart and soul of what the author is trying to propose,” Martin explains. “The traditional publishing model is the author sends in the manuscript and some pictures and the book publisher turns it into a book. We feel that part of the secret of our success is that we don’t do that. We actually make it a proper team. It’s a proper group effort producing a book.” Once the book is printed, Search Press stocks it in their own on-site warehouse, allowing for fast order fulfillment to booksellers and art and craft retailers.
The Search Press showroom.
Photo courtesy of Search Press.
Photo courtesy of Search Press
Artist Adebanji Alade describes the experience of publishing a book with Search Press this way: ”I’ve had a book in me for years. I was pregnant with it and I knew it was in me but I didn’t know how I was going to bring it to life. But I am so grateful that Search Press contacted me; they were like the midwives who helped me give birth to my first baby. They kept on telling me to push, even when I had little strength and didn’t believe I could do it. Today I’m the proud owner of my first book, ‘The Addictive Sketcher’ – and many more to come!”
At the office, the culture also reflects that of a small, family-owned business with employee dogs nestled under desks, lunch all together as a staff, and fun parties. Some of the original staff members from 1970 still work at the company.
Running Search Press together as a couple has created a very interesting life for Martin and Caroline’s family. “Our daughter, when only a small child, visited printers in Malaysia, met with new distributors in South Africa, and spent Christmas in Australia,” they say.
Vintage titles now available as free PDF downloads on the Search Press site.
In celebration of their 50th anniversary Search Press has released a collection of titles from their archives as free PDFs.
Visit the Birthday tab on the Search Press website to download some old favorites such as Basket Weaving and Batik (the very first craft titles Search Press ever published), along with Bobbin Lace, Candle Making, Knitted Dogs, Knitted Cats, Macrame Bags and Belts, Rags Rugs, Things to Make From Odds and Ends, and The Splendid Soft Toy Book.
When asked about the future of Search Press, Martin optimistic. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t hang on for another 50,” he says.