CAP’s 25th Anniversary: A Note from the Managing Director

Read our blog post on the last 25 years in books:

From David Pickering, Managing Director, Mare Nostrum Group:

This year we are proudly celebrating CAP’s 25th anniversary. A quarter of a century is a significant milestone for any business, but as we emerge from the pandemic, having done our best to overcome all the practical, commercial, and cultural challenges it presented, this feels like a good time to take stock and reflect on CAP’s origins and progress.

CAP was founded in August 1997 by Nick Esson. At the time, Nick had just sold the academic publisher that he had co-founded, UCL Press, to Taylor & Francis and was looking for a new project to harness his undeniable sales and marketing prowess. Having noticed that there were not many options for the American university press community in the European market, Nick conceived an idea to set up a boutique, premium sales and marketing service for American university presses, and in 1998 he managed to persuade Duke University Press to be CAP’s first client. The rest, as they say, is history.

CAP has come a long way since then. By the time that most companies hit their quarter century, there can be a sense that some of the energy and belief that guided the formative years may have subsided. By the ripe old age of 25, many companies can have lost some of their vigour and become more interested in consolidation, efficiency, and resting on their laurels. But since its inception, CAP has always strived to build and develop its services, constantly re-evaluating and improving processes to ensure that the offering to our clients is the best we can provide. Of course our belief in the mission of the university presses, and in the importance of the books we are selling, has always been part of CAP’s culture. 

But we are under no illusions. We are in the business of publishing, and need to combine intellectual curiosity with entrepreneurial zeal if we are to do our best for our clients’ books. We always try to keep this in mind when assessing what we do for the presses, and over the years we have developed and provided new services we feel will benefit our university press clients.

So far this approach has served us well. Nearly a decade ago we launched an Asia-Pacific offering, which is being used by nearly all our clients. A digital marketing offer soon followed, and this has been improved upon and grown as clients have signed up. In 2018, when CAP became part of the Mare Nostrum Group, we reviewed and overhauled all of our marketing processes. More recently, we spent a great deal of time assessing our values and working on the culture we wanted to instil within the business moving forward.

Thinking this year about CAP and how it has evolved over the past 25 years, I am reminded of Tancredi’s famous quote in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel, Il Gattopardo, ‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change’.

Of course, one of the reasons why we need to keep an open mind and an eye on potential improvements—in order to make things stay as they are—is the constantly changing terrain of academic publishing. 

The past 25 years has changed the publishing landscape considerably, and in that time our clients have had to build effective delivery models for the new technologies and formats that have emerged: POD, e-books, digital platforms, audiobooks, and Open Access, to name but a few. The evolution is constant. At CAP we see our role as helping clients use these developments to maximum advantage in our territories, and, for that reason, we try to stay up-to-date with current trends whilst watching for new developments on the horizon.

Over the years we have seen the emergence of large global sales and marketing competitors, and a consolidation of commercial academic publishing houses, which has meant more content coming from fewer players with stronger leverage. CAP has had to compete, on behalf of our clients, with these developments, to ensure that the authors and books of the university presses continue to get the attention and sales they merit.

Fortunately we have always been lucky enough to have a team excited by the prospect of dealing with these challenges. Thinking about CAP over the years, we have seen many wonderful people come and go—from a wide variety of backgrounds and with different levels of experience—but what tends to unify them is an interest in academic publishing, an empathy with the university press mission, and a determination to disseminate the press content to the widest possible audience. We have always tried to encourage a growth mindset at CAP, with as much sharing of knowledge and responsibility as possible in order to facilitate individual growth. This has served us well in dealing with this complex, ever changing business.

The Japanese refer to this business approach to people and process as Kaizen. It’s a belief that places an importance on continuous improvement to resist the plateau of arrested development. This sounds rather grand but I think it neatly encapsulates the CAP team’s approach to selling and marketing academic content. It’s an approach that has generated good results, and in CAP’s 25th year we have much to be proud of. Here are a few highlights:

  • 2021 was CAP’s strongest year ever in turnover.
  • We have just signed a new distribution deal with Wiley distribution, and will move there in April 2023. With all the changes that have taken place in academic distribution over the past few years, Wiley feels like the natural home for CAP and the Mare Nostrum Group.
  • As part of our enhanced digital service offering, CAP launched an innovative new backlist-marketing initiative, KeY Reads. This service will be rolled out to all clients within the Mare Nostrum Group.
  • At CAP and the Mare Nostrum Group we take community engagement seriously. Earlier this year we launched our charitable ‘Youth Upskill Initiative’, which will contribute to helping children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds gain confidence and get on the career ladder.
  • Looking at the broader picture, Mare Nostrum Group launched a recruitment division earlier this year to provide resourcing services to our many academic publisher clients.

There is, of course, much work still to be done. No business can rest on its laurels. But I am sure that our founder, Nick Esson, would be proud of the CAP that exists in 2022.

Finally, I would like to thank our university press clients: those who believed in CAP when it was a fledgling business, and those who joined at a later date and continue to work with us collaboratively. We promise to keep striving to improve our services and to do the very best for your authors and their books in our markets. 

Many congratulations to CAP on its Silver Jubilee!