Lucy Myers is Managing Director of visual arts publishers Lund Humphries, where she has worked since 1991. Following a degree in Modern Languages at the University of Cambridge, she cut her teeth in book-publishing at academic publishers Athlone Press, where she worked as an Editorial Assistant for two years, trying her hand at everything. A chance opening for an Editor at Lund Humphries launched her career in the stimulating world of art books, and she has overseen the expansion of Lund Humphries from a publisher of exhibition catalogues and artist monographs to a wide-ranging imprint producing 50 books a year across art, architecture and design. In 2014 she commissioned a history of Lund Humphries to celebrate the publisher's 75th anniversary.
Welcome Lucy and thanks for joining us! To start with, please can you tell us what books you publish at Lund Humphries and how was it established?
We are a specialist publisher of visual-arts books ‒ books on art, architecture and design ‒ and have been publishing books since 1939. However, the company name goes back even further because Lund Humphries originally started as a printer in 1895 and the publishing side came out of the printing business. Since 1939, we have published the first illustrated monographs on some of the big names in Modern British Art such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth and we’ve tried to keep connected with our publishing history whilst developing the list into new areas.
How has the list changed since Lund Humphries began and which new areas are you developing?
For much of the time I’ve worked at Lund Humphries, we’ve been known for publishing monographs on Modern British Art and we are continuing that work but we’ve also expanded our list and subjects since we went independent in 2015. We reconnected with our history of publishing on architecture by relaunching our architecture list in 2017 and appointing a full-time Commissioning Editor for Architecture (Val Rose). We’ve also started to publish books that are less well illustrated but aimed more at a professional audience and with a focus on argument and debate, including the series ‘New Directions in Contemporary Art’ and ‘Hot Topics in the Art World’, published in association with Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
We've taken the list back in time too with the launch recently of two new Art History series. The first is ‘Illuminating Women Artists’, a series of monographs on female artists who have been neglected through history. We're starting with the Renaissance and Baroque periods but we will be moving through history, examining female artists and their work. We’re co-publishing this series with Getty Publications, which is very exciting. The second series is called ‘Northern Lights’, where we’re publishing quite broadly on subjects from Northern Art History, from the Medieval period up to the 19th century. So there are a lot of new series and subjects on the horizon!
Are there any titles coming out in 2022 which you’re particularly excited about?
A book that’s already gathering a lot of interest is Paul Nash, Designer and Illustrator. We have a long history of publishing on modernist artist Paul Nash, and in fact published the first monograph on his work in 1948, shortly after he died. This new book looks at Nash's design and illustration work, which is less well known but is really fascinating and includes book illustration and posters for clients such as Shell and London Transport. This book is already on our website and we’ve set up a bundle offer so that visitors can buy the new book together with an older book on Nash and get a discount on both books.
We’ve got a lovely book coming out later this spring called Vermeer and the Art of Love, part of our ‘Northern Lights’ series, and at the other end of the spectrum a fascinating survey of contemporary artistic activism, which feels particularly relevant right now.
Finally, on our Architecture list we have two important and contrasting books which I'd like to mention: The Master Builder, William Butterfield And His Times, a highly illustrated survey of an important Victorian architect which should be of interest to architects and architectural historians; and Revolution? Architecture And The Anthropocene, which is really a call to action for architects to focus on the environmental impact of their work.
Lund Humphries works with some museums and galleries to promote certain titles and you mentioned working with the Sotheby’s Institute on a new series. How does this partnership work and why is it important?
Co-publishing with museums and galleries is generally a good way of extending the reach of a book. We will often agree to split the market with the museum or gallery so that we sell the book through our normal sales channels and they sell it on-site at the museum/gallery and on their website. If it's a book that’s been published specifically for an exhibition, then we also benefit from the publicity around the exhibition. We usually join forces with their marketing and publicity teams and work together with them on a campaign. Sometimes our museum/gallery partner commits to buy a large quantity of books upfront, which extends the print run, making the economics of the project easier. Co-publishing the series ‘Hot Topics in the Art World’ with Sotheby’s Institute helps to give it credibility with an audience of art-world professionals, and we benefit from the expertise and knowledge of our Series Editors, who are Sotheby's Institute faculty. So this is a good partnership for us in a different way.
You mentioned going independent in 2015 and how this has changed your list, how else has this affected Lund Humphries?
When I joined Lund Humphries in the early 1990s it was owned by Lionel Leventhal and Clive Bingley, but it was acquired by Nigel Farrow in 1999 and became part of the Ashgate publishing group. We then went independent in 2015 when Nigel sold the rest of the Ashgate group to Taylor and Francis, so I’ve experienced Lund Humphries as both a small, independent imprint and as part of a larger group. I think there are pros and cons to both. The great advantage of being independent is that we can make decisions quickly in ways which suit us, without having to accommodate the requirements of the group. The disadvantage is of course that we are small and don't benefit from the economies of scale of a larger company. I love working with a small team, but it means that I'm also responsible for all areas of the business, which wasn't the case previously.
We’ve spoken about your target audience being predominantly professionals for your new series, is that the same for most of your books?
We are publishing for specialists and I would define that as people who already have an interest in and knowledge of the subject. Most of our audience are either academics, professionals, collectors or have a serious interest in the subject. We always think of the specialist market first but some of our books will reach into the more general market. We aim to publish books within niches that haven’t already been explored. Accelerated by Covid, we are also working to reach our audience more directly. The website is a major part of that and is helping us to connect with art and architecture professionals.
Lund Humphries launched their new website in 2021 with Supadu. How has selling directly to consumers through your new website affected your business and how else has the new website impacted Lund Humphries?
Our new website is a lot more flexible and it's more straightforward for us to change and add content ourselves. In terms of online sales, these have become more important for everyone in the last couple of years as the ways in which people buy things have changed hugely. Luckily we did have a website that we could sell through at the beginning of Covid, and our warehouse stayed open to process and dispatch orders. When so many bookshops closed at the beginning of the pandemic, our website really was the main source of book sales. Our D2C sales are still a relatively small part of what we do but are definitely increasing. We're also seeing more people signing up to receive our monthly email newsletter, which is the main way in which we connect regularly with our online customers.
What other challenges did Covid bring to Lund Humphries and your authors?
Reaching the market was the major challenge when everything stopped in spring 2020. We were able to move relatively easily to home-working, and it forced us to rethink some of the ways in which we worked. We really had to ramp up our online marketing and improve our electronic workflow and efficiency. We developed our blog and hired a new person to work on direct marketing and social media (Meris Ryan-Goff). It was tough but good in some ways to have to rethink how we worked.
In terms of our authors, some authors found it a very challenging time. If they were academics and suddenly had to create online content for their students whilst at home with children, it was very difficult to find time for writing. But for journalists who had been used to travelling a lot and were now stuck at home with time on their hands, it was a real opportunity. We certainly published several books which wouldn't have been written if there hadn't been a lock-down.
Can you tell me more about your blog and how you developed that, and about your online events?
We had a blog for a while called Modern British Artists but we hadn’t done a lot with it recently. When Covid hit in March 2020 and we temporarily put our new publishing on hold, we needed to get people to focus on the backlist again and the blog was a great way of doing that. We started to develop new kinds of content for the blog and now we have two blogs integrated on the website: a features blog and a news and events blog. We are now proactively commissioning authors to write pieces for our features blog so that visitors to the website are not just seeing promotional content generated by us but can read about the inside story of a book's development from the author themselves.
Our online promotional events began in 2020 and can take different formats. Sometimes it's simply an interview with the author about their book and sometimes it’s a panel discussion on a related topic. One benefit of these online events is that we can record them and re-promote the recording on our website.
Speaking of moving online and digitalisation, how have you found the shift from physical to digital books and how do you still encourage people to buy physical books online?
Selling physical art books online is a particular challenge and this is where the website works really well by using interior spreads and 3D covers to communicate the visual presentation of the books. But it can be a challenge to communicate the physicality and attractiveness of the books as objects on a 2D website. In terms of publishing, we are still predominantly publishing physical books, which seem to be what most of our audience still wants, although we do also publish our professional text-led books in ebook formats, which bring in some useful additional income.
How do you balance between publishing beautiful, visual books but still with engaging, serious content?
If we’re publishing an artist monograph, we put great emphasis on aspects of its production such as the illustrations, the paper stock, and the size of the book, but we also want it to have a well-written, critical text. Sometimes the text will be very closely integrated with the illustrations and sometimes it will stand apart from the illustrations. We think that the text is a key element of each book, and that goes back to the audience: if you are publishing for a serious, specialist audience then they will care about the text as well as the illustrations.
I’d love to know more about you and your role at Lund Humphries? What do you enjoy most about it?
I joined Lund Humphries in 1991, so just over 30 years ago! I find working with illustrated books really interesting, and I'm motivated by the challenge of commissioning engaging books on new subjects which are also commercially viable, since art books are expensive to produce. I hope what we're doing is valuable in a broader sense too. Lund Humphries’ history also fascinates me and I really enjoy finding connections between our list now and the history of the company.
How has publishing changed since you joined the industry and is there anything you would still like to see change?
The production of books has changed a lot since I started working in publishing. In my first job interview, the one thing that mattered was whether I could type, as we were using electric typewriters still. The design and pre-press process has changed enormously - when I started, galley proofs were produced by typesetters and designers created a physical paste-up. High-end colour printing has pretty much disappeared from the UK and we don’t print any of our books in the UK anymore - which is sad, given that Lund Humphries started out as a printer. Another big change has been the down-valuing of books as consumer items - there's an expectation now that books should be cheap. If you think of the time and effort that go into publishing a book, particularly an illustrated one, books should be much more expensive than they are. Looking to the future, sustainability is an area which all publishers need to address - we are a very resource-heavy industry.
Thank you for joining us Lucy!