Oxbow – Britain‘s leading archaeological bookseller – is changing.
Oxbow books will be well known to most British archaeologists as our foremost seller of archaeological books, both new and second-hand. They are also a leading publisher of specialised and semi popular archaeological books, mostly undercutting the established university presses by a considerable amount. However in December 2011 it was announced that Oxbow books has been acquired by the Casemate publishers, one of America’s leading publishers of military history books.
The rise of Oxbow books has been one of the great success stories in archaeology in recent years. David Brown was formerly a curator at the AshmoleanMuseum and carried out an important excavation of an Anglo-Saxon church at Cirencester. He started selling archaeological books in his spare time in 1983, setting up book stalls, which always looked extremely enticing, at archaeological meetings. Then, greatly daring, he decided in 1988 to go into bookselling full-time, giving up his secure position at the Ashmolean. The new business was a great success. He expanded first into a large shed at the bottom of his garden, then into small premises in Oxford and then into his present large premises at Park End Place in Oxford, down by the railway station.
Then came the most difficult part of the whole process – the expansion into America. At first, this was small scale: an extension of the Oxford operation. But the American market is different and very tough. The academic book market is dominated by several huge outfits and these monopolise the supply of books to American universities. It took at least a decade to break into this market and the profits generated in Britain were eaten up in America; but now he has cracked the problem and the David Brown Book Company, as it is called in America, is now a big success too.
More recently too he has expanded in yet another direction, into large-scale publishing. Book sellers do not normally become publishers, but in archaeology there is an obvious synergy between publishing archaeological reports and distributing them. Oxbow now publishes a huge range of archaeological reports, and is increasingly expanding into general archaeological books.
Thus Oxbow has become not only the largest archaeological bookseller in Europe and one of the largest distributors of archaeological books in America, but is also one of the largest archaeological book publishers. It is hard to think that David Brown will retire completely. “What me?” he writes. “Well, I shall be around, involved in various ways but only as required. After 22 years, it is time for someone else to be running things.” Congratulations, and good luck!
Oxbow Books, Park End Place, OxfordOX1 1HN. Web: www.oxbowbooks.com
This opinion comes from CA issue 205