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blue train publishing: books for the curious

bluetrain publishing

i'm not sure if i mentioned it at the time, but from my perspective 2017 has to rate as one of the finest for acquiring books about cycling. though there was the occasional (and i really do mean, occasional) speck of light in the tunnel, i began receiving books for review shortly before the giro d'italia continuing almost until the end of the season. if, like me,you are an avid reader, particularly words relating to the way of the velocipede, this could never be constituted as a complaint, only one of continued joy.

bluetrain publishing

and thankfully, once again from my perspective, the offer of sending e-book copies for review disappeared entirely. i do not own either an ipod or kindle, though i do have the wherewithal to read most electronic formats on my macbook air. but try as i might, i simply cannot come to terms with the pixelated form, though this might arguably be as a reaction from writing for the very media i am now disparaging. but truly, there is little to compare with holding printed matter in both hands, experiencing the considerable heft provided by the archetypal coffee table book and viewing photographs on heavy art paper, rather than via the screen on which i spend most of my working day. that's also to say little of the intoxicating aroma of ink on paper.

but, there does have to be a downside to almost anything and books are no exception. for one, though i struggle ever to re-read the titles i've promised myself i would, it would be tantamount to villified treachery to throw any of them away once completed and subsequently reviewed. books are objects of desire, items to be venerated; to consign them to the recycle bin just doesn't bear thinking about, particularly when you consider almost all publishers send the hardback edition for review. those take up an awful lot of space in the spare room.

the second averred negative aspect, though i'm aware that perhaps i doth protest too much, is that while reading an almost continuous supply of bicycle-related books is almost joy unbounded, reviewing them is probably the hardest job i have in relation to thewashingmachinepost. irrespective of what i thought of what i have just read, a lot of somebodies put a great deal of work into writing, editing, proofing, printing and publishing the end product. to pen any review that states 'what a lot of crap', would be entirely disingenuous. and even supposing that were to be my considered opinion, there's the not insignificant matter of quoting relevant passages from the book in support of that opinion.

a bold, negative (or, indeed, positive) statement really helps no-one, because what i found to be not to my taste, may be the very thing you were looking for.

bluetrain publishing

but it would be a very simple-minded and reckless publisher who ignored the economics of publishing and the constant threat of pixels. most books are offered in both printed and electronic formats nowadays, but even so, publishing is not what it once was, though based on the number of cycling books released last year, it may be a niche that is either creating a new trend or bucking the older one.

guy andrews, hopefully well-known to the majority of you through his incisive writing, editing and accomplished photography is as obsessed with books as am i. probably more so in fact. i first met guy on a visit to rapha's original imperial works where he showed me a little gem of a photo book published in 2005 by stefan vanfleteren entitled flandrien. it was hard to get hold of then, though i managed to have the author send me a copy from belgium. i note now that it is available new from amazon at a price of over £130. i'm not sure that e-books garner such monetary esteem. guy and his partner, photographer taz darling, set up blue train publishing in 2016, but considering the publishing industry to exist in a not always favourable state of flux, what brought them to take this arguably daring step?

"It started to come together when Greg LeMond agreed to let us publish our biography of him in 2016. During that process we realised that, very like the music or food industries over the past two decades, a real shift is happening in publishing and media too. Currently books are in a pretty good spot and I think how people 'consume media' (apologies for the marketing speak) has changed massively, especially in the past five years. Demand for long-hand stories and indulgent illustrated books is definitely on the up. It's a change which is sorely needed and we want readers to have the choice of something a little more 'free range', if you like. We've also witnessed authors having to sign away so much of the rights to their own work and we think that is a disgrace. Our idea from the start was that we will always look after everyone who works with us and we believe that the creatives who throw a lot of passion into their craft deserve to make a living wage from it."

bluetrain publishing

guy's observation that there is a shift happening in the printed media industry is probably well-founded. though cycling cannot be regarded as other than a niche sport to the world at large, it seems it may be just a large enough niche to have publishers create specific imprints for the genre. i'm thinking here of the likes of 'yellow jersey press' and james spackman's 'pursuit books' amongst others, yet andrews and darling opted to ignore any such tendencies and name their project blue train, the name of john coltrane's 1957 album on blue note records. has guy ever listened to that album, or did the inspiration for the name arise more from the railway connotation? (the logo is that of a speeding steam engine)

"I was brought up on Jazz records, my Dad was a trombone player, I played the tenor sax as a kid and still do, although rather badly. So, yes, Coltrane was and still is an inspiration and I've worn out my vinyl copies of 'A Love Supreme' and 'Blue Train'. Taz, on the other hand, is a little more country and prefers Johnny Cash and his Blue Train song... but we both love a train journey. The main link is in cycling though, I've always loved that in the 1950s and 60s the star riders and team leaders were referred to by the rest of the French-speaking peloton as le train bleu, the Bluetrain. It all just seemed to fit."

even brief perusal of the blue train website will inform the inquisitive that, not only do they publish original, homegrown content, but offer to publish on behalf of third-party clients. the danger there, surely, is one of quality and perception. if i open my copy of the greg lemond biography mentioned by guy above, i'd need a tea-towel on my knee to catch the quality that oozes from its pages. but if some third-rate, failed domestic cyclist with enough of a bank balance felt the need to vent a poorly constituted spleen in print, you can perhaps see where there might be a conflict of interest and quality. so how does blue train decide whether the latter would be in the best interests of their quality image, even if it might help the balance of payments in the short term?

bluetrain publishing

"We're only interested in making beautiful, interesting and well-crafted books, so we look at each project on merit and if it's a quality product and if a commercial client wants that too, well that's all good. We're quite comfortable passing on a project if we don't believe in it though."

"...beautiful, interesting and well-crafted books...", with no disrespect to mr andrews, these are somewhat vague and subjective terms. as i mentioned above, my very reasons for criticising a book might be the very ones that would encourage others to purchase. so, if i might offer the hypothetical situation of my considering a washingmachinepost coffee table annual, were i to knock on blue train's door, what services could they provide, aside from telling me to go away and not be so foolish?

"Anything from advice on subject matter up to producing the whole shebang. We've challenged the traditional scheduling ideas within publishing and can take a book from initial concept to high quality delivery title within an eye-wateringly short space of time. Over the years we have gained experience of all the elements of book production and publishing, plus we work with a pool of exceptionally talented photographers, illustrators, writers, designers and editors. So, whatever you need and if you want it to be beautiful Brian, we can make that happen."

but to once again return to my not altogether contentious contention that the world of cycling occupies a very small niche market in the great big world of publishing, it's possibly one more comfortable with endless jamie oliver cookbooks than it is with portraying the epitome of pain and suffering on a bicycle. popping back to blue train's website once more, it doesn't take long to note that all the publications listed feature cycling or cyclists in one way or another. thankfully for the reading public, i know less than one whit about the whys and wherefores of the publishing industry, but it strikes me that it might just be possible to earn a few more coppers were the portfolio to be diversified. is this something under consideration, or will blue train remain dedicated to satisfying the literary needs of the pelotonese?

bluetrain publishing

"We have always worked well with photography, so illustrated books are an obvious speciality for us and not just in cycling, but in all sports and we're working on some projects outside of sport too. Fundamentally though we always want to work with contributors who bring a bit more to the table, be it first time writers or established authors with an idea they just can't place with a bigger publisher. We want to produce the books that are a bit different, that question and develop stories that go outside of the usual. We like to call them: Books for the curious."

both guy and taz are familiar and well-respected names within cycling's little cornucopia. both have contributed a great deal to the well-being and exposition of the sport of cycling. however, in the midst of the ever-increasingly noisy rabble, intent on filling the world's bookshelves and databases of the online a to z, jumping up and down with one hand in the air, proclaiming quality over quantity would be to risk being ignored. there will always be the informed cognoscenti, but it's not always a given that even they speak to each other.

last year's collaboration between current rouleur editor, andy mcgrath, rapha editions and bluetrain which resulted in the superb 'bird on the wire' biography of tommy simpson seems not only to have been a publishing success, but excelled itself by winning the william hill sports book of the year award. this in itself must have been a feather in the cap for blue train. is it something on which they can capitalise with regard to future projects?

bluetrain publishing

"It's a major coup for Andy too, as it was his first book. I don't think anyone expected it to win the William Hill; it's a genuine competition and a tough one at that. It's not an award that you just have to buy a dinner table at some swanky hotel to get in the mix, so the nomination was extraordinary enough - then we were shortlisted which raised a few eyebrows - so having this massive award for only our second book with Rapha Editions was phenomenal. And it was a total shock.
"As for future projects, it certainly puts Rapha Editions and Bluetrain on the map, and it's a big boost for small independent book publishers too. It opens up some great new opportunities for us and no doubt will help shift some books. It couldn't have been a better start for Bluetrain, although it was an endorsement of everyone who worked on the book itself; the designer Rob Johnston, Andy and myself as editor. But also the picture agencies, the production team and the printers, EBS in Italy, who really made a difference to the final product. Feathers in caps all-round."

perhaps not quite comparable to a first year newbie winning the tour de france at his first attempt, but certainly a more than promising start. however, guy mentioned above that one of the aims of bluetrain was to engender a domain where existing and prospective authors could earn a palatable crust for their efforts. i can't have been the only one to read that only a very small percentage of contemporary authors can enjoy even a modest living from days, weeks, months and years in front of the word-processor. i know from personal experience that the cost of paper has been rising indiscriminately for many a long year and it's not inconceivable that publishing costs alone could begin to price 'real' books out of their hard-won market.

is the publishing of printed matter a healthy place to reside these days?

bluetrain publishing

"Yes. There's an awful lot of interest in cycling by mainstream book publishers right now, but I don't think many have the experience and knowledge of the subject that we have at bluetrain. Our focus is high quality and there is currently a big demand from the consumer for high quality books. People want to invest in something of quality to keep and collect. In my opinion the distribution and sales element to the established publishing industry is a little bit broken. The current market favours the large publishers and, essentially, just one huge retailer, not the book's creators and those who work hardest on them. So to help change that - albeit in a small way - is part of our long term plan."

having published the aforementioned highly praised biography of greg lemond, topped by their association with andy mcgrath's 'bird on the wire' is presumably an enviable position to be in. but, in the great tradition of music album releases, even coltrane's original blue train, it's often a case of being only ever as good as your last release. we've had those and we loved them, but we want to be further entertained and if you don't mind, we'd like that to happen sooner rather than later. yes, quality matters, but we'd like it right now, if you don't mind?

holding onto that thought, are there any current projects in the pipeline about which guy could reveal even meagre details to whet our collective appetite?

"Well, there is something very different appearing for Rapha Editions next month which should cause quite a stir. It's a Getting Started book, a very entry level 'what you need to know to get out on a bike'. We wanted to challenge the idea of what this 'type' of book should be and to reach people who would normally be discouraged by what's already available. It has resulted in a wonderful collaboration with the very talented illustrator Laura Quick and we will definitely be interested to hear what you make of it. It's been tons of fun to make. There are no rules in it either, you'll be pleased to hear."

bluetrain publishing

each morning, as i lie half awake in my bed, trying hard to forestall the moment when i'll actually have to leave its cosy comfort, i usually have occasion to listen to the business news on radio four's 'today' programme. do not be misled; i can comprehend very little of what's being said, but i have come to the concerted opinion that no matter how much profit a business makes, nothing else counts unless that profit is greater than the previous year's. it seems there are no exceptions to what i might arrogantly term palmer's theorem, surely meaning that all and sundry must espouse a cunning plan.

i'm assuming that just such a cunning plan exists in the driver's cab at bluetrain, or is it more a case of 'wait and see'?

"Bluetrain was asked last year to start up the Rapha Editions project for Rapha by Simon Mottram, so many of the books we're making right now are with them. We have a host of high quality contributors, illustrators, photographers, designers and authors working with us on projects for Rapha Editions, including books with; Paul Fournel, Colin O'Brien, Isabel Best, Jo Burt, Marco Patonesi, Isabel Best and Herbie Sykes, amongst others. It's quite a list of quality contributors and some interesting departures too, subject-wise.
"Outside from our work with Rapha Editions, we have some exciting plans with titles of our own for next year and we're looking into better distribution possibilities for all our books. We have some fascinating and original titles coming up with Bluetrain and we have some fantastic projects already underway. But sorry Brian, for now you'll need to be patient and just wait and see..."

bluetrain publishing

friday 12 january 2018

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