Many of you will already be familiar with the famous Sheppard’s Directories of booksellers and also the more recent Sheppard’s Confidential e-newsletter for used booksellers. AbeBooks tracked down Richard Joseph, the man behind Sheppards and a member of a famous publishing family, and asked him to tell us about Sheppards and its services.
AbeBooks: What is Sheppard’s?
Richard Joseph: “The first Sheppard’s Directory appeared in 1951. Until 1990, printed forms were used to collect dealer information. After 1990, when I bought the imprint from my employer, the forms were entered into a database and the Internet eventually put an end to this tedious chore. The Internet has also ended the need to locate dealers by geographical location – collectors used to go on buying trips and needed to know where to find dealers. Nowadays, online marketplaces, such as AbeBooks, have made these trips if not unnecessary then not financially worthwhile.
“Our current website, Sheppard’s World, which was created in 2004, was a successor to Sheppard’s Directories was hosted by BookData Ltd (now Nielsen BookData) with whom we had a partnership. Our new website has become a central point where dealers can enter their business details. This database forms the basis of the printed reference books created known as Sheppard’s Directories. But as most people know, demand for traditional printed directories has declined and the process of change has continued. A business entry in any of our directories and on the website has always been free, but subscribers pay to access the information online (just as they might buy a directory). Subscribers also have access to additional information that could never have been included in directories.
“When the current database was created, a major feature was included to help remove the angst of leaving email addresses on a website. These cannot be seen by users of Sheppard’s World. The facility exists to send emails to fellow dealers via the site but only when the recipient replies does the original sender see the dealer’s address. So dealers can use the facility with confidence to invite offers, or send lists of stock for sale – e.g. the residue from house clearances.
“Websites can often be passive, so we launched an e-newsletter, Sheppard’s Confidential, in 2006 to bring regular trade and events news to our site. After less than a year we had to sever our relationship with the team who originally edited it, and early in April 2007 we set about the entire publishing operation ourselves, using our domain www.sheppardsconfidential.com created prior to the launch of the newsletter.
“Both sites are principally for the trade, accessible only to those registered. They can access the calendars of fairs, auctions, festivals, and past editions and articles. Fair organizers and staff at auction houses, once registered, can create entries on the calendars themselves. But the site also carries a list of searchable dealer catalogues. All communications are done direct with the dealer. This too is a free service.”
AbeBooks: Where are you based?
Richard Joseph: “The offices are based in North Devon in the UK in the small hamlet of Frithelstock, two miles outside Torrington, where one of the worst English Civil Wars took place in 1646. Many of our colleagues envy us as we have a great country pub next door with a small village green outside my driveway. Whenever any of us get tired eyes from working at a PC, it’s off to the bar.”
AbeBooks: What services do you supply?
Richard Joseph: “In Sheppard’s Confidential, we broadcast, each week, trade news, previews of auctions and book fairs. Also reviews of auctions and book fairs – illustrated when images are supplied. Interesting articles on book subjects appear as well – and catalogues as I have mentioned. Of the printed directories, we still publish one on a regular basis covering the UK. Others are planned but no fixed publication dates have been decided as yet.”
AbeBooks: What’s your most popular service?
Richard Joseph: “Our e-newsletter, Sheppard’s Confidential, continues to be one of our most popular services. And we know this by the feedback we receive from our subscribers and this is supported by our website statistics which have recorded a doubling of traffic in the past 12 months and now runs at over 100,000 a month.”
AbeBooks: What is your own background in books and publishing?
Richard Joseph: “My family has been in publishing since 1935. Books carrying the Michael Joseph logo are much in evidence on AbeBooks, those by Dick Francis, Derek Tangye, C S Forester, Roald Dahl, James Herriot, Miss Read and Spike Milligan being just some well-known names to collectors. As a youngster, I was surrounded by books, and I even worked as an office boy at 26 Bloomsbury Street in school holidays. But at school, I was never very literate. Where my father excelled at any aspect of literature, I didn’t and I turned to the more practical side of publishing – the printing industry.
“For 24 years I worked for three large printing groups: Hazell Sun, Eyre & Spottiswoode and Martins Printing Group in every management role except accounts. At E&S, I created a publishing division and launched a magazine Archery International, and at Martins I set up a new publishing division to handle two directories, and became Group Publishing Director involved with Europa Publications Ltd and Unwin Brothers Publishing.
“When the 50th anniversary of Michael Joseph Ltd approached, I set about writing the biography of my father. In addition to becoming one of the UK’s top publishers, he was the author of 17 books and 300 articles and short stories. The biography, which took two years to complete, was accepted by Ashford Press Publishing. On publication, a major extract was taken from Michael Joseph, Master of Words to form the basis for At the Sign of the Mermaid – MJ’s official title to mark the occasion. I was then commissioned by Ashford to write Bestsellers, Top Writers Tell How. To research this book, I was lucky enough to obtain face-to-face interviews with 23 top authors on both sides of the Atlantic: Barbara Taylor Bradford, Arthur Hailey, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler and the late James Michener and Roald Dahl among them.
“The publishers then extracted the advice given by these authors to create another book How to Become a Bestselling Novelist’. And I’m presently working on another book which I hope to have published soon.”
AbeBooks: Are you a collector?
Richard Joseph: “Yes. I collect first editions published by Michael Joseph as a consequence of the death of my father’s widow – after which a unique set of first editions were sold off in the trade without the collection being offered to anyone in the family.”
AbeBooks: How international are your members?
Richard Joseph: “There are dealers and collectors from 37 countries registered on our site, mainly UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Interestingly, our site attracts visits from collectors in many other countries: China, Thailand, Russia, Fiji and Seychelles being some.”
AbeBooks: How can be booksellers sign up for your newsletter?
Richard Joseph: “That’s easy. Just go to www.sheppardsworld.co.uk and click on Dealer Logon, then New Dealer Entry, and complete the information required. There’s no cost involved and the benefits are added exposure of the dealer’s business, access to trade information on two sites and the free weekly newsletter, the Sheppard’s Confidential.”