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Chicago Review Press’s 40th Birthday Celebration

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The publishing company that my wife Linda and I started 40 years ago had a party the other night for itself, its authors, and for the Chicago media.  In its first year, 1973, CRP published two titles. Now we publish 60-65 titles per year, and in the 2013 calendar year we will sell about a million copies. Of course Linda and I had to give little speeches to the one hundred or so people who attended the party.

This, as best I can remember, is what I said:

Very few book publishing ventures last 40 years, and even fewer have a record of steady growth. What was the secret of our success?

Mainly just two things: a computer and an attitude. First the computer:

The company bought a micro computer in 1982, the only one at that time that was affordable and could realistically support the activities of a business. CRP must have been the first independent publishing company (the big six publishers had IBM mainframes), or at least among the very first indie publishing companies to have a computer.

By today’s standards this computer was a joke. It had a 5 megabyte hard drive in a separate box the size of a suitcase, and 16 K of memory. But it could keep track of inventory and produce invoices and statements, a huge gain in efficiency.

So for 31 of CRP’s 40 years of existence, the company has been organized around a computer; and as ever more challenging technological approaches were needed—typesetting and design programs, EDI, ASN, ONIX metadata feeds, eBooks, point-of-sale data, data mining, data storage in the Cloud—CRP, and its book distribution company IPG, has been and continues to be up near the front in adopting new technology.

Now the attitude:

The crucial attitude is best explained by a story about my wife Linda. In the early years of the company she was the Publisher and Editor and just about everything else too. One day I looked over her shoulder as she struggled to edit some tangled prose and said to her, “You must stop spending so much editorial time on projects that don’t really warrant it. That local Chicago guide book you are working on is utterly ephemeral. It sure isn’t War and Peace.”

She looked me up and down and said, “OK, I quit.”  Then she made a number of remarks that I will not repeat here and finished with this statement: “I do it right or I don’t do it.”

This is the attitude that still informs the CRP publishing program. It may be that we could have gotten by with less editorial rigor, but then again it is more likely that high standards have had a cumulative effect over 40 years, and that this is why our titles get strong reviews in all the right places.

Linda’s talk was about how much happiness she has had working at CRP, how much she has enjoyed the bright, sensitive, and kind people who have been her colleagues. She did not have to say that every one of them did it right or wouldn’t have done it at all.

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