Birth of e-publishing – the Country Setting story

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Publishing has gone through plenty of changes in the past 30 years. We asked publisher Country Setting to describe the developments it has gone through in 25-plus years to illustrate the history of the industry itself. Here’s Part One where Country Setting founding partner Simon Trussler gives a brief history of the company

For over 25 years we have been providing a quality typesetting and book design service for leading publishers and individual authors from our ‘country settings’ in rural Kent and now, deepest Devon.

Created in 1986, Country Setting was one of the earliest desktop typesetting companies. Our equipment then comprised an Apple Mac with one megabyte of RAM, a nine-inch screen and QuarkXPress software (loaded from two floppy disks). Our first laserprinter cost more than the computer, and in the early days was used to provide camera-ready artwork at a resolution of just 300 dpi – but it still looks good today!

Swan Theatre PlaysInitially the work was confined to my own output. I was editing the ‘Writer-File’ and ‘Swan Theatre Plays’ series for Nick Hern, then drama editor at Methuen. (The production manager was worried that the print unions would refuse the work.)

In 1991, I suggested to Cambridge University Press that it would be sensible for me to typeset New Theatre Quarterly, of which I’d been co-editor since it first appeared in 1985.

New Theatre QuarterlyBecause copy-editing on screen was so much more efficient than marking-up typewritten copy, I was able to undercut the price CUP were being charged by their own printing house. The arrangement has continued to mutual satisfaction ever since, with the journal now into its 30th year of continuous publication.

From the first we combined expertise in copy-editing with skills in production and design. Offering full project management – from receipt of an author’s file or typescript to handing over a press-ready PDF – has been valued by many of our clients, though of course we happily fit in with other working methods.

When Nick Hern established his independent imprint in 1993 he asked me to take on the typesetting of his plays and theatre books. This we continued to provide until 2007. So our earliest clients were the oldest established publishing house in the country and one of the youngest, with NickHernBooks (whose book titles we also designed) winning the Sunday Times ‘Small Publisher of the Year’ award in 1994. Through financial flexibility as well as practical know-how, we made a substantial contribution to that achievement, and to establishing the imprint.

Around that time Cambridge commissioned me to write The Cambridge Illustrated History of British Theatre – my one condition being that I should also typeset the book. This was agreed, as it has been for other writings of my own, such as my edition of The Plays of D.H. Lawrence for Oxford University Press, the Pocket Guide to Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama for Faber, and Will’s Will for the National Archive.

In 1997, Peggy Paterson drama editor at Faber, asked if I would typeset for them a new series to be called ‘StageScripts’.These were plays to be published as programme texts, and so had to fast-tracked and ready for the first night – not then at all a regular procedure. Within a year or so, I was also asked to take on Faber’s other plays and collected editions, as I have been doing ever since, now with Dinah Wood as editorial director.

Four Revenge TragediesIn 2003, Elizabeth Ingrams, drama editor at Methuen following the management buy-out from Random House, invited me to take on their play titles. Mark Dudgeon succeeded Liz in the following year, and when in 2006 Methuen Drama titles were taken under the Bloomsbury Publishing umbrella our range of work expanded to include scholarly New Mermaid editions, titles in the Writers’ and Artists’ series, and work towards the next collected edition of the Arden Shakespeare.

Already desktop technology – the eccentric interloper that was now the industry standard – was matching traditional excellence in typographical flexibility and the quality of the finished product. Titles were no longer being sent to press as low-resolution print-outs or positive bromides but as digital files for imagesetting, first in ‘raw’ PostScript, then as press-optimised PDFs. The increasing reliability of optical character recognition was also making it practical to reset legacy titles for re-editing and/or formatting by scanning those which survived only as ‘hard copies’ or image files.

But soon desktop typesetting was facing the new challenge of the e-book revolution and of accommodating workflows such as SGML and XML, designed to harmonise print and digital modes of distribution.

Our aim has been to meet those challenges without sacrificing quality, still offering a ‘joined-up’ service that can nurture a book from author’s file to finished product, whether printed or digital.

Part Two to follow…

Contact Country Setting if you are interested in having book, newsletter or other content produced in print or digital: 01304 373448 . Find out more about our design, layout and editorial services here:

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