In 1998, following a successful career as Sales Director at both HarperCollins and Reed; Alan Jessop was ready for a new challenge. He believed there was a gap in the UK for an innovative and dynamic sales and marketing service for medium-sized publishers who didn’t have their own reps but who had ambitious plans for growth. Discussions with Edwin Higel (an ex-colleague from Reed) and Hugh Andrew (who was running a similar operation in Edinburgh) led to the affiliation of the new business with two other book sales operations: Brookside in Ireland and Seol in Scotland.
When naming the new company various ideas were considered which linked in with the nautical theme adopted by Seol – the Gaelic word for sail. Early possibilities were Spinnaker and Windward – before we finally decided on Compass. The first Compass board meeting of its three founder directors – Alan, Hugh and Edwin – was on Wednesday 27 May 1998; the same day that Alan’s daughter Madeleine was born, with Alan managing to attend both important occasions!
The first seven publishers to sign up were Canongate, Prion, Writers and Readers, Mercier Press, O’Brien Press and New Island Books. They were shortly joined by Allison and Busby, Carlton, Plexus and Serpent’s Tail. Over the years, Compass has sometimes been a victim of its own success, with publishers’ sales growing to such an extent that employing their own dedicated sales force can then become a viable option, and our services are no longer required! Compass is proud to remain on good terms with its past clients, and we recognise that circumstances can change. We have always been in the happy position of having a waiting list of potential clients, eager to join the Compass family. Here you see the Compass reps in gangster mode in 2001, as the team practice their sales pitch for the Atlantic bestseller Killing Pablo.
Here are Hugh and Alan in March 2001 where Compass have a busy and productive London Book Fair. Among the new publishers represented are Methuen, Atlantic, Birlinn and CAMRA.
Compass Area Manager Kevin Mann shows off a window display for the Canongate Booker Prize winner Life of Pi in 2002.
Alan, the England Football Team Manager Sven Goran Erikson and Chairman of Gardners Alan Little discuss a promotion for a range of titles celebrating the 2002 World Cup.
The team planning the launch of the Mr Bean activity books from Carlton, in 2003.
In 2004, Compass Academic is formed and the size of the sales team doubles! Managed by Alan Leitch, with Lee Morgan heading the sales team, this new division of the company brings the same expertise and commitment to the academic sector of the market. The first three publishers on board are Dunedin Academic Press, Continuum and Gazelle Drake.
Excellent sales and a host of happy publishers see Alan L, Edwin, Alan J, and Finance Director Ronnie Shanks in sunny spirits in 2005.
Founder of Serpent’s Tail Pete Ayrton with Alan Jessop as the publisher celebrates their 20th birthday in 2006. We Need to Talk About Kevin has been a huge success for the publisher the previous year.
2008 sees a big change for the company when it merges with sales agency Derek Searle Associates and Compass DSA is born, with Derek and June Searle and Bob Cripps all joining the board. CDSA is now the clear market leader in independent sales; and its clients which include the inspirational publisher Hay House all benefit from the combined experience and professionalism that the merger brings. In 2013 Derek retires, and the company changes its name to Compass Independent Publishing Services.
Joanne Macleod joins the Board as Finance Director in 2013. Here she is with two of her colleagues from the Edinburgh office, Gayle Monteith and Rona Stewart.
In 2014 Compass wins the Services to Publishers Award from the Independent Publishers Guild with the judges commenting that they have a “host of glowing endorsements from their client publishers.”
Prestigious illustrated publisher Anness joins us in 2016, and here is MD Paul Anness, presenting his new titles to the team at the Compass offices in west London.
The academic side of the business goes from strength to strength with Crown House, Earthscan, Edinburgh UP, Jessica Kingsley, Pharmaceutical Press, Pluto and Policy Press (now Bristol UP/Policy) among the publishers enjoying strong sales. Here are Sophie, Richard and Alan all enjoying selling their titles at universities and education fairs around the UK.
In 2017 Alan Jessop’s health suddenly takes a dramatic turn for the worse as he is diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis. He goes on long term sick leave and later that year the company welcomes Simon Kingsley as UK Trade Sales Director. Here are some of the team at our summer sales conference with Michael Schmidt and Katie Caunt from Carcanet.
In 2018 CIPS reorganise to combine the Compass Academic and Trade divisions, meaning enhanced coverage for our clients and improved efficiency at head office. The mood was buoyant as we celebrated twenty successful years in business!
In July 2021, Compass acquired export trade sales agency Gunnar Lie & Associates Ltd which means the business now offers existing and prospective clients a one-stop global service across the UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.