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Mideast Studies House Hits Its Stride

by Steven Zeitchik -- Publishers Weekly, 1/7/2002

To say these are busy times for Iradj Bagherzade is a little like President Bush telling the Taliban its time is up: obvious but perhaps still necessary.

Call him one of serious publishing's best-kept secrets. Bagherzade, the founder of England's I.B. Tauris, runs one of the world's most influential English-language publishers on Middle Eastern subjects. But while he's fiercely respected by serious trade and university presses, the house remains a mystery to many in this country.

Among the little-known facts: I.B. Tauris first published Ahmed Rashid, whose Taliban became a bestseller for the house in the U.K. and, after Yale bought the American rights, a New York Times bestseller here. Bagherzade is also a cog in an international network of publishers that helps socially relevant books get global exposure, a group that includes Peter Osnos and Andre Schiffrin (whose New Press titles Bagherzade distributes in the U.K.).

Founded in the mid '80s with an eye toward filling a gap between trade houses and university presses—that is, serious but largely journalistic takes on international politics and culture—I.B. Tauris's influence has grown with its sales. The house releases about 160 titles per year and has maintained profitability by keeping down costs and personnel. "We're healthy, not huge," said Bagherzade.

Osnos's name is useful not only as a pedigree but as a comparison; Bagherzade has made the Middle East his calling card in a manner similar to what Osnos has done with Russia, giving the region a voice and popularity in English-language nonfiction book circles. (Bagherzade also publishes a fair amount of Russian-related titles himself.)

Bagherzade's connections in the U.S. extend beyond Osnos; he keeps professional company with Yale's Tina C. Weiner, the University of California's Jim Clark and others. On the distribution side, I.B. Tauris's books reach this country via Palgrave, the St. Martin's distribution arm with which Bagherzade has a "mutually fruitful" relationship. Palgrave publisher Garret Kiely said, "We are always looking for the opportunity to grow the distribution side of our business, and since Tauris is the preeminent Middle Eastern studies publisher, we hold their banner high."

Bagherzade could be considered a global publisher in his ability to reach beyond his 20-person office. I.B. Tauris serves as a kind of publishing equivalent of a news service for houses and readers in much of the Western world, selling rights and distributing titles in the U.K., North America and parts of Western Europe. (About 25% of his business comes from the European continent.) Curiously, rights to his books don't sell very well in Arabic; Bagherzade believes this is a function of Arabic countries "seeing these books as being for elites, who prefer to buy the books in English." He relies on direct marketing to get word into the crannies of the world where a distributor can't reach, as well as to markets in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.

These have, understandably, become heady times for him, but despite the relentless coverage, he's not too concerned. "Whether from a consumer standpoint there's going to be Middle East fatigue is anyone's guess. So far we've seen no evidence of that. "

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