The Orion Publishing Group Limited was founded in 1991.
Soon after, Orion began negotiations with Lord Weidenfeld and acquired
Weidenfeld & Nicolson as the nucleus of a new, entrepreneurial
publishing group. The W&N imprint, founded in 1949, was an established
brand name with a consistent history of quality publishing. Since the
1980s, the imprints under the Weidenfeld umbrella included JM
Dent and Everyman Paperbacks.
The Orion Paperback Division was successfully launched
in 1993 and two more acquisitions were made at the start of that year.
Orion bought the assets of Chapman Publishers, a small
general publishing house. The second acquisition was a warehousing and
distribution centre, Littlehampton Book Services, based
In 1998, a majority of the share capital of the Orion Publishing Group
was sold to Hachette Livre, the French publishing arm
of the Lagardere Group. In 2003 Hachette Livre became
the sole owner of the group.
In December 1998 the group acquired the publishing house Cassell
& Co, whose imprints included Victor Gollancz Ltd.
In January 2002, with the acquisition of the Octopus Publishing
Group by Hachette Livre, the popular illustrated imprints of
Cassell & Co were transferred to the Octopus Group. As a result, the
Cassell Reference and Cassell Military
lists were joined with the Weidenfeld imprints to form a new division
under the name of Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd.
Orion Books published its first list in 1992, with Maeve
Binchy and Ian Rankin among the founder authors. Fourteen years later,
Orion Books is one of the leading commercial publishers in the UK. As
well as Maeve and Ian, Orion’s bestselling novelists include Harlan
Coben, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Lilian Harry, Tami Hoag, Erica
James (winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2006), Maureen
Lee and Robert Ludlum. Another recent worldwide success has been Kate
Mosse’s Labyrinth, which was chosen for Channel 4’s
Richard and Judy Book Club in 2006 and went on to win their coveted ‘Read
of the Year’ award.
Orion Books is particularly known for its outstanding list
of crime and thriller authors, who include Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke,
Ed McBain and George Pelecanos, Lisa Gardner, Raymond Khoury and James
Rollins. Orion’s bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin is about to
celebrate 20 years of writing the Rebus novels – and now you can
see them on TV, with actor Ken Stott bringing the detective to life.
In 2001 Orion began publishing Asterix, and has
since acquired English language rights to the entire series.
On the non-fiction side Orion Books has topped the bestseller
lists with Dave Pelzer's three-part memoir, Donny Osmond's autobiography
and Richard Picciotto’s Last Man Down, and has also enjoyed
success with such titles as The Darwin Awards, Why Men Don’t
Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, The Pythons’ Autobiography,
and autobiographies of such personalities as Ronnie O’Sullivan,
Leslie Philips and Terry Wogan. Orion is the official publisher of Manchester
United publications, including Legends of United and Official
Manchester United Annuals.
Orion also publishes audio editions of titles from within the Group and
those acquired from other publishers. In 2005 Orion Audiobooks published
the audio edition of The Da Vinci Code, which became the top
seller worldwide in the audio market. Many of Orion’s audio titles
have received Spoken Word Awards.
Gollancz was incorporated into Orion Books in 1998 and is
now the science fiction/fantasy imprint. It publishes a range of popular
and critically acclaimed authors, including Stephen Baxter, Stephen Donaldson,
Mary Gentle, Rob Grant, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Richard Morgan, Robert
Rankin and Alastair Reynolds, as well as a number of Terry Pratchett titles.
Its Science Fiction and Fantasy Masterworks series, reissuing the great
novels in the two genres, have been widely acclaimed. Since 2005, Gollancz
has published Manga, bringing an ever-growing list of diverse titles to
a new audience.
Orion Children’s Books, which was founded in 1992
incorporating JM Dent’s Childrens List, is also part of Orion Books.
Orion Children’s Books acquired and published the English-language
version of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, which became
a huge worldwide bestseller. Its other major authors include Ann Halam,
Alan Gibbons, Sally Gardner, Cliff McNish, Marcus Sedgwick and Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Francesca Simon’s terrific Horrid Henry series has proved
very popular with 5 to 7-year-olds (and their parents) both in book form
and on audio (read by the irrepressible Miranda Richardson), and a TV
cartoon and character costume have been launched. Orion’s biggest
recent success is Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
series: following the worldwide publishing success of Wolf Brother,
the sequels Spirit Walker and Soul Eater have both been
The first books bearing the Weidenfeld & Nicolson name
were published in November 1949. However, the firm’s origins began
five years earlier when George Weidenfeld – a refugee from Austria
just before the Second World War – formed Contact Publications,
primarily to publish a magazine called Contact and a small number
of books. In 1947, he was joined by Nigel Nicolson, fresh from distinguished
war service, and the creation of the publishing house of Weidenfeld &
Nicolson followed soon after.
The emphasis on history and biography was evident from the beginning,
and distinguished authors on the early list included Isaiah Berlin, Stephen
Spender, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Rose Macaulay and Cyril Connolly. A distinguished
fiction list developed in the 1950s with novels by Mary McCarthy, Saul
Bellow – and, in 1959, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.
This sensational book became the firm’s first major bestseller,
eventually selling over 200,000 copies in hardback. Other novelists since
have included Margaret Drabble, Edna O’Brien, Olivia Manning and
Booker Prize winners J.G. Farrell and John Berger.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson has published more world leaders
than any other house, including Charles de Gaulle, Henry Kissinger, Golda
Meir, Konrad Adenauer, Harold Wilson, Pope John Paul II and most recently
Boris Yeltsin. In addition, it has long had a popular science list led
by James D. Watson (The Double Helix), R.L. Gregory (Eye
And Brain) and Richard Dawkins (River Out of Eden). It is
also the leader in the field of diaries and letters, having published
classics by ‘Chips’ Channon, Noël Coward, Alan Clark,
Victor Klemperer, Kenneth Tynan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Lord
Alanbrooke, Duff Cooper and John Gielgud. Other recent bestsellers include
Belle De Jour’s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl.
The history list currently publishes leading names in the
field – Antonia Fraser, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Andrew Roberts,
Geoffrey Moorhouse, Liza Picard, John Adamson, Hugh Thomas, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
and Bernard Lewis.
The JM Dent imprint has brought with it the two most famous Welsh poets,
Dylan Thomas and R.S. Thomas, as well as the Everyman list of classics
W&N specialises in distinguished contemporary fiction,
and publishes novels by Vikram Seth, Colum McCann and Michael Collins
– whose novel The Keepers of Truth was shortlisted for
the Booker Prize. W&N has a strong crime list that includes such outstanding
writers as Alan Furst, Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosley. Weidenfeld has
also cherry-picked the best of European fiction, bringing such successes
as Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, Jostein Gaarder’s
Sophie’s World, the Captain Alatriste books and Boris Akunin’s
acclaimed Erast Fandorin novels to the English language as well as the
bestseller The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón,
which was also a ‘Richard and Judy’s Book Club’ choice.
Other recent bestsellers include Snobs by Julian Fellowes.
The Weidenfeld Illustrated division’s reputation as
a quality publisher of sumptuous, highly illustrated books is second to
none. Past glories include glossy biographies of Luciano Pavarotti and
Judi Dench, Thomas Pakenham’s extraordinary Remarkable Trees
series and mouthwatering cookery titles from Tamasin Day-Lewis and Michel
Roux. More recently, Weidenfeld Illustrated have tasted bestselling success
with TV tie-in titles by fashion gurus Trinny & Susannah, and popular
actor-turned-traveller Michael Palin. Other recent notables include According
to the Rolling Stones, Inside Out by Nick Mason, and Richard
Dawkins’s magnum opus The Ancestor’s Tale.
In 2005, The Orion Publishing Group was named ‘Publisher
of the Year’ at the British Book Awards.