Hot competition in revision

24th January 1997 at 00:00
In the beginning there was Robert Gibson. For many years this Glasgow-based publisher held sole sway over the Scottish study-aid market. Today, things are different: a host of smaller Scottish publishers has sprung up to compete with English companies that mistakenly believe that they can tout GCSE revision guides north of Carlisle.

"There are certainly more people sitting at the same table, eating the same meal," says Norrie Crawford, editorial director at Robert Gibson, "but we're not unduly worried." Not that she is complacent: she says that the reputation of Gibson's home study books for Standard grade and Higher - of which there are currently 45 in the series - and their price (between #163;3.50 and #163;5.70) makes the company the market-leader.

"To a certain extent, Gibson's guides remain the benchmark, " says Eunice Johnstone of John Smith amp; Son, the Glasgow bookseller, "but the newer companies also sell extremely well".

PN from Stirling produces Standard and Higher grade revision guides in technological studies, craft and design as well as physics titles and an annually renewed revision guide for modern studies. Its books are priced around #163;6.25 and, says Phil Harding, its proprietor and editor-in-chief, aim for quality of content rather than shiny covers.

"They sell very well," he says, "but the vast majority of our turnover derives from photocopy packs of subject examination papers, which schools use for prelims, and audio cassettes in modern languages for the same purpose, all of which we sell directly to schools." Harding, chief editor for Pillans amp; Wilson before it closed its educational operation in 1990, started the business after his early retirement as principal teacher of modern studies at Stirling High School.

One of his former PW authors, Neil McGowan (the "N" of PN, although he has no financial involvement with the company) wrote some technological studies papers - and demand for papers in other subjects arose immediately."I'd found a niche market, " says Harding. "Thank goodness."

Another former Pillans amp; Wilson employee (its marketing manager) is behind the Fife-based operations of Leckie amp; Leckie, whose study guides - 12 for Standard grade at around #163;4.75 and four for Higher at around #163;5.45 - are competitively priced and attractively designed.

In truth, there is only one Leckie (Stewart), but he liked the sound of a double-barrelled name for the company when he set it up in 1993. The guides are designed to be used as teaching materials as

well as revision aids, and Leckie feels that their clarity and occasional lightheartedness makes them more popular with pupils than others.

Chemcord, run by Douglas Buchanan (a former national development officer in chemistry, currently a lecturer at Moray House) and Jim Melrose (an assistant headteacher in Glasgow) is more focused - on science publications - than its competitors. It has been producing chemistry guides since the 1980s.

Buchanan proudly declares himself uninterested in publishing "glossies and coloureds - they're for the big publishers" - and has concentrated instead upon building up a reputation for quality materials at "pocket money prices" (around #163;4. 50) in the six sets of science revision notes Chemcord currently publishes at Standard grade and Higher, as well as assorted extras in science and maths and a wide variety of computer programs in science.

Hamilton Publishing' s Study Mates series, produced by Thomson Litho printers in East Kilbride, is run editorially by Jim McCall, formerly editorial director at Blackie's, now lecturer in publishing studies at Napier University and a freelance publishing consultant. The first Hamilton Study Mates appeared in the late 1980s, and there are now nine titles, with more on the way.

At #163;8. 99, they are more expensive than their competitors, but McCall defends their cost on the grounds of production, design and presentational quality - "plus the fact that they stick limpet-like to the syllabus and offer a depth of study which means that they can be - and often are - used as class texts as well as revision guides".

Add the ultra-specialist publishing houses - the Association for Scottish Literary Studies produces the Scotnotes series of student guides to Scottish texts, while Kayem publishes two books for Higher maths - and the picture of Scottish study-aids publishing is upbeat. The vigour of the sector certainly proves reports a few years ago of the death of educational publishing in Scotland to have been greatly exaggerated.

Chemcord, tel: 01355 235447

Hamilton Publishing can be contacted via Jim McCall, tel: 0141 777 8190

Leckie amp; Leckie, tel: 01334 475656

PN, tel: 01786 815195

Robert Gibson, tel: 0141 248 5674

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