Taylor & Francis Group plc History

11 New Fetter Lane
London EC4P 4EE
United Kingdom

Telephone: (+44) 171-583-9855
Fax: (+44) 171-842-2298

Public Company
Incorporated: 1804 as R. Taylor & Co.
Employees: 676
Sales: £116.35 million ($173.7 million)(2000)
Stock Exchanges: London
Ticker Symbol: TFG
NAIC: 511120 Periodical publishers; 511130 Book Publishers

Company Perspectives:

Taylor & Francis has always been fully committed to the publication of scholarly material of the highest quality, and today this continues through the provision of authoritative information in whatever format or medium is required by its customers.

Key Dates:

Richard Taylor becomes printer's apprentice to Jonah Davis in Norfolk, England.
Printing of Philosophical Magazine begins.
Taylor takes over printing business, renames it R. Taylor & Co.
Taylor forms Taylor & Francis partnership with son William Francis.
The company acquires Charles Jones & Co printing firm.
Taylor & Francis incorporates as limited liability company.
The company buys printing firm in Peckham, near southeast London, in order to boost printing capacity.
The company launches Wykeham Publications and branches out into book publishing.
The company acquires printing companies Verstage, based in Basingstoke, and Lancashire Typesetting Co., in Bolton, which adds monotype capacity.
The company establishes U.S. subsidiary.
The company acquires Hemisphere Publishing, formerly part of Harper & Row, in U.S., and company is renamed Taylor & Francis Group.
The company sells off its printing operations.
The company goes public and doubles in size with Routledge Group acquisition.
The company acquires Gordon & Breach, raising total number of journals to 800.

Company History:

The Taylor & Francis Group plc is a fast-growing and leading publisher of scholarly journals, textbooks, and books. Based in London, England, the company operates under several imprints. Taylor & Francis itself has been publishing journals since 1798, when it began printing Philosophical Magazine, a title still in print at the beginning of the 21st century, now specialized in the field of physics. The company publishes nearly 200 peer-reviewed journals, ranging from ergonomics to information systems, healthcare, and medicine. Since the 1980s, Taylor & Francis has posted strong growth especially from an aggressive acquisition program--the company has referred to itself as a 'predator'--with major acquisitions including the 1998 purchase of social sciences book publishing group Routledge and the acquisition of Gordon and Breach in February 2001. Other divisions and imprints include Martin Dunitz, a medical books and journals specialist; Spon Press, which focuses on architecture, engineering, and related subjects; Garland Publishing, based in New York, which produces Molecular Biology of the Cell, a title that has sold more than 750,000 copies and is now entering its fourth edition; Europe Publications, specialized in directories for the library market, such as the International Who's Who; and Carfax, a publisher of more than 250 social science- and humanities-related journals. In all, the Taylor & Francis group publishes more than 800 journals and has a backlist of more than 20,000 book titles. Taylor & Francis is also building a strong Internet-based business, offering online versions of nearly all of its titles. In 2000, the company signed on New York's Versaware Inc. to digitize its entire backlist book catalog. The company has been quoted on the London Stock Exchange since 1998. CEO Anthony Selvey has overseen much of the company's rapid growth in the 1990s: the company's turnover has risen from just £28 million in 1996 to nearly £116.5 million in 2001.

Printing Science in the 19th Century

Richard Taylor, a member of a prominent Norwich family, began his career as an apprentice printer to Jonas Davis in 1797. By 1798, he had taken on an active role in Davis' print shop, which by then had been printing a number of journal titles, including Transactions, presenting notes of the Linnean Society. In 1798, Davis took on a new printing order, that of the Philosophical Magazine, launched by Alexander Tilloch, which quickly became one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the United Kingdom. Philosophical Magazine helped establish the company as somewhat of a specialist in scientific printing and publishing.

Davis's failing eyesight led him to retire to life as a gentleman farmer in 1800. Taylor, then just 20 years old, was not scheduled to complete his apprenticeship until 1804; nonetheless, Davis decided to turn over his business to Taylor. In order to do this, Davis sold his business to Taylor's father, who purchased the print shop in conjunction with another printer Richard Wilks. Richard Taylor therefore became his father's apprentice. Yet, while the elder Taylor was to remain a prime source of funding for the business for many years, Richard Taylor, together with Richard Wilks, took over full responsibility for the shop's operations.

Taylor and Wilks rapidly proved uncomfortable partners. Tensions reached a peak in 1804, when the partners agreed to split the business and dissolve the partnership. Taylor, who in that year became a master printer, continued the business under the name R. Taylor & Co. The company, which shortly thereafter moved to London, kept many of the shop's best customers, notably Philosophical Magazine. Taylor himself eventually became co-editor of the journal, then took over Tilloch's role entirely. That journal helped attract a number of other leading scientific works to Taylor's shop, such as the Introduction to Botany, published in 1807, William Paley's Natural Theology in 1802, and the Flora Graeca, compiled by the late John Sibthorp, the first volume of which was published in 1806 and the final volume of which was not published until 1840. Despite the long publishing process, this last work helped establish Taylor's reputation as a leading scientific publisher of the day.

Taylor was joined by other family members in the first half of the 19th century, although none of these partnerships proved fruitful. A more lasting partnership came with the chemist William Francis--who was, in fact, Taylor's illegitimate son. Francis had begun working for his father while a student in Chemistry in Berlin in the 1830s, providing translations of the German science being published at that time. This translation activity led Taylor to launch a side-journal to Philosophical Magazine, the series of Scientific Memoirs, a seven-volume set of leading papers from France, Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia containing many of the most important discoveries being made at the time in the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology. Begun in 1837, Scientific Memoirs proved a money-loser for Taylor, yet helped further enhance his company's reputation. Another prestigious journal was added that same year, when Taylor purchased co-ownership of the Magazine of Zoology and Botany, founded by William Jardine, in 1837. After adding another journal, Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology and Meteorology, Taylor merged the two journals, creating the prestigious Annals and Magazine of Natural History, which remained a leading British biology journal into the 20th century (and was renamed as Journal of Natural History in 1967).

William Francis formally joined his father in partnership in 1851, at which time the company's name was changed to Taylor and Francis. Taylor himself resigned the following year, leaving Francis to run the partnership. (Taylor died in 1858.) Yet Francis had long been an active participant in the company's editorial activities, responsible for the launch of such publications as the Chemical Gazette, which began publishing in 1840. While not a practicing researcher himself, Francis' background helped him establish strong contacts throughout the British--and European--scientific community, leading to such new printing and publishing contracts as the journals of the Physical Society, formed in 1872; the publication of the Journal of the Photographic Society, which was launched in 1859; Observatory, which began publication in 1877; and many others. The company's many journal printing contracts led the company to branch out into book printing as well.

Yet journals and printing contracts remained the company's primary activities. By the time of William Francis' death in 1904, Taylor & Francis had become the leading scientific journal printer in the United Kingdom, with the most extensive collection of printing contracts for the nation's most prestigious scientific journals. By then, too, the company had supplemented its journal printing activity--which were not always highly profitable--with printing contracts with many of London's financial firms.

20th Century Publishing Company

Francis was succeeded by sons William Francis Jr. and Richard Taunton Francis. Although initially the more active in the company's operations, particularly as editor of Philosophical Magazine, the younger William Francis's poor health led him to retire from day-to-day leadership in the early part of the century. The company, which began to add printing contracts with many of Britain's universities, remained a profitable if somewhat stagnant business.

The demands of the years during and just after World War I--including paper shortages; a drop in research papers, particularly from the important German scientific community; and steadily increasing wages from a workforce in short supply--caused the company to react. In 1917, William Francis sold out his share in the business to younger brother Richard Taunton Francis. The younger Francis had been an apprentice to his older brother and was more familiar with the company's day to day operations. He was also a more aggressive businessman, and, in 1917 arranged the purchase of a larger printing firm, Charles Jones & Co., as well as a number of smaller investments.

Yet the company soon found itself in severe financial difficulties--by 1923, the company was posting losses. Part of the company's troubles, in addition to the prevailing economic climate, was the somewhat faded condition of its flagship publication Philosophical Magazine, which was also responsible for a large part of the company's revenues. The journal's editorial board were almost all in their seventies, and therefore less energetic in attracting leading research papers of the day. At the same time, the Royal Society had moved to raise the standards for research papers, which further reduced the available pool of papers. Richard Taunton Francis himself succumbed to the company's financial difficulties, dying in 1931.

Taylor & Francis now entered a brief period under a trusteeship, before converting from a partnership to a private limited company in 1936. Part of the impetus to this change came with the introduction of modern monotype machines--which, being far heavier than the company's old hand presses, required an extensive renovation of the company's offices. Taking charge of the newly incorporated company's operations was Courtney Coffey, who had worked his way up from a position as office boy, the first person to lead the company with no direct experience in printing. Coffey nonetheless showed his skills as a salesman and turned his attention to modernizing much of the company's business practices, which had remained somewhat unchanged since the previous century.

Philosophical Magazine again provided the motor for the company's rescue. The appointment of new editors, and especially the well-respected researcher Allan Ferguson, in 1939, proved fundamental in the restoring the journal's reputation. Ferguson himself became one of the company's earliest investors and a director of the company. Another important investor was Harry Banister, Ferguson's brother-in-law. The two families were to retain their holdings--nearly 34 percent combined--until the company's public offering in 1998. This move marked a significant moment for the company--where before Taylor & Francis had been run by its family owners, the company's operations were now being overseen by members of the scientific and academic communities.

Yet the outbreak of World War II nearly caused the company to collapse; at one point, Ferguson had to come to its rescue with a personal loan. The bombing of London also threatened the company physically--a massive air raid in 1941 had wiped out most of the city's traditional printing district. But Taylor & Francis' premises, although damaged, were spared, and the firm remained one of the few printers capable of carrying on operations.

Postwar Expansion

Paper and labor shortages, difficulties in obtaining replacement parts for the company's aging machine park kept the company on shaky financial footing in the years just after World War II. The company was faced with the loss of some of its most important customers--in 1950, the Linnean Society, in fact, switched to new printers after nearly 150 years with Taylor & Francis). The company's largest single customer at that time was the rapidly expanding Physical Society, which, by 1947, was threatening to look elsewhere for its printing needs as well. Taylor & Francis responded to this threat by making its first acquisition since the 1920s, a printing house in Peckham, near southeast London.

Philosophical Magazine had come through the war in order to face new competition from the fast-growing American journal Physical Review, which presented Taylor & Francis with a serious rival for English-language papers. The company responded by appointing a new editor, Nevill Mott, who went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1977. Mott restored the company's flagship journal to its former standards of editorial excellence and remained its editor-in-chief until 1970, at which time he was appointed chairman of the company itself. By the 1950s, the magazine, which now focused entirely on the booming physics field, regained its profitability.

The same could not be said for the company's other journals, some of which continued to lose money for the company. Yet the huge expansion in scientific research that began after the war ultimately benefitted the company, as it became involved in a number of new journals, such as Atomic Scientists News, and Advances in Physics, which presented a forum for very long papers in the United Kingdom.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Taylor & Francis added increasing numbers of new journals, some of which were launched directly by the company itself, such as Molecular Physics, in 1958, and Instrument Abstacts, in 1960. Other journals, such as the optics journal Optica Acta, were acquired from other publishers. The new journals revealed the company's growing scientific interests, particularly in new and newly emerging fields, such as ergonomics, for which the company launched the journal Ergonomics in 1957. Other titles were added by separating formerly closely linked fields--such was the case with the company's Journal of Electronics and Control, which was split into two journals devoted to each of the rapidly growing areas.

By the end of the 1960s, the company was producing more than 40 journals. During that decade the company moved also into book publishing, concentrating primarily on works dealing with the physical sciences. For this, the company added a separate subsidiary, Wykeham Publications, which then branched out into the lucrative textbook publishing sector.

The company moved to new quarters in 1970; soon after, it was forced to sell its Peckham plant to the local government. In order to meet its growing printing needs, the company acquired two firms in 1973: Verstage, based in Basingstoke, which had a strong park of linotype presses, and Lancashire Typesetting Co., in Bolton, which added monotype capacity.

During the 1970s, the company became more international, and especially European, as researchers from the European Community countries began to work more closely together. The company bid for and won its first international contract in 1975, when it won the publishing and printing contract for the SIPRI Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In the mid-1970s, also, the company branched out into education, launching and acquiring a number of journals, such as the European Journal of Science Education, in 1976.

Scientific Specialist in the 21st Century

The rising importance of publishing--both journals and books--in the company's revenues caused it to begin cutting back on its printing operations. The company remained one of the few publisher-printers in the United Kingdom until 1990, when it exited printing altogether. By then, Taylor & Francis had achieved rapid growth, particularly internationally. The company's U.S. sales already accounted for some 30 percent of its total; in 1982, the company acquired its first U.S. subsidiary, subsequently moving its U.S. base to Philadelphia. Other U.S. acquisitions followed, such as that of Crane Russak & Co., added in 1985.

Anthony Selvey, who had joined the company in 1963 and was appointed its CEO in 1983 , led the company through its strong expansion throughout the end of the century and into the next. In 1988, Taylor & Francis acquired the U.S.'s Hemisphere Publishing, formerly part of Harper & Row. That year, the company renamed itself Taylor & Francis Group to reflect its growing number of imprints.

Taylor & Francis' strongest growth came during the 1990s, when the company went on an acquisition spree. In 1994, the company bought Accelerated Development Inc., based in the U.S., a psychology specialist. That field took on greater importance for the company with the purchase of Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, in England, and its 14 journals and strong book list. In 1996, the company added UCL Press, of London. By then, the group published some 130 titles. Compared to industry heavyweights Elsevier and Wolter Kluwer, the company remained modestly sized with revenues of just £28 million.

The company's public offering in 1998 enabled it to step up its buying spree, however. In that year, the company acquired Routledge Press, which more than doubled its size, bringing 250 new journals and a back list of over 7,000 books in addition to Routledge's 1,000 new titles per year. The following year Europe Publications was added, specializing in directories, and the international division of Scandinavian University Press. The company suggested that it was on the lookout for new acquisition in the U.S. as well, telling the Daily Telegraph, "We are considered a very serious predator these days."

The company's new big prey came in February 2001, when Taylor & Francis paid £22.8 million for Gordon & Breach, adding another 250 journals and a number of books, including the best-selling Molecular Biology of the Cell. The company had by then also added Martin Dunitz, a specialist in medical textbooks and journals. The Taylor & Francis entering the 21st century had grown to become one of the United Kingdom's leading scientific publishers.

Principal Subsidiaries: Afterhurst Ltd.; Carfax Publishing Ltd.; Europa Publications Ltd.; Falmer Press Ltd.; Martin Dunitz Ltd.; Psychology Press Ltd.; Primal Pictures Ltd. (16%); Routledge Publishing Holdings Ltd.; Scandinavian University Press (UK) Ltd.; Taylor & Francis AB (Sweden); Taylor & Francis AS (Norway); Taylor & Francis Books Inc. (U.S.); Taylor & Francis Books Ltd.; Taylor & Francis Inc. (U.S.); Taylor & Francis Ltd.; Taylor & Francis (Publishers) Inc. (U.S.); Taylor & Francis Publishing Services Ltd.; UCL Press Ltd.

Principal Competitors: The Thomson Corporation; Pearson plc; Reed Elsevier plc; Wolters Kluwer nv; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Brock, W.H., and Meadows, A.J., The Lamp of Learning: Two Centuries of Publishing at Taylor & Francis, London: Taylor & Francis Ltd., 1998.
  • Deshmukh, Anita, "A Journal of Success for Publisher," Birmingham Post, March 23, 2001, p. 25.
  • McIntosh, Bill, "Taylor & Francis," Independent, September 20, 2001, p. 21.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 44. St. James Press, 2002.