Sonny Leong is a former barrister, but no Rumpole. A smart entrepreneur rather than wily curmudgeon, he launched Cavendish Publishing in 1990, when British universities were swapping their three-term years for US-style semesters. He offered students text- books tailored to the new modular courses. Cavendish made pounds 250,000 in its first year of trading and is now the UK's largest independent law publisher. 'We were lucky to be around at the right time,' says Leong.
With the dot.coms booming and American legal publishers embracing the web, the company saw the potential for supplying its books in electronic form. By 2000, cavendishpublishing.com was in operation, offering e-book versions of all its printed titles. Explains Leong: 'We wanted to offer flexibility in terms of pricing, structure and format.'
The web site now has 50,000 registered users, and e-book sales account for 25% of revenues. 'We sell around pounds 500 worth of e-books a day,' says Leong. 'It's affected our entire publishing ethos.' All new books are published online first and in print second.
Cavendish was also the first publisher in the UK to offer individual e-chapters. 'Students buy one chapter, see a further two that look interesting, then buy the whole book. E-books haven't replaced the sales of paper books; they've generated new sales.'