The History of Quarto

Our history starts in the 1970s when publishers were starting to understand how to create highly illustrated books in full color.

A Pricey Problem

In the days before desktop publishing, each layout spread involved gluing column strips of edited and typeset copy very precisely into place on a layout board, and four-color printing was extremely costly. Illustrated book publishing was not economical, but it was very popular with the public.

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A Savvy Solution

Quarto was born out of the idea that if print runs were big enough, costs per unit became much lower. Therefore, if books could be co-published in different markets, the economics were more favorable.

London-based designer Bob Morley and writer Michael Jackson (who went on to become a renowned beer writer and commentator) had worked up a few illustrated book proposals and traveled to New York in 1975 to pitch them to US publishers. A friend introduced them to a Columbia University professor who was running a small publishing outfit in his spare time, Laurence Orbach, and his business partner Sid Mayer.

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The four of them worked up plans to form a new, illustrated publishing outfit named, appropriately enough, Quarto. Mayer eventually chose not to join, but the company name stuck.

Expanding Across the Globe

After officially registering in 1976, Quarto started expanding across the globe through the creation and acquisitions of imprints, and quickly developed sales across numerous foreign language markets.

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In 1986, Quarto listed on the London Stock Exchange with the aim of providing funding for more acquisitions. The Group expanded further in the US and the UK, acquiring Walter Foster, Motorbooks, Jacqui Small, and Frances Lincoln, among others.

In 1990, Quarto started Quarto Children’s Books, which specialized in book-plus—books with kits or other special features—and still exists today.

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In 2012, the Group sold some non-core businesses and continued to grow organically and by acquisitions, including Ivy Press in 2015 and becker&mayer! in 2016. Home-grown children’s imprint Wide Eyed Editions was launched in 2014 as children’s publishing became a strategic priority for the Group. In 2021, Quarto extended and refined its children’s program with the launch of the preschool imprint Happy Yak and the relaunch of Ivy Kids with a new focus on the environment and sustainability. The current CEO, Chuk Kin Lau, was appointed in May 2018.

A Global Leader in Illustrated Publishing

Over the past 45 years, Quarto has grown significantly, moving away from a pure co-edition model to a mix of co-edition and trade publishing, building an award-winning foreign rights sales team, diversifying our distribution channels through non-traditional retailers, and pursuing international business ventures.

Today, we are a global leader in illustrated nonfiction publishing. Innovation is still in our DNA as we constantly explore how to maximize the use of our intellectual property.

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At the heart of what we do, our mission hasn’t changed—to make and sell books that entertain, educate, and enrich the lives of adults and children around the world.

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