History of Quarto

The history of Quarto starts in the 1970s, at the time when publishers were starting to get to grips with creating highly illustrated books in full colour. This was a huge step forward after decades of printing mainly black and white books, with chunks of pages illustrated in color appearing just here and there.

A Pricey Problem

In the early 1970s, printing colour images, graphs and illustrations in books was expensive and complicated. 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, with laboriously traced images of where the scanned pictures would eventually go. Editing text after it had been typeset and sending to repro was expensive, and four-color printing was eye-wateringly costly. At the time, most publishers would not touch illustrated book publishing – it was not economic.

However, these big, lavishly illustrated books were very popular with the public.


A Savvy Solution

Quarto was born out of the idea that if print runs were big enough, costs per unit were way lower. So if books could be co-published in different markets, the economics looked totally different.

London-based designer Bob Morley and writer Michael Jackson (who went on to become a renown beer writer and commentator) had worked up a few illustrated book proposals, including The English Pub, The encyclopedia of Motorcycles and The World Guide to Beer. Together, they travelled to New York in 1975 to pitch to US publishers, with the aim of expanding the print run to make these projects work. A friend introduced them to a Columbia University professor who was running a small publishing outfit in his spare time, Laurence Orbach, and his publishing 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.

As a start-up, with hardly any staff, and in the pre-internet days, everyone did everything. The company had three directors, one staff member, and two regular freelancers. Morley was head of design; Jackson was head of editorial; while Orbach was handling sales. He funded the start-up and was also the majority stakeholder.

Growing The Quarto Group

After officially registering in 1976, The Quarto Group started expanding across the globe, creating hubs, networks and offices through its acquisitions and creation of imprints, making an international Quarto community.

While Laurence Orbach built up strong relationships with Chinese printers based in Hong Kong, a foreign rights director, Jenny Manstead, joined the company and quickly developed sales across numerous foreign language markets. As the company grew, the infrastructure of foreign language sales channels and international co-edition printings made it possible to ‘bolt on’ other illustrated book operations.


Quarto started expanding internationally through acquisitions (QED, Quill), and through the creation of new, home-grown imprints (Quintet, Apple Press). In 1990, it started its first ever Children’s imprint, Quarto Children’s Books, which specialized in ‘Books Plus’ – books with kits or other special features – and still exists today.

By the mid-1980s, desktop publishing was starting to make the creation of illustrated books considerably quicker and cheaper. While this brought more publishers into the field, by then Quarto’s rapidly growing size, large print runs, and established network of international publishing partners in foreign language territories gave it a substantial competitive advantage.


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 – with the addition of Book Sales, Rockport Publishers, Walter Foster, Creative Publishing international, Motorbooks, and Cool Springs Press. In the UK, Aurum Press, Jacqui Small and Frances Lincoln joined the portfolio.


Marcus Leaver became CEO in December 2012, taking over from co-founder Laurence Orbach after 36 years. Under his leadership, the Group rebranded its publishing divisions under one single brand, sold some non-core businesses and continued to grow organically and by acquisitions. Small world creations was acquired in 2014, Ivy Press in 2015, and Harvard Common Press and becker&mayer in 2016 – while also launching new children’s imprints Wide Eyed Editions, MoonDance Press and SeaGrass.

A global leader in Illustrated Publishing

Over the past 40 years, the Quarto Group has grown significantly, moving away from a pure co-edition model to a mix of co-edition and trade publishing, building one of the best foreign right sales team in the industry, focusing relentlessly on diversifying its distribution channels through non-traditional retailers, and pursuing international business ventures.


Today, it is a global leader illustrated non-fiction publishing. Innovation is still in our DNA as we constantly explore new formats, new content ideas and new business ventures. Our size and scale has changed, but 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. That’s what we are passionate about.

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Did you know?

Quarto was founded in 1976, the year we published our first ever book: The World Guide to Beer.

That same year, Apple was founded and the first commercial flight of the Concorde took off.

Recent Events

1976 Quarto founded
1986 Quarto listed on the London stock Exchange
2012 Marcus Leaver becomes CEO in December
2014 Partnership with Grupo Nobel in Brazil
2015 Acquisition of Ivy Press
2015 Launch of quartoknows.com, a new consumer-facing site promoting the full publishing program
2016 Acquisition of becker&mayer!
2016 Partnership with Kalimat Group in the Middle East and North Africa

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