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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

Linda Hammill Mathews ’67


The Multiplier: Linda Hammill Matthews ’67

Linda Hammill Matthews ’67 is a master of leverage. She has employed it in her publishing business—leveraging multiple titles in a niche market to boost sales. And now she’s employing it in philanthropy, offering to multiply the effect of donations to Reed by matching gifts to the Annual Fund through a new program, the Centennial Challenge.

In addition to serving as a Reed trustee, Matthews, who majored in English, is also the parent of Clark Matthews ’04. “Reed changed my life—immeasurably for the better,” she says. “I learned that being bright; loving to read, write, and argue; and working hard intellectually were not things I had to apologize for. I learned that the world was a much bigger and more enticing place for girls than I had imagined it could be.”

With her husband, Curt, Matthews has built a thriving book publishing and distribution company. Chicago Review Press (CRP) and its sister-company, Independent Publishers Group, have succeeded even as others in the business have failed or been swallowed up by bigger rivals. From humble beginnings in the early 1970s delivering books out of the back of a station wagon, the Chicago-based operation is now one of three industry leaders in independent publishing and distribution.

They have succeeded, Matthews says, by focusing on niche categories and capitalizing on changes in the marketplace. She is blunt about the formula: “First, no fiction and no poetry.” Matthews also eschews the bestseller market, with its big advances and costly debuts, focusing instead on “small, passionate audiences who really need what we bring them.” The press first hit pay dirt publishing test preparation books for nurses. CRP later purchased Lawrence Hill Books, with its line of African- and African American-interest titles. The firm has also had success with one-off titles targeted to finely tuned market segments—from serious (Cuba and Its Music) to wacky (Backyard Ballistics). Faced with the rise of big-box retail stores, which required sales of at least $500,000 annually from each vendor they dealt with, CRP purchased Independent Publishers Group to become one of the largest U.S. distributors of independent and small-press books.


Matthews loves small bookstores with high standards, but she isn’t a bit sentimental about the move toward bigness. “In the good old days, there were a lot of small bookstores that were badly managed and poorly run,” she says. “The fact that they’ve disappeared isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It sounds heartless, and there are independent bookstores that it would be a sad thing to lose.” One of her favorites is McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan. “There is still a place for the independent bookstore in the world of books,” she continues, “but for us, as publishers and distributors, this transition in the market has not been a bad thing at all. It’s been a good thing, because the big chains have more shelf space for niche titles.”

The emergence of internet booksellers, meanwhile, has created new opportunities. “Amazon recently agreed to stock at least one copy of every title we publish or distribute,” she says, “which is a load of books”—around 31,000 individual titles at last count. Other successful strategies have included picking up titles declined by big New York publishing houses, and concentrating on the backlist—books that continue to rack up modest sales for years without ever having a splashy launch.

While Matthews describes hers as a commercial enterprise, it is not only business that the career book editor finds compelling. “I always loved our children’s books, and I insisted that they be taken seriously. It’s no joke to take a subject like the Second World War and deliver it in a way that kids can understand but that doesn’t condescend to them. There was such a crying need for [that kind of children’s book], because in the early ’80s I had children at home and I knew how hard it was to find anything decent for them to read, especially nonfiction.”

Matthews is now a director of the company and no longer deals with day-to-day operations. It’s allowed her to concentrate on writing her second book, which she calls a “micro-history,” delving into the history and culture of three geographic regions through the vehicle of one family’s history—in this case, her own. It’ll target a niche market of family history buffs and sell into regional markets in Virginia and Washington State. And it will be published by Chicago Review Press, of course.

What is the Centennial Challenge?
• If you increase your level of giving to Reed’s Annual Fund and qualify for a higher donor society, Reed will receive matching funds equal to the amount of your increase.
• Gifts from recent alumni (2002–07), first-time donors, and returning donors (those who have not given since July 2002) will be matched in full.
• The match applies to gifts of up to $4,999.
• Contact David Rubin, director of the Reed Annual Fund, at 503/777-7573 or, with questions about the Centennial Challenge.

Donor Societies
• 1911 Society  $1,911–$4,999
• Griffin Society  $1,000–$1,910
• Winch Club  $500–$999
• Canyon Club  $250–$499
• Sallyport Associates  $125–$249
• Woodstock Associates $1–$124


reed magazine logoAutumn 2007