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In 1942 Ian Allan, then working on enquiries on the Southern Railway, published his first book, "ABC of Southern Locomotives". This proved to be a success, and from this the company was formed.
The company has grown from a small producer of books for train enthusiasts and spotters to a large transport publisher. Each year it publishes books covering subjects such as military and civil aviation, naval and maritime topics, buses, trams, trolleybuses and steam railways, including history, preservation and modern operations. The headquarters is at the western end of Shepperton railway station in Surrey.
Ian Allan Publishing has acquired several companies and imprints.
- Oxford Publishing Company was purchased in 1998 from Haynes Publishing and has become a prominent and well-regarded railway list; since 1998 OPC has undergone many changes, with investments being made in both new and backlist titles.
- Midland Publishing was acquired in 1999. The Midland imprint provides a range of specialist, highly illustrated titles, covering military aviation subjects from World War II to the present day. In civil aviation, comprehensive works of reference are published frequently.
- Classic Publications, a publisher of aviation titles, was added in 2002, bringing another imprint widely considered important in the World War II aviation market.
Ian Allan Publishing's trade representation is provided by Amalgamated Book Services for its own imprints and a growing list of associated publishers. Midland Counties Publications, acquired by Ian Allan Publishing at the same time as Midland Publishing, was established in the 1970s with the objective of selling books at aviation events and by mail order to a growing number of enthusiasts who could not always find the publications they wanted to read on the shelves of their local High Street bookshop.
Ian Allan Publishing is well known for its range of enthusiast-based magazines. There are currently ten magazines in the portfolio:
- Hornby Magazine, a new, bi-monthly, magazine aimed at Model Railway Enthusiasts. Despite the title, the magazine covers products of all manufacturers, not just Hornby .
- Railways Illustrated, a monthly publication targeting enthusiasts.
- Buses Focus is a spin-off from Buses magazine. was a regular bi-monthly. No Longer Published
- Bus and Coach Preservation was first published in 2001 under the Ian Allan banner following a merger of two previous titles.
- Vintage Roadscene. This now bi-monthly journal covers the world of historic transport. It has been established for over 20 years.
- Aircraft Illustrated was first published in 1968. It covered up to date news and features on civil aviation, airliners and preservation. In 2009 the magazine changed its focus to classic aircraft exclusively and was renamed Classic Aircraft.
- Combat Aircraft provides in-depth coverage of the men and the machines at the forefront of the missions undertaken in today’s combat zones.
Through the Lewis Masonic imprint, the company also publishes the quarterly masonic magazine "The Square", the longest running masonic periodical in the United Kingdom.
From 1962 to 2007 Ian Allan also published, jointly with the Light Rail Transit Association, the monthly magazine Modern Tramway—known later as Light Rail and Modern Tramway and currently as Tramways & Urban Transit—and continues to handle printing and some distribution of TAUT, as well as printing of the LRTA's quarterly historical journal, Tramway Review.
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