“Think of this as a reference library for the well-rounded goof,” reads the description on the back of The World According to Klutz, a boxed set of three paperback books (plus a bonus sheet of “smart-aleck stickers”) released this week by Klutz. Included are The Encyclopedia of Immaturity: Short Attention Span Edition, which includes material previously published in two larger volumes; The Klutz Book of Inventions: Hall of Fame Edition, an abridged edition of an earlier book published in conjunction with the global design firm Ideo; and the new The Greatest Facts in the History of Facts, which features such crucial tidbits as why toast always lands butter-side down, and the fact that the Empire State Building gets struck by lightning 100 times a year.
Jeff Pinsker, who joined Klutz eight months ago as president, broke into the toy business at University Games 22 years ago. He subsequently worked in children’s indie film production and cofounded Infinitoy, producer of the Zoob construction toy. “We wanted to experiment with some lower price points,” he said of the genesis of the $14.99 The World According to Klutz boxed set. “Also, it’s portable and designed for travel, and we understand from our customers that they pick up Klutz products with that factor in mind.”
Perhaps even more pertinent is the fact that the three books collected in the set are germane to Klutz’s raison d’être. “These books really express what Klutz does,” said Pinsker. “They are fun, quirky, and educational, and are written from a kid’s eye view. The boxed set is a great way for kids to sample these books and hopefully decide to buy the full-length versions.”
Juggling Entertainment and Education
Inspiring creativity has been a hallmark of Klutz since the company’s 1977 founding in Palo Alto, Calif., by three friends from Stanford University. John Cassidy, Darrell Lorentzen, and B.C. Rimbeaux began the venture by selling sidewalk juggling lessons along with three beanbags. English major Cassidy then put the juggling instructions into book form and Juggling for the Complete Klutz was born. They stacked the first 3,000 copies in backpacks and distributed them by bicycle, thus launching a company specializing in how-to, book-plus packages.
Still located in Palo Alto, Klutz’s staff has grown to 35, most of whom belong to what Pinsker calls “the creative team” (Cassidy retired from the company in 2010). “Almost all of the concepts originate right here, with a few minor exceptions,” Pinsker explained. “We have a small number of licensed products, tying in with Star Wars, Legos, and Captain Underpants, but most of our products feature the distinctive Klutz brand and voice.”
Over the years, Klutz has expanded its list to offer other hands-on products and formats, including toys, kits, buckets, guides, and an educational product line. In 2002, Scholastic acquired Klutz, which currently adds 15–20 new titles annually, has more than 175 titles in print, and boasts a worldwide in-print total of more than 100 million copies.
Given the company’s track record, Pinsker expects that Klutz will stay the course editorially and creatively, while pursuing “some neat new opportunities.” Key among these, he said, is “designing a digital strategy, which is interesting since in many ways Klutz book-plus products are an antidote to screen time. We don’t want to undermine what has made Klutz so successful, but we are cautiously approaching a digital opportunities from an instructional and an add-on standpoint.” To this end, Klutz has divided its marketing team into traditional and digital arms, the latter to “explore how the digital world can interact with the paper-and-ink world.”
Pinsker is optimistic about the future of the brand. “Klutz has a best-of-both-worlds situation in that we have a small, self-contained creative unit here in Palo Alto.” he said. “But we also have the resources of a larger company, and the benefits of having Scholastic as a parent company are very broad. Like everyone at Scholastic, we are focused on products that are fun and educational, and wake up and go to sleep thinking about what will be good for kids.”
The World According to Klutz by the editors of Klutz. Klutz, $14.99 July ISBN 978-0-545-61213-5