Although Time Inc. began publishing books that combined the resources of its Time and Life magazines in 1961, Time-Life Books (T-L Books) was not officially established until 1964. During its heyday, Time-Life Books sold tens of millions of copies of books marketed entirely via direct mail in series that ranged from Gunfighters of the Old West (its bestselling series, selling three million copies in the U.S. alone) to the Great Ages of Man. The growth of bricks-and-mortar bookstores and then the rise of online bookselling led to a steady decline in the direct-mail approach of bookselling, and in 2003 T-L Books (then known as Time-Life Inc. to reflect the addition of a range of media products) was sold to Direct Brands. Last year, however, the Time Inc. subsidiary, Time Home Entertainment (THE), quietly bought the rights to use the Time-Life Books name. This spring, THE will begin reintroducing the brand to a new generation of readers.
The new T-L Books will combine the strengths of its earlier incarnation—authoritative texts from Time with an array of pictures from the Life archives—with new packaging to appeal to readers accustomed to digesting information in quick bits, explained Jim Childs, publisher of THE who is coordinating the new publishing effort. An important aspect of the relaunch is that the new books are designed for sale in the retail market as $17.95 trade paperbacks as opposed to the previous hardcover format. “We think these books will provide great value for people who are looking for a quick way to gain some expertise in a particular area,” Childs said.
The emphasis of the books will be on Life’s images, Childs noted, something best exemplified by one of T-L Books’s first two titles, World War II in 500 Photographs. The book will feature iconic images as well as rare photos to capture key events in the conflict, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the D-Day invasion.
The editorial efforts of the T-L Books line is being overseen by Steve Koepp, editorial director of THE and a veteran of Time Inc. Other members of the development team are Katie McHugh, brand manager; Ryan Moore, designer; and Michael Solomon and Eileen Daspin, consulting editors. In creating the new line, the THE team commissioned new texts for all the books and had complete access to the Life photo archive. Childs acknowledges that the T-L Book name hasn’t been front and center for a number of years, but said Time’s research found that the brand still resonates with a large number of Americans. He sees the market not only as baby boomers—many of whom grew up with the original books—but also for their children who have heard about T-L Books but who have never really had the experience of reading them.
Hachette Book Group will distribute the line to the traditional trade and THE will handle distribution into special markets and the mass merchandisers. “We think these [books} will make great impulse buys,” Childs said. To market the line, THE is getting the full support of Time Inc. and, although all the details have yet to be worked out, Childs expects that the books will be promoted in various Time publications and through its digital platforms. But that doesn’t mean THE is looking to bring T-L Books back into direct marketing. The promotional campaigns, Childs said, “will be geared to driving customer into the stores. We want to reach people where they shop”
To that end, Childs said THE is planning a number of events for BookExpo America in late May. World War II as well as Everything You Need to Know About the Bible will be released May 13, with what Childs estimates will be first printings between 80,000 and 100,000 copies. Mysteries of the Unknown is set for a September 16 publication and Mysteries of the Criminal Mind is planned for Feb. 10, 2015. The titles represent the major “tracks” where THE plans to build a series—history, religion, science, and true crime. In addition to the 272-page paperbacks, Childs plans to introduce T-L Book bookazines in late 2014. By 2015 he hopes to publish six to eight titles in the T-L Books series as well as occasional gift books. Although Childs knows it is unlikely T-L Books will sell in the huge quantities its titles once did, he believes the founding mission of the company—“to transform information into knowledge”—can work again in an age swimming in unfiltered content.