When Gibbs Smith relocated his eponymous publishing company from California to the family farm in Layton, Utah, in 1973 he converted an old barn into offices. The Gibbs Smith Publisher office is still in that barn, although it has had major renovations and now houses a staff of 20. Smith oversees them all with the contentment of a man who is proud of his company—known for its design, craft, cooking, regional interest, and children’s books—on its 45th anniversary. With sales to both the book and gift channels solid last year, the publisher had a good 2013 and Smith predicted that “we will see double-digit growth this year.” The press, which will release about 70 books and other items in 2014, has never relied on a distributor, and maintains its own sales force of longtime commission and house reps.
Much of the company’s endurance is owed to Smith’s commitment to trying new things and expanding his editorial vision. Two years ago the BabyLit series, which presents classic titles reinterpreted as colorful board books for two- to three-year olds, was launched. The successful series now has 15 titles. and the next two books, Frankenstein and The Wizard of Oz, will be published this fall.
Smith has long been an admirer of the Cavallini & Co. fine stationery line, and his visit to its San Francisco office inspired Vintage Ephemera, also being published in the fall, which chronicles the history of Cavallini’s designs and images. “Our new list is very eclectic,” Smith said. “We’re really not just a Western publisher. In October we’ll publish The French Cook: Soups and Stews, bringing our series of French cookbooks to four titles. The Secret Gardens of Paris comes out in November. I’m pleased that our books now have an international flavor.” A company favorite, Why Do I Chase Thee: Classic Poetry for Dogs, has just been released.
Gibbs Smith debuted a line of gift products that celebrates reading in 2012. It includes several BabyLit classics buttons and dolls, I Love Books magnets, Keep Calm and Read On notebooks, and literary-themed tote bags. The company has recently started customizing totes for booksellers, and Dan Moench, marketing director for the press, said that about a half-dozen stores have placed orders.
Most Gibbs Smith titles are available as e-books. Because the list is comprised mostly of illustrated books, however, print books remain the house’s focus. “We’re in the same boat as other publishers of illustrated books,” said operations director Brad Farmer. “There just isn’t a big demand for them in digital form.”
The house is a bit more bullish on apps. It released its first one, Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed, in 2010. “Since then we’ve published over a dozen apps,” said Farmer. “A couple of them are based on Matthew Kenney’s Everyday Raw series. These and Julia M. Usher’s Ultimate Cookies include cooking videos as well as recipes and helpful tips.” There are also apps for Lewis and Clark and Trail of Tears, two titles in the Gibbs Smith Education group. “They present historical information and primary sources to children with maps, infographics, and other engaging features,” Farmer said. The press will continue to develop apps. “Our investments in [them] are strategic, based on content that consumers want in mobile and interactive format.”
Smith founded the press in Santa Barbara with his wife Cathy. Their earliest titles were supplementary history college textbooks, and after moving to Utah they published Utah’s Heritage, the first in what would become a complete series of state history books for fourth- to seventh-grade students. This was the basis for Smith’s textbook division, and provided another revenue source.
The company is marking the 45th anniversary with a series of special sales on selected titles. Smith has never tired of the view of the Wasatch Mountains from his office, nor of publishing. “The book business is a calling more than a business,” he said. “I’m already planning for our 50th anniversary.”