A Caltech physics professor's fascination with the physics of snowflakes has become a hot-selling franchise for Minnesota's Voyageur Press, one of three imprints of MBI Publishing in St. Paul.
Published with an 18,000-copy initial print run in November 2003, The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty by Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht went back to press twice within the first month; 50,000 copies were sold by Christmas that year. Approximately 100,000 copies have sold to date, just in North America. Foreign rights have been sold in more than a dozen countries, most recently Japan.
Skating along on the unexpected success of The Snowflake, Voyageur collaborated with Libbrecht to produce more products inspired by his research into the physics of snowflakes. The Little Book of Snowflakes was published in 2004, followed in quick succession by a 12-month wall calendar, Ken Libbrecht's Field Guide to Snowflakes and TheMagic of Snowflakes postcard book. All told, approximately 245,000 copies of snowflake-related books and calendars have been sold in North America since the publication of The Snowflake, with The Little Book of Snowflakes alone accounting for 104,330 copies in sales.
“We're trying to build the snowflakes as a brand,” Voyageur publisher Michael Dregni told PW. “It's a very self-conscious effort to keep the snowflakes in front of customers and bookstores.”
This fall, following up on the U.S. Postal Service selecting four images of Libbrecht's snowflakes and featuring them on three billion stamps sold during the 2006 holiday season, Voyageur plans to publish yet another book about snowflakes, this time an oversized, 10¾"×12¼" album containing 500 of Libbrecht's micro-photographs, called The Art of the Snowflake, with an October 2007 release date and a 25,000-copy first print run.
“The Snowflake series of stamps was the largest seller in the postal service's history,” Dregni declared. “We're on a roll, first with the stamps, and now with the media we didn't get the first time around.” Not only did Martha Stewart chat with Libbrecht on her show in February but the New York Times has explored the science of snowflakes in several articles in its “Science Times” section, the latest last March.
Voyageur may release more snowflake-related books in the future, such as a children's book of snowflakes and a book of holiday ornaments with snowflake themes.
Asked whether the press intends to produce books and sidelines with snowflake themes indefinitely, Dregni replied in the affirmative, adding, “No two snowflakes are alike, so there's a lot more snowflakes to photograph, and a lot more pictures of them to publish.”
It was Dregni who first approached Libbrecht in 2001 to discuss publishing a book of color illustrations of snowflakes after Dregni noted that the latest edition of Snow Crystals, a book of 2,400 black & white photographs taken by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley (1865—1931), the self-educated farmer, famous for first observing that no two snowflakes are alike, sold approximately 1,500 copies in 2000, according to Nielsen BookScan, the year it was most recently reissued by Dover Publishing. Snow Crystals was first published by McGraw-Hill in 1931.
“If someone could take the same kinds of photographs in color, I knew they would appeal to people. Snowflakes are so cool,” Dregni recalled, describing his subsequent online search for an expert on snowflakes. “[Libbrecht] was the guy. Even though he lives in California, he knows snow. After all, he grew up in Fargo.”