During a wobbly economy, the perceived value of promotional books can be even more clearly perceptible for consumers. And so, reflecting generally positive marketplace assessments, reports from producers of promotional books range from "business is steady" to "business is great." Don McGee, publisher of Courage Books, goes so far as to report that "even with all the problems resulting from September 11, we're having one of the best years we've ever had."
CIROBE, of course, provides opportunities for publishers and retailers alike to pump up their businesses, and what follows are some of the highlights promotional book executives plan to exhibit from their current and upcoming lists.
"This year is the hundredth anniversary of Ansel Adams's birth," says McGee, "so we think the timing is just right for America's Wilderness, which reproduces photographs Adams took for the Works Progress Administration." The texts accompanying the images are excerpts from the writings of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. "Another of our big books is Witness to the Civil War with art by John Paul Strain," says McGee. "He's a historian who has researched all the major Civil War battles and has even done paintings based on the hour of the day that a battle took place." Among the other books McGee cites are The American Indian: The Indigenous People of North America by Colin F. Taylor and The Family Treasury of Classic Christmas Carols, illustrated by Sarah Gibb. "We're just about sold out of the book on carols, and we've had to reprint," he adds. "Also since September 11, people have become so aware of their country, which is reflected in American Blessings: A Celebration of Our Country's Spirit. It's filled with quotations and photos of folk art from the American Folk Art Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Art Center." In addition to showing forthcoming books and all backlist titles, "We'll be doing our regular markdown list," notes McGee. "In fact, we've received more requests for our markdown list than ever before. There's such a need for good promotional books at good prices, and CIROBE has grown for us every year."
At Random House Value, president and publisher Lynn Bond remarks, "We're particularly pleased with one of the books we're reprinting, 500 Nations by Alvin M. Josephy Jr. It's a giant book that provides the definitive history of the Indian nations, a book that originally sold for $60 and that we're pricing at $39.99." One of the key titles that's an original on the RHV list is America's Railroad Stations by Brian Solomon. "This is a four-color pictorial book that includes both new and vintage photographs of places like Grand Central Terminal in New York, Chicago's Union Station and Washington, D.C.'s Union Station," says Bond. "We've got 60 titles on our fall list, including reprints, originals and some reissues, and we'll be taking them all to CIROBE to demonstrate our program. Over all, I'd say that traditional subjects continue to sell in promotional books. Maybe that's because we continue to publish them," she quips. More seriously she adds, "Since September 11 there has been a marked pickup in sales of inspirational titles. One that has done well for us is Change for the Best by Cyndi Haynes. Along the same line, books about home and hearth and family seem to be doing really well, books like A Year Along the Garden Path by Ann Lovejoy, which is on our fall list."
"We do a lot of books about the history of World War II," says Mel Shapiro, president and CEO of Book Sales. "We also do books on everything from cooking to—well, you name it, we've got it. But we do emphasize history, the Civil War, New Age, religion. We've got a series of 15 books by Samuel Eliot Morison." Included among the new titles from Book Sales are The History of North American Rail by Christopher Chant, Native Americans: The Art and Travels of Charles King, George Catlin and Karl Bodmer by Robert J. Moore, Warplanes ofWWII by Robert Jackson and Duel of Eagles: The Struggle for the Skies from the First World War to the Battle of Britain by Peter Townsend. New to the 71/4" x 71/4" Simple series are Simple Kabbalah by Kim Zetter and Simple Wicca by Michele Morgan. "The market has been pretty much the same for the last few years," observes Shapiro. "A good book, well written and well illustrated, sells. It's nothing more than that."
"A number of our new books are taking off," says Jeffrey Press, president of JG Press, the promotional book division of World Publications. "History of the World [by John Whitney Hall] is one of the most comprehensive books of its kind. It's massive, almost 1000 pages, and it's $34.99. It was first done in German, and I don't think it ever had an American publication. Of course, we had to have it translated and brought up to date, but there hasn't been a promotional book like it in a while. We're doing 75,000 copies and most of them have already been presold." Press points to a renewed interest in books concerned with military matters, with such titles as History of the U.S. Army by James M. Morris, ...Navy by Morris, ...Marines by Jack Murphy and The History of the Middle East Wars by John Westwood. "There's such a tremendous interest in the these subjects because of what's going on in the world today," says Press. With curiosity expected to be generated by Frida, the October film biography of artist Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek and directed by Julie Taymor, Press is also enthusiastic about the new release entitled Frida Kahlo by Salomon Grimberg. "We'll be taking more books to CIROBE this year," he says. "We have an awful lot of properties. We have more than 500 titles in our promotional book library. Although JG Press is a small part of our business, less than 20%, it's a piece of the business that's more predictable. It's a growing part, but we're not under pressure to come out with a certain number of titles." Looking ahead, Press remarks, "We have an arrangement with Sunset Books, and we'll be featuring some of their cookbooks for next spring."
Federal Street Press, which was launched in 1998 as the promotional book division of Merriam-Webster, will be making its second appearance at CIROBE this year. "We essentially do large reference books," says publisher Deborah Hastings. "We use the database content developed by Merriam-Webster's editorial staff. However, we don't have a collegiate dictionary that looks like the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, so we don't run into each other. We've discovered that there's a very large market for promotional dictionaries for those people who don't want to spend the money on a trade dictionary. Our big book, our über-dictionary, is Webster's New Encyclopedic Dictionary, a 2256-page book with 330,000 word definitions and more than 1000 illustrations. It has a new word section, synonym usages and very readable type that is not microscopic. The price is $39.95." Other titles on the Federal Street list are Webster's American English Thesaurus and Webster's Everyday Spanish-English Dictionary. "We'll also be taking to CIROBE materials on books that we'll be publishing in the next few months," says Hastings, listing a college dictionary, a mass market atlas and a French-English dictionary. "We've made a lot of contacts at CIROBE, including a number of Internet sellers, and we'll be showing more products this year."
Because Advanced Marketing Services has now acquired Publishers Group West, which will henceforth handle its distribution, this year's CIROBE marks PGW's first real foray into promotional books, says Amy Simon, PGW's sales director for promotional and remainder products. A division of AMS is Advantage Publishers Group, and among that group's imprints is the promotional line known as Thunder Bay Press. "One of our hottest titles for the fall is Guitar: A Complete Guide for the Player [by Dave Hunter]," says Simon. "It's a follow-up to a book on our backlist that we did a couple of seasons ago, Electric Guitars [by Tony Bacon], which now has over 90,000 copies in print. We expect Guitar to do even better since it's written for players themselves."
Another book that Simon anticipates will garner considerable attention is Black America by Stanley Nelson. "This explores the entire history of black America," she says, from blacks' first introduction into the Caribbean, through the Civil War and reconstruction, up through the 20th century. "It's mostly photographs, and we don't think there's been a good promotional book on this subject for a long time." Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-Up by Iain Thomson, which raises six of the architect's most famous buildings within its pages, has already sold through its first 25,000 copies and Thunder Bay is going back for 40,000 more. "Adult pop-ups are a little scary," Simon admits. "Either they work or they don't. This one, though, really seems to be working." Playing off the revived fascination in J.R.R. Tolkien, Guide to Tolkien's World: A Bestiary by David Day is out well in advance of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second film in the trilogy due later this year. "Our list grows every year." says Simon, "This is our biggest ever, and it's very diverse. We don't limit it to one price point or one category. We've got three new books on home design [Color Your Home Beautiful by Martha Gill and Mark McCauley, Dream Kitchens by Wanda Jankowski and Helen Thompson and Lampshades & Lighting by Maryellen Driscoll and Lisa Skolnik] that we're doing as trade paperbacks. At first I was terrified to do promotional books in paper, but we did two home design books earlier that are now on our backlist." Simon emphasizes that many of the Thunder Bay titles arise from in-house ideas. "We have our own editorial staff, and we commission books ourselves. Folks here are willing to try different things."