I love the book business. I love my book business in particular. Here’s why.
I knew nothing about publishing when I sold my first half million books to Dollarama. I was a serial entrepreneur who’d tried my hand at everything from starting magazines (in Toronto in 1994) to opening my own restaurant (still in Toronto, around 2000). Then in 2004, I created and published five educational workbooks. The teacher-developed content was comparable to any of the best North American workbook titles released by publishers, but the difference was that I could print the books for a very low price and sell them (nonreturnable) for above industry-standard margins.
That was 15 years ago. Today, I’ve taken the lessons I’ve learned since that first sale to Dollarama and parlayed them into a thriving publishing platform with an in-house team of close to 30 people, all focused on creating books that people want to read and enjoy.
There’s no big secret to what makes PAPP International successful. First, we start with an idea for a book. Then we make sure we can manufacture and deliver the books at prices that offer our readers a value that they really appreciate. Did I mention our sales are nonreturnable? The book business has changed a lot over the last 15 years, and while book retailers have had to adapt their store concepts to include toys, home decor, stationery, coffee, and other lifestyle products to stay in business, in many cases, our retailers have been expanding their book footprint while broadening their retail footprint across many parts of the globe.
Though internet giants may have been a big part of the shift in the bookstore trade, we feel most retail booksellers can’t offer any better quality and value than what we offer our customers and retail partners directly.
One of the keys for our company in recent years has been diversifying our publishing portfolio as well as our international presence. For the first 10 years, we were mainly focused on children’s educational activity books and book-plus products, and these sold very well. But once competition began to heat up in our channels, with some pretty big challengers jumping into our niche markets, we decided to venture in a new direction.
Our first significant diversification success was getting into adult activity and puzzle books. In five years, our puzzle-book volume has put us in a comfortable third spot in relation to the main North American puzzle-book publishers. We were, of course, inspired by the adult coloring phenomenon, and we decided to sell these products in the returnable market, which turned out to be the right call. We have never had a more profitable item in a short, two-year span, and we actually managed to win at the messy returnable business.
Internationally, we have continued to grow with our main customers in the U.S., but a welcome surprise has been the reception to both our backlist and new products in Latin America. This interest has led us to create our own in-house Spanish division to keep up with the demand for our translated titles. Today, Latin America represents the fastest-growing region for our books. Sometimes we even sell our books in Spanish before we’ve sold the titles in their original English.
Then in 2018 I purchased Imagine Publications from a guy I admired and respected, Benoit Laverrière.
To further broaden our portfolio to include high-quality books focused on international trade sales, we have entered into the first phase of an agreement with two men from the U.K., Tim Cook and George Scudder of Tiny and Tim, and we’ll be exhibiting together for the first time in Frankfurt 2020, where we will be showing off a fresh new look that brings all our brands together under one company banner.
My team and I are constantly developing new concepts, and we work hard to get our new titles out to market fast. That’s what makes us different—we think fun, educational, and entertaining books should be accessible to kids, adults, families, and teachers everywhere. So what’s not to love?
George Papp is the president and CEO of PAPP International in Montreal.