Who would think that a publishing company founded during San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” would be thriving 50 years later, and still based on the West Coast, adhering to its motto: “see things differently”?
For Chronicle Books president Tyrrell Mahoney, hired in 1998 as a sales and marketing associate, the reasons for the company’s longevity and success are simple: “While we’ve had a lot of variability and transformation within the publishing itself, there’s been consistency within our leadership group. Now president of the McEvoy Group, which owns Chronicle Books, Jack Jensen is coming up on 40 years with the company.” Mahoney emphasizes Chronicle’s innovation in adding adult trade books and the publisher’s focus on illustrated book publishing and gift publishing. Christine Carswell, publisher of Chronicle Books, who joined as executive editor in the adult trade division in 1994, believes the corporate culture is imbued by the press’s motto. “It’s actually much more than a slogan,” says Carswell. “It’s inherent to who we are and how we do things. Seeing things differently is what we’re always seeking to do here. It’s also something that we like to invite our partners to do—our authors, illustrators, all of our creative talent, the vendors with whom we work in manufacturing and design, our business and retail partners. We also hope that our publishing encourages consumers to see things differently, too.”
Looking at some of the milestones over the years, Carswell notes, “The Beatles Anthology (2000) is the book that put us on the map internationally. Nationally, I think it was Griffin & Sabine, a magical correspondence featuring actual letters, postcards, doodles, and ephemera that expanded into five books. Jack Jensen went to what was then called ABA in 1991. The response of the booksellers there to the first Griffin & Sabine was so enthusiastic that he came back to the office and decreed we should up the printing from 10,000 to 30,000, which seemed like a radical number. And then, of course, it went on to sell over three million copies.”
Another big move for Chronicle was the creation of the gift division in 1993. “That was the start of innovating around our adult publishing into other forms of paper,” Mahoney says. “It began with calendars, but became far more than that: journals, stationery kits, and now developing products outside of paper, trying to identify ways to bring our brand and identity into metal, ceramics, fabric, and textiles.” Consumers claim that they see Chronicle Books everywhere, which is not surprising because the books and other products can be found in car washes, pet stores, cosmetic counters, gift stores, and department stores. A new micro-store just opened in Japan. Christina Amini, publishing director for formats, says one of her favorite and unusual products is Paper Blossoms. It’s a pop-up book featuring five different flower arrangements. “Partnering with the brilliant paper engineer Ray Marshall, we pushed the boundaries of what paper can do to create bouquets of lasting color and beauty,” she says.
Carswell also believes that Chronicle Books has a singular approach to marketing. “We think not just about individual iterations of an artist’s or an author’s work, but also how we can draw lines to other products. For example, we publish Bad Girls Throughout History note cards to complement the Bad Girls Throughout History book. That takes the book coordinated with the note cards into all kinds of retail outlets,” she says.
To honor its 50th anniversary, the company is kicking off the celebration with a champagne toast today. Later this summer, the publisher will host an anniversary party at its San Francisco headquarters; Humphrey Slocombe, a San Francisco artisanal ice cream company, has formulated a Chronicle Books–inspired ice cream flavor, and Ritual Coffee, another San Francisco brand, will create a Chronicle Books–inspired espresso blend. A special book fabricated to celebrate the anniversary, Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years, will also be distributed to retailers and others who have supported the company over the years.
Throughout BookExpo, Chronicle Books will be giving away commemorative tote bags, post-it notepads, and, of course, since a pair spectacles is an important part of the logo, eyeglass-cleaning cloths. Seeing differently, indeed!
Today, 4 p.m. There will be a champagne toast at the Chronicle Books booth (1902), and a Chronicle Books–inspired scoop of ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe while supplies last.