Ask Sara Rosen what the biggest influence on her publishing career has been and she'll probably say parties. Rosen, 35, is senior v-p, marketing and publicity, and associate publisher of the inventive and socially minded art, photography and culture publisher powerHouse Books. And parties of one kind or another have been very useful to her.
Brooklyn-based powerHouse specializes in books that illuminate all manner of popular culture and contemporary lifestyle—from hip hop and rock 'n' roll to grafitti, advertising culture and Hollywood. PowerHouse books document edgy art culture and mass market pop culture and, thanks to Rosen, do so with both substance and style. “I want our books to reflect an outsiderness,” Rosen says. “We're fringey; we're voyeurs; we like to watch. We like classic culture and subcultures, as long as they're pushing things.”
A native New Yorker, Rosen grew up in the Bronx and studied art history and journalism at City College of New York. She joined powerHouse in 2000 as marketing director and “the new girl,” though titles didn't mean much, she says. Before that, she worked in sales and marketing at Rizzoli, where she had originally applied for an editorial job. “I wanted to be an editor,” she says, “but they mentioned throwing parties for marketing, and since I was a real party girl growing up in the Bronx, I was like, wow, parties! So I ended up in marketing.” While at Rizzoli she met powerHouse founder Dan Power and his partner, Craig Cohen. “I knew their books and I was digging them,” Rosen says. She was eventually hired to “watch the office while they went to the London Book Fair.” PowerHouse quickly became her school for book publishing. “There were only three of us, so I got to do everything: accounting, PR, making tip sheets, inventory, distribution, calling clients,” Rosen says. “I learned as I went along—it's the powerHouse way.”
PowerHouse has grown from one or two books a year in the late 1990s to nearly 50 books annually, including about four a year under the Ms. Rosen Editions imprint, a line of books on urban culture that launched in 2005. She edited her first book, Autograf: New York City's Graffiti Writers, in 2004, and immediately told her bosses, “I want to do that again. I'm a brand.”
These days powerHouse is based in the revived DUMBO area along the Brooklyn waterfront in a cavernous 10,000-sq.-ft. space with the powerHouse editorial offices on one open-view level and a roughly 5,000-sq.-ft. exhibition/retail space called the Arena just below. The space allows Rosen and powerHouse to create buzz by hosting a growing lineup of events—art exhibitions, performances, a photo festival, even weddings and, yes, parties—all at the service of their books and related merchandise. PowerHouse, Rosen says, is an ever-evolving business model that uses a roster of culturally imaginative books—and an in-house bookstore with a growing inventory of carefully chosen titles—and events of all kinds to attract readers. The Arena space even offers other kinds of lifestyle items for sale—from kids' books and graphic novels to stationary, soap and other gift items. “We're connected to the neighborhood,” Rosen says, describing the former warehouse and loft district, newly gentrified and full of “graphics firms and clothing stores; new families, yuppies and hip foreign tourists interested in what's happening in the culture. We've been successful at offering stuff for them.”
In her publisher mode, she's at work on a book by hip hop superstar KRS-1 (“I listened to him in high school”); and next year the house is releasing its first novel, Pillage by Brantly Martin (“I've read it seven times”).
“Most people don't think of publishing as a lifestyle brand,” says Rosen. “But I love to shop, I'm brand loyal, and I want powerHouse to operate like another kind of lifestyle boutique. My professional life is my personal life. It's all connected.”