Triumph Books, a sports books publisher based in Chicago, is well known for its instant books, such its glossy, fully illustrated tribute to Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt, released just 10 days after his death in a crash in 2001. Dale Earnhardt: Remembering the Intimidator has sold a total of 325,000 copies in its initial paper and subsequent expanded hardcover editions, becoming one of Triumph’s top sellers. The company’s newest instant book will cover the San Francisco Giants, winners of the just-concluded World Series. Triple Crowned shipped Saturday, November 1, and has a 25,000-copy first printing.
Mitch Rogatz, the founder and publisher of Triumph, holds an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, and previously worked as a C.P.A. at Arthur Andersen, as a member of Quaker Oats’s brand management team, and as a partner at a short-lived small press called Bonus Books. He’s used the contacts and skills from those positions to grow Triumph from a one-man operation, back when he founded the company in 1989, into a publisher with 20 employees today. Triumph currently releases 80–90 titles each year, of which 5%–10% are instant books. The company, which was acquired by Random House in 2006 and then bought back by Rogatz five years later, has been headquartered since 2011 in the same building as Independent Publishers Group (IPG), Triumph’s distributor. Rogatz declined to disclose company revenues but said that sales have steadily increased since his reacquisition.
Although Rogatz peppers his speech with sports terms, Triumph did not originate as a sports publisher, but rather evolved into one. It still publishes general-interest titles in such areas as entertainment and popular culture. This fall, Triumph entered the children’s market with the release of three picture books in the new Max Explores series. The company’s bestsellers are led by Yu-Gi-Oh! Trainer’s Guide, which has sold 400,000 copies since it was released in 2006, and Bieber Fever (2011), about the teen heartthrob, which has sold more than 300,000. Its bestseller this fall is a game book, The Big Book of Minecraft, with 150,000 copies in print.
Triumph was originally a business-to-business publisher. Seeing an opportunity, Rogatz approached Arthur Andersen in the late 1980s and persuaded the international financial services company to commission the publication of a comprehensive reference book on the European Community’s social policies and economic regulations, organized by country. The Arthur Andersen European Community Sourcebook was published under the Triumph Books imprint in 1991 and sold 6,000–7,000 copies at $250 per copy. Around the same time, Triumph also published an international media directory in partnership with the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and several publications with the American Library Association.
Building on Triumph’s expertise in producing reference books, Rogatz approached the National Collegiate Athletic Association about publishing the organization’s media guide to college sports for the consumer market. Triumph felt that the annual compilation of statistics could be repositioned as record books, and subsequently worked with several national sports organizations to publish their annual compilations of statistics for a general readership. “We were off and running,” Rogatz said.
The dramatic change in the retail environment since Rogatz bought Triumph back from Random House has led him to adjust the company’s approach. “We had to do a little different kind of publishing,” he explained. Gone are the glossy $30 coffee table books that sold 130,000–140,000 units. And, Rogatz said, whereas previously he would never have considered publishing any book with less than a 12,000-copy print run, today, 5,000- and 6,000-copy initial print runs are standard (although some books, such as the Derek Jeter tribute Derek Jeter: Excellence and Elegance, to be released later this month, have print runs as high as 35,000). “Now, it’s get in, get the books sold and re-ordered. There’s more grinding in the corners,” Rogatz said, using an ice hockey analogy. “You have to be more focused than you used to need to be, more creative in finding outlets to sell books, and you’ve got to have passionate and committed colleagues you can rely on.”