Over the past 65 years, the Folio Society, a London-based publisher, has released nearly 2,000 titles, most artfully designed, updated reissues of modern classics and works from the canon with an emphasis on packaging, typography, and illustration. Despite its longevity and the depth of its catalogue, the brand is not a household name in the U.S, and Folio is out to change that.
“The Folio Society remains a literary secret,” said marketing manager Jean-Marc Rathe. Though, in the last two years, Folio has channeled its efforts into raising its profile both in the U.K. and Stateside. To that end, in October, Folio was a sponsor of the this year’s New Yorker Festival, as part of a larger promotional effort with the magazine. (A Folio advertising campaign will run in the New Yorker through spring 2015). During the festival weekend, the publisher hosted a pop-up shop at the McNally Jackson bookstore, bringing in musician, poet, and National Book Award-winner Patti Smith to sign Folio’s new edition of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, for which Smith wrote the introduction.
Folio has commissioned other American authors to introduce new titles, including Pulitzer-winner Jane Smiley, who provided new material for Anthony Trollope’s The Warden. New York-based artists Jillian Tamaki and Victo Ngai provided illustrations for Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas and Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies, respectively.
In another promotional effort, Folio’s Goya: Disasters of War is on display, through January, in the Learning Space of the Goya: Order and Disorder exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The publisher also returned to the Boston Book Festival at the end of October to showcase its new releases. “One of my colleagues, managing editor Johanna Geary, came back with a fantastic quote from a visitor to our stand [in Boston]: ‘This is like a candy store for readers,’” recalled Rathe.
The brand-awareness initiative in the U.S. was also timed with a major shift in Folio’s sales strategy. As a direct-to-consumer publisher, Folio historically operated exclusively as a membership book club, with a website that didn’t actively promote the publisher’s titles. Two years ago, Folio opened its offerings to anyone, member or not, who was interested in purchasing a book. To further expand on that outreach, the group has beefed up its social media presence and now has 11,000 Twitter followers and over 15,000 Facebook fans.
When asked about the difficulties print publishers face today, especially those companies that specialize in heavily-designed titles, Rathe responded that the pace of the electronic world has made their products more valuable than ever. “I honestly believe there is no better time to be doing what we’re doing,” he said. “Here we are in an age where so much of our information is served to us digitally—news, work, entertainment, chats with friends and family. A quality printed book, one that is a pleasure to look at, to read and to hold, is something different. It offers a welcome chance to take some time out for yourself, and indulge in a truly enjoyable reading experience.”
However, Rathe stressed that while Folio does spend an immense amount of creative energy on a physical book’s design elements—illustrations, typography, slipcases, and binding—the publisher also aims to “surprise” readers with unexpected mashups, like the one of Smith, a “great pioneer of punk rock,” and a 19th-century classic such as Wuthering Heights. “Folio is about tradition,” said Rathe. “But that should never exclude innovation.”