After a slow start, Patagonia’s book publishing program has come into its own. The outdoor clothing and equipment company’s first book, Glenn Denny’s Yosemite in the Sixties, was copublished with T. Adler Books and distributed by D.A.P in 2007. Since that modest launch, Patagonia’s book division has undergone wholesale changes, and though Patagonia has kept its publishing program relatively small—22 books to date—it has found an increasingly large audience for its message. Last year, after moving to PGW for distribution, it had its best year ever. Book sales for the fiscal year that ended April 30, 2015, rose 86% over fiscal 2014
Part of that increase is because Patagonia has begun taking its book publishing program more seriously. In 2012, it hired former book packager Karla Olson as director of Patagonia Books, to transform what was described to her as an after-hours project run by staffers who worked on books in addition to their regular responsibilities.
After Olson came on board, Patagonia created two additional book positions: a senior editor in 2013 and an art director one year later. The press also relies on members of the company’s sizable marketing department to keep the marketing and visual look of the books consistent with Patagonia’s image; it also uses a production person from Patagonia’s catalogue program to help produce the titles.
Since Olson’s arrival, books have become an integral part of Patagonia’s mission to educate and inspire people to preserve the environment. “Part of the purpose of this program,” Olson said, “is to extend the message where the clothes can’t go.” And like the other items sold by Patagonia, one percent of book sales are donated to environmental charities, through 1% for the Planet, a group cofounded by Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard.
The press’s list is integrated into Patagonia in other ways. Roughly two-thirds of its titles come from the company’s ambassadors, well-known athletes who test Patagonia clothing and often write 750-word field essays for the catalogues. The book program evolved in part because some of the ambassadors’ stories needed to be longer. Olson works with ambassadors to develop their work into full-length books, keeping the environment as a focus.
Though not all its books come from inside the company, Chouinard publishes with the press. He is the lead author of The Responsible Company and Simple Fly Fishing. His first book, Let My People Go Surfing, was published by Penguin in 2006 and will be released by Penguin in a 10th-anniversary edition next year. The original publication of Surfing gave Chouinard the impetus to develop Patagonia’s own publishing program, which will do seven books this year.
In addition to distribution through PGW, the press’s books can be purchased on its website. They are also available in Patagonia’s 32 dedicated stores in North America, where they are displayed alongside other merchandise, such as climbing books with climbing gear, and surfer and fishing titles with related items.
Currently, 60% of Patagonia’s book sales are direct sales; the rest are through other venues. “One of our goals is to increase our presence in independent bookstores and libraries,” Olson said. The feeling seems to be mutual. “Bookstores want Patagonia. This is a brand that they feel in alignment with,” said Elise Cannon, v-p, sales at PGW, noting Patagonia’s emphasis on the environment. Some booksellers have been supporting Patagonia’s books from the start, such as Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colo. The store has done well with titles such as Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs ($79.95), as well as Steve House and Scott Johnston’s Training for the New Alpinism ($35).