In 2002, Raoul Goff decided to transform his book-packaging company into a full-service publishing house called Insight Editions. Fifteen years later, the publisher has two offices in San Rafael, Calif., another in Los Angeles, and one in Hong Kong to oversee manufacturing. It now counts around 70 employees and six imprints. In 2017, Insight published 70 books—primarily pop culture titles covering music, movies, television, video games, and comics. Overall, the company has more than 350 titles in print, five of which have been bestsellers.
Insight Editions’ niche is to create literary portals for fans of various actors, musicians, and authors. From oversize books to pop-up creations and customized models, the publisher helps fans enter the worlds of the artists they love. “I looked at the publishing landscape for books about popular culture and realized that nobody was really doing a good job with it,” Goff recalled. Goff is a movies, music, and art fan, and he said he trusted his innate understanding of the “psychology of fans” to guide his publishing projects. “When fans love something, they really love it,” he added. “They don’t mind paying a little more to have a better-quality book, something that they really want to keep.”
Insight started out with glossy music books, such as Rolling Stones 40 x 20, Days of Hope and Dreams: An Intimate Portrait of Bruce Springsteen, and Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork, but soon broadened its focus to include all of popular culture. Its breakthrough came in 2005 with Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, an oversize book with hundreds of photographs and design sketches of the fantastical outfits from the film series.
“The big thing that people are looking for [in a book] is a deeper experience,” said senior editor Chris Prince. “Things that aren’t in the movie.” Instead of showing endless film stills, these oversize books explore the creative evolution of a beloved property—showing concept art that led to a key scene, for instance.
As the company has grown, Prince has edited almost 100 books that explore the worlds of films. He works directly with the studios on the editorial development and then coordinates with a lead designer on each title. “I’m making this book because I’m a fan,” he said. Insight Editions has a slew of glossy film books planned for 2018, with titles about a mix of recent blockbuster movies and legacy films such as Die Hard, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and Ready Player One.
“I’m a believer in having a tactile experience with a book,” Goff said. “When you can feel the paper and smell the ink, it’s part of the visceral experience of literature. Think about an old Bible with illuminated letters. You could maybe see that on a screen, but there’s a big difference between that and holding it in your hand and feeling the high-quality binding, the leather on the cover, and the nubs on the spine.”
For another kind of tactile reading experience, Insight also publishes intricate pop-up books. Goff speculated that the publisher makes “the most expensive pop-up books of any publisher on the planet right now,” and the craftsmanship shows—the individual images contain countless folds and moving pieces, bringing intricate movement to the page. Pop-up titles include Harry Potter: A Pop-up Book by Andrew Williamson in 2010 ($34.95), Game of Thrones: A Pop-Up Guide to Westeros by Matthew Reinhart in 2014 ($65), and Disney Princess: A Magical Pop-up World by Matthew Reinhart in 2015 ($65).
More recently, the publisher explored cookbooks, targeting fans of a fantasy massive multiplayer online role-playing game. World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook became a bestseller for the company in 2016, inspiring other cookbooks set in pop fiction universes like that of the Walking Dead. “We try to make it as authentic as possible, but still delicious,” said Kelly Reed, an editor who has worked on a number of cookbooks for the publisher. The team works to make immersive cookbooks that return fans to the experience of a favorite movie, TV show, or video game, from cooking with scavenged materials like a zombie survivor or creating customized spices to evoke fictional flavors from a video game. “Fan culture is such a social thing,” Reed said. “People want to make food for viewing parties that fits the show.”
Insight recently took interactivity to the next level with IncrediBuilds, intricate wooden models packaged inside an informative book. Fans can paint, color, or draw on the wooden models—assembling wooden sculptures of animals, landmarks, and licensed characters. Last year, the licensed books launched with the famous Star Wars droid R2-D2. “We had been looking for something that emphasized the creative play that we like to encourage for kids and adults,” said Vanessa Lopez, Insight Editions’ associate publisher.
Describing why his publishing model works, Goff said: “When their favorite show’s not on the air, fans want something that they can read. They want to live in that world. They want something to remind them of that world.”