To succeed in the part of business where Printers Row Publishing Group operates, “you need to be nimble and get ahead of trends,” said Simon Tasker, executive v-p, general manager and group publisher. The publishing arm of Readerlink Distribution Services, Printers Row has been nimble enough to have posted solid sales over several years and in the process increased its number of employees to 90, from 60 just before the pandemic.
The company stays away from author auctions and bidding wars in favor of developing series and franchises, with most titles developed in-house. Its annual title output ranges between 400 and 500, but this year it will be closer to the lower number, Tasker said, explaining that with backlist performing much better than frontlist, there isn’t an urgent need to bring lots of new titles into a crowded marketplace.
That doesn’t mean Printers Row has no new plans. One of its newest initiatives involves its Canterbury Classics imprint, which publishes public domain titles in two series: the Leather-Bound Classics series, which includes 41 volumes priced at $24.99 each, and Word Cloud Classics, which now has 91 volumes priced at $14.99 each. Together, the two series have sold almost eight million copies. The trick to Canterbury’s success, said Peter Norton, v-p and Printers Row publisher, is giving each series a unique look. “People still like to collect and display books,” Norton said, adding that Printers Row applies a “books as objects approach” for Canterbury. Norton believes the sales success of Canterbury “is a testament to the quality of our designs.”
Canterbury features classic titles that moved into the public domain, as well as newer nonfiction and fiction works where the source material was always publicly available. The top-selling Canterbury titles show the range of offerings: The Complete Novels of Jane Austen; An Encyclopedia of Tolkien; H.P. Lovecraft’s Tales of Horror; and The U.S. Constitution and Other Writings. New releases include Barack Obama Speeches and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dissents.
As well as the Canterbury line has done, Norton acknowledges it is a maturing business, so to add more variety it is starting the Crafted Classics series next spring with two titles, H. P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos Tales and The U.S. Constitution and Other Key American Writings. All the books in the series will feature a decorative cover to give a unique embroidered appearance. One key difference of the new line will be its price—$16.99—between the prices for the two existing series. Norton said each series does better in different channels: Bookstores and warehouse clubs trend to favor the Leather-Bound line, while airports and gift shops lean toward books in the Word Cloud series. Norton hopes Crafted Classics will find homes in all channels. Six titles in all are planned for next year.
Another growth area has been Printers Row’s licensing program, Tasker said. While licensing has always been a big part of its children’s business, over the past few years Printers Row has signed more agreements for adult licenses, winning deals for such well-known brands as Game of Thrones, Dungeons and Dragons, and Thomas Kinkade. The agreements have helped the publisher expand such areas as adult activity books, adult coloring books, and book-plus packages. One of its steady sellers in that category is its licensed crochet kits, such Harry Potter Crochet, published by its Thunder Bay Press imprint, which have sold more than 250,000 kits.
Similar to the rest of the industry, Printers Row is seeing sales of adult titles fare better than children’s this year, Tasker said. Still, the children’s market remains Printers Row’s biggest segment. In the first six months of 2023, You’re My Little Cuddle Bug sold nearly 269,000 copies at outlets that report to Circana BookScan, making it the fifth bestselling children’s book through the first six months of the year. Cuddle Bug is part of the You’re My Little... board book series, published by the company’s Silver Dolphin imprint and has sold more than 3.5 million copies.
Printers Row’s roots are in mass merchandisers and warehouse clubs, and those remain solid accounts. Most of the larger players in the field, Tasker said, including Walmart, view book consumers as important customers and want to maintain healthy book departments to help attract families. In addition, Tasker emphasized that with the help of distributor Simon & Schuster, Printers Row “reaches all the big customers.” And despite a slow period, Tasker believes more growth is ahead as things like BookTok “help create the next generation of book lovers.”