Most ads for e-readers still feature a picture of a device showing black-and-white text in neat lines on a small screen. And basic text was what the earlier devices handled best (and, arguably, still do). With lush photo spreads and need to include patterns and illustrations, it's no surprise that publishers of craft titles were not the first out of the gate to embrace digital formats.
That's beginning to change, as the technology advances and the possibilities of the digital era come into clearer focus.
"Now that fixed format e-books are becoming a reality, it is possible to create very beautiful and useful books with heavy illustrated content," says Melanie Falick, publishing director of Abrams's STC Craft line.
Last month STC Craft announced a partnership with Open Road Integrated Media designed to capitalize on those possibilities. The publisher's e-book initiative will launch this fall with eight titles. While most are backlist bestsellers, such as Joelle Hoverson's Last-Minute Knitted Gifts and More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, Michelle Edwards's A Knitter's Home Companion, released earlier this year, is also on the slate. Falick says, "Knitting books are especially suited to the e-format because knitters have a particularly dynamic online community and also because knitting is so portable—thus making it useful to have access to book content while out of the house."
Embracing the Digital Era
Most other publishers in the category say they are also focusing on growing and developing their e-business strategy, not just in terms of e-books but other types of digital content as well.
California-based C&T Publishing released its first e-book in 2008 and began doing simultaneous e-book releases for all new titles in early 2010. C&T also now offers print and e-books bundles at a discount via its Web site. For example, Bari J. Ackerman's Inspired to Sew by Bari J.: 15 Pretty Projects (Feb.), can be purchased in the print edition for $24.95 or in e-book for $19.99, but as a print/electronic bundle for $29.99. C&T publisher Amy Marson says such bundling has yielded promising results, with e-book business up 175% this year over last, and plans to expand the program are in the works.
But C&T's biggest digital move this year was the May beta launch of PatternSpot.com, a new site aimed at becoming the destination source for online sewing pattern sales. The project grew out of a realization that the biggest segment of growth in the publisher's core quilting market was patterns, notoriously difficult to manage in print. C&T also noticed that more of its authors were selling pattern lines online, such as Sue Kim, whose Bags—The Modern Classics: Clutches, Hobos, Satchels, and More comes out in December. But the company found no single site was the main source of purchase. Built in partnership with company eBookPie, so far PatternSpot has 700 patterns for sale by 100 designers, with 2,000 shoppers signed up.
While the book and pattern businesses will be kept separate for now, Marson recognizes the potential for each to enhance the other. "From a publisher's perspective, everything is speculative unless you have a bestselling author," says Marson. "With this, we have all the data on selling, views, and can watch trends in a real way. It's an acquisitions incubator."
Potter Craft, an imprint of Random House's Crown Publishing Group, is also now publishing its new books simultaneously in print and electronic editions. Senior editor Betty Wong points to the online followings of Wendy D. Johnson, author of Wendy Knits Lace: Essential Techniques and Patterns for Everyday Lace (Aug.), and Clara Parkes, author of October's The Knitter's Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover's Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime (Oct.) as indicators of the "large and digitally savvy audience" for craft titles and the reason Potter Craft's e-book program has grown steadily.
While Wiley has begun to explore ways to transition its Teach Yourself Visually line to e-book formats, crafts publisher Cindy Kitchel sees the focus remaining on delivering beautiful print books. Packaging, she says, "is a key component to our publishing strategy, to create books with pattern packs, easy-to-use concealed wiro formats, and designs that complement the author's work and personal aesthetic."
In October, Wiley publishes Knitting Stitches Visual Encyclopedia: 350 Stitch Patterns, Edgings, and More by Sharon Turner and Crochet Stitches: Visual Encyclopedia by Robyn Chachula, both designed to show off their graphic elements.
Only a few years ago, there was plenty of discussion about whether the rise of free and cheap patterns and online craft content might endanger the category's future. Those concerns have largely faded as publishers focus on exploring the possibilities of new technology—and courting new sales venues. In a time of uncertainty about what the future of bookstores will look like, one of the most enviable aspects of the craft category is the variety of sales avenues available to publishers. The rise of specialty retailers like Michael's has been a boon not least because it indicates how widespread crafting has become.
"Specialty sales are an essential channel for our titles," says Potter Craft's Wong. "Not only because our books sell so well to yarn, craft, and quilt shops, but because making and creating has become such a part of how people live today, you'll quite often find our books selling in home decor, museum, and even clothing stores."
Many of the imprint's titles also have brand-name appeal on their side. This season alone, Potter Craft's list includes Nora Abousteit, Alison Kelly, and BurdaStyle's The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook (Nov.), the first book from the site termed the "Facebook for sewers" by the New York Times; TV host and Design*Sponge contributor Brett Bara's Sewing in a Straight Line: Quick and Crafty Projects You Can Make Simply by Sewing Straight (July); and, from the editors of Martha Stewart Living magazine, Martha Stewart's Handmade Holiday Crafts: 225 Inspired Projects for Year-Round Celebrations (Sept.).
STC Craft may also tap into the appeal of a well-known brand with its forthcoming The BUST DIY Guide to Life: Making Your Way Through Every Day by Debbie Stoller and Laurie Henzel (Oct.). The book showcases the best projects from 15 years of Bust magazine, one of the most influential names in the crafting world. After all, it was Bust editor-in-chief Stoller who helped spark the "stitch 'n bitch" knitting renaissance with the first book in the series of the same name in 2004.
STC Craft's Falick notes that Amazon has become a major sales player for craft books, but that non–book-focused stores are undoubtedly important. "Sales at craft chain stores, such as Michael's and JoAnn's, and special markets in general are becoming increasingly significant as Barnes & Noble reduces the amount of space it is dedicating to crafts," she says.
In fact, Gibbs-Smith marketing director Dan Moench says that the right placement can be almost as important as the product. He says, "For some of our crafting books, we have found that simply getting them into places like Michael's and Hobby Lobby has led to significant sales, and other promotional efforts have not been as needed." Gibbs-Smith's leading craft titles this season—both out in August—are Robert Waite's Decorating with Evergreens and Dawn Sokol's Doodle Sketchbook: Art Journaling for Boys.
But perhaps the biggest indicator of how large the craft market has gotten is that Wal-Mart, the retail outlet to end all retail outlets, placed the first titles in Leisure Arts's new knit and crochet pattern series—to be sold exclusively at its stores—on the shelves in June. Slouchy Beanies by Lisa Gentry and Afghans by Barbara Shaffer are the first two in the line that will share a 6 x 7-in. format with rounded corners and be priced at $5.
"With Wal-Mart's return to the heritage categories, we have re-established ourselves as their go-to knit and crochet inspiration provider," says editor-in-chief Susan Sullivan. She adds that with the low price point, "we're watching them fly through the checkout." Leisure Arts also continues a full publishing program outside its relationship with Wal-Mart, with such new titles as the just-published In Love with Paper Crafts by Paper Crafts magazine and Scrap-lifting Inspirations by the editors of Creating Keepsakes (Sept.).
On the less traditional side of the market is John Duff, publisher of Penguin's Perigee imprint, who's always looking "for something a little quirky." Perigee has found major success with a variety of guided journals by Keri Smith that encourage sketching, journaling, and indulging creative impulses. Her 2007 hit Wreck This Journal is being developed into a mobile app, cleverly called Wreck This App, to be released later this summer.
And Smith's experiment in collaborative storytelling between author and reader, Finish This Book, is due out in September. Duff also sees interactive titles like Travis Nichols's The Monster Doodle Book (June) and Ji Lee's Word as Image (Oct.) as indicative of the evolving nature of the craft category, and says they do well in the new sales channels.
"We feel that these kinds of books are particularly suited to help us grow in the nontraditional markets—gift, catalogue, and premium sales," says Duff. "And, as we've seen from Wreck This App, there is a lot of potential for adaptations to the interactive electronic media."
Sew, You're a Knitter
Fabric arts continue to dominate the craft category, be it the recent upswing in sewing and crochet or the ever-popular knitting.
Sewing titles abound this season. Chronicle's trifecta includes Ellen Luckett Baker's 1, 2, 3, Sew: Build Your Skills with 33 Simple Projects (May), Liberty of London's Liberty Book of Home Sewing (Sept.), and Kathreen Ricketson's Little Bits Quilting Bee: 20 Quilts Using Charm Packs, Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, and Fat Quarter (Sept.). And Storey has high expectations for Lexie Barnes's Sew Up a Home Makeover (Aug.), combining the hot trends of sewing and home decor, and Rebecca Yaker and Patricia Hoskins's Fabric-by-Fabric One-Yard Wonders (Nov.), a follow-up to the bestseller One-Yard Wonders that includes contributions from popular sewing bloggers and designers.
Interweave acquisitions editor Allison Korleski says, "Interest in modern quilting is growing apace and lots of books are coming out"—including the publisher's Sew Wild: Creating with Stitch and Mixed Media by Alisa Burke (Sept.).
Other quilting titles on the way include Kaffe Fassett's Quilts in Sweden: 20 Designs from Rowan for Patchwork and Quilting (Taunton, Oct.) and Cathy Gaubert's Pretty in Patchwork: Doll Quilts (Sterling/Lark). Those looking for a doll title to complement Gaubert's might check out Workman's The Fashion Designer's Handbook and Kit by Marjorie Galen (Oct.), billed as a "wonderful introduction to making and designing clothes through 33 fabulous doll projects."
Still, the plethora of knitting books reinforces publishers' awareness of the craft's favored status. From DK's "craft-bible" The Knitting Book (Sept.) to Andrews McMeel's essay collection All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (Oct.), there's something out there for every knit-wit.
St. Martin's offers two books for the easy-going—Vicki Stiefel and Lisa Souza's 10 Secrets of a Laidback Knitter (May) and Marie Connelly's Very Easy Guide to Knitting Scarves (Oct.). And Interweave is focusing on rocking socks and headgear with Sock Knitting Master Class: Innovative Techniques + Patterns from Top Designers by Ann Budd (Aug.) and Weekend Hats: 25 Knitted Caps, Berets, Cloches, and More by Cecily Glowik MacDonald and Melissa LaBarre (Oct.).
At Trafalgar Square, marketing director Kim Cook reports "strong interest in knitting titles with an ethnic theme." Out this month is the Norwegian-themed 55 Christmas Balls to Knit: Colorful Festive Ornaments by Arne & Carlos, which has sold more than 30,000 copies in Norway and will be published in eight additional languages. The publisher has also seen continued interest in "smaller, quicker projects," which is reflected in Debbie Bliss's Knits to Give: 30 Knitted Gifts Made with Love (Sept.).
And, finally, what should crafters do with all those scraps? Editorial director of Sterling imprint Lark Crafts Jeff Serena believes Stash Happy—Felt: 30 Fun Projects for Felt (and Fabric) Lovers by Amanda Carestio (Oct.) can help, continuing the imprint's series "on making the most of small, leftover, and inexpensive raw materials."
The Latest Cue: Cute
Crafters are crazy for quirky, offbeat projects, and publishers are more than happy to oblige.
Andrews McMeel enjoyed a huge hit with Fiona Goble's Knit Your Own Royal Wedding earlier this year, a book mentioned by several publishers as a prime example of the aesthetic in question. Forthcoming A-M titles include Goble's follow-up, Knitivity: Create Your Own Christmas Scene (Sept.), and Sarah Skeate and Nicola Tedman's Steampunk Softies: Scientifically Minded Dolls from a Past That Never Was (May).
According to A-M publicist Shelly Barks, "Crafters continue to skew younger and hipper, so the popularity in craft titles is reflecting what's hot in popular culture."
Many such titles show a Japanese influence. Harper Design offers Ami Ami Dogs 2: More Seriously Cute Crochet by Mitsuki Hoshi, which focuses on amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting small stuffed animals. And Sterling will distribute the Guild of Master Craftman's Carving Japanese Netsuke for Beginners by Robert Jubb (Nov.), focused on the small-scale woodcraft.
Quirk, where editor Margaret Maguire reports that "off-kilter crafting titles have always done well," is excited about its popular Japanese book, Crafting with Cat Hair by Kaori Tsutaya, which features eco-friendly crafts like kitty tote bags and finger puppets all made from—yes, you got it.
Just as the DIY influence continues to expand the borders of crafting, its impact continues to be felt on the hobby side of the category.
"We value a return to making things ourselves and being creative, now more than ever," says Lucia Watson, senior editor at Avery and Gotham Books. "DIY is very hot."
Gotham/Avery's new craft/hobby titles focus on activities for parents and kids. The successful Geek Dad series by Wired blogger Ken Denmead continues with The Geek Dad's Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists, updating classic science experiments for a new generation (Gotham, Nov.). And Jim Belosic's OMG Pancakes! 75 Cool Creations Your Kids Will Love (Avery, Oct.) grew from the Internet sensation created when he shared the pancakes with strange designs he made for his daughter Allie—a project that has netted over one million YouTube views and earned him 25,000 Facebook fans.
For the aspiring prestidigitator, Workman offers The Complete Magician: Everything You Need to Put on a Show by Joshua Jay (Oct.), which includes a book, instructional DVD, five props, and a carrying case.
Fox Chapel also offers hobby titles for DIYers young and old, with Chris Gleason's Art of the Chicken Coop: A Fun and Essential Guide to Housing Your Peeps (June), and Erin Freuchtel-Dearing's Natural Wooden Toys: 75 Easy-to-Make and Kid-Safe Designs to Inspire Imaginations & Creative Play (Nov.). And those are in addition to Art Donovan's The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement (Aug.), looking at the history of steampunk and the works of 17 leading makers of steampunk gadgetry and art projects.
"Those making steampunk devices are basically modifying existing technology to give it a uniquely Victorian look, while maintaining its modern functionality," says Fox Chapel publicist Traci Niese. "Readers will find wonderfully unusual jewelry, light fixtures, clocks, and other contraptions that reject the notion of today's mass-produced products and embrace a handcrafted, do-it-yourself ideology."
The DIY influence that permeates everything from steampunk to chicken raising has definitely benefited Skyhorse's Joy of series, which recently expanded with The Joy of Hobby Farming (Apr.) and The Joy of Keeping Goats (June), and its Self-Sufficiency series, which in September adds Grow Your Own Fruits and Vegetables, Herbs and Spices, Natural Remedies, and Foraging.
For a different kind of foraging altogether, fans of the History Channel's American Pickers need look no further than the series's companion book, American Pickers Guide to Picking by Libby Callaway et al.(Hyperion, Sept.). With an announced 60,000-copy first print, the book promises to help find hidden gems and treasures. Sign us up.