Last fall, North-South Books held an open house to show off its new offices at 11 E. 26th St. in New York City—physically only a block away from their old location but psychologically a giant step ahead. The move, which more than doubled the publisher's space (from 5,000 sq. ft. to 11,500 sq. ft.), is indicative of the growth spurt North-South has been experiencing over the past year or so, during which the staff has grown from 12 to 35.
The U.S. operation of North-South Books is a branch of family-owned Nord-Süd Verlag, which was founded in Switzerland in 1961 and publishes simultaneous editions of its children's books in 15 countries and seven languages around the world. A unique parent-company relationship, under which profits are measured by worldwide—not solely U.S.—sales performance, means that North-South is not under the same pressure to achieve the high domestic sales that most publishers are. A picture book that sells, say, only 3,000 copies in the U.S. is considered a success, as long as it sells that much or more in the company's other territories.
Another unique perspective the company takes is with its sales window. Unlike most U.S. publishers, which maintain a 12- to 18-month supply of books and expect to sell out within that time, North-South keeps a two-year supply of books in its warehouses around the world—even if they are selling only 200 copies a year.
Nord-Süd opened a U.S. office in 1989 and named Marc Cheshire, who had been editorial director at Holt Books for Young Readers, publisher. It was a 1992 picture book, The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, that put the company on the map. The Rainbow Fish became an international bestseller, and it continues to do well (to date, it has sold 12 million copies worldwide).
David Reuther joined the company in 1999, hired to head a new imprint that would focus on developing American authors and illustrators (later named SeaStar Books). Reuther had been editor-in-chief at Morrow Junior Books for 16 years. Later that year, Cheshire stepped down as North-South's publisher to start his own imprint for North-South, called Cheshire Studios. Reuther assumed Cheshire's responsibilities, in addition to those he already held, and was named president and publisher at North-South.
SeaStar Books was created to build a smaller publishing venture within the larger framework of North-South, according to Reuther, so that each title on the list could be given the sort of individual attention that is at a premium at bigger houses these days. SeaStar's first list—21 titles—was published last fall, and consisted of a mix of picture books and novels, new material and some reissues.
The imprint also publishes Peter Glassman Books, the line that started at Morrow as Books of Wonder Classics. (That line continues to be published by HarperCollins/Morrow; Reuther changed the name of the imprint at SeaStar to include Glassman's name in an effort to reduce the chances of confusing the two.) In addition, SeaStar has a series of readers that tie in to the TV show Reading Rainbow, of which there are currently over a million copies in print.
According to Reuther, SeaStar's inaugural list performed exceptionally well: "Sales were 50% higher than we projected, and we had projected high." Titles such as Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and Give the Dog a Bone by Steven Kellogg have had particularly strong sales, he reported. Reuther is pleased that, in his estimation, the U.S. branch of North-South has "gone from being primarily a distribution company for European books to originating a significant number of American books." In fact, many of the books published by SeaStar will be distributed around the world by Nord-Süd Verlag. In this country, SeaStar is distributed by Chronicle Books, except for key national accounts, which North-South handles itself from the New York office.
This January, North-South announced the launch of Night Sky Books, a division devoted to high-quality novelty and merchandise publishing. Reuther hired Mary-Alice Moore as director of brand development to get the imprint on its feet; Moore came to the post from HarperCollins, where she was v-p, director of brand publishing and editorial director of HarperFestival.
Night Sky's first list will be released in August; it consists of five titles based on The Rainbow Fish, including four paperback picture books in a new series called Rainbow Fish and Friends. To support the books, Night Sky has devised a marketing promotion called "Silver Scales and a Heart of Gold," in which readers are invited to join the "Heart of Gold Team" and do good deeds, as Rainbow Fish does. Once a child completes the required number of favors and sends in a scorecard, he or she will be rewarded with a free Rainbow Fish bath towel from the publisher. "The message conveyed in Rainbow Fish, of tolerance, empathy, anti-bullying, is hitting a nerve, in light of recent school shootings," Moore said.
Future plans for the division include novelty books based on SeaStar titles—Moore is currently developing ideas for projects with author/illustrator Diane deGroat—and some original publishing as well. Moore is also excited about the movie tie-in books she is planning to release in fall 2002, when an animated Warner Bros. film based on Little Polar Bear by Hans de Beer hits theaters.
Within the next couple of months, North-South plans to launch a Web site that will be based at home operations in Switzerland; it will tie together worldwide North-South titles, and will feature downloadable, printable artwork from the publisher's books.