As it begins its 25th year, Toronto-based Firefly Books Ltd. is coming off "the best year in our history," founder Lionel Koffler told PW. The company's core library business had a "very good" gain in sales, while the trade division had an "excellent" year, Koffler said, which offset a slight decline in distribution revenues.

Although Koffler has increased Firefly's presence in the retail market to the point that the segment now represents about 25% of sales, he remains committed to marketing extensively to libraries, a channel he believes many larger publishers have abandoned. The company's primary publishing categories are cookbooks, gardening, astronomy, health, natural history, pictorial books, reference (mainly for children) and sports. Among its steadily selling backlist children's titles are Papier-Mâché for Kids and Exploring the Night Sky. Love You Forever has sold 18 million copies since it was published in 1986.

In the adult area, a successful backlist item has been Terence Dickinson's NightWatch, which has sold 500,000 copies to date, and Firefly will release a new edition of Dickinson's The Backyard Astronomer's Guide this fall. This spring, Firefly released Hidden Secrets, a book about espionage written by David Owen, the author of Hidden Evidence, a book on forensic science that has sold 50,000 copies.

Firefly publishes between 60 and 80 of its own titles annually and handles distribution for about 15 other publishers. Firefly handles North American distribution for the majority of its clients, but also does Canadian distribution for such U.S. publishers as Black Sparrow Press and Sybex Computer Books. The combination of its own publishing program and distribution business gives Firefly a backlist of almost 2,000 titles, with 500 coming from its own imprints.

Another way the company has expanded is by acquiring stakes in a few distribution clients. Its most recent investment was in Robert Rose Books, which had a recent bestseller with The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, which has sold 65,000 copies.

Koffler said that about 80% of its publishing sales and 40% of its distribution sales are generated in the United States. Koffler said he is "bullish" on the future, predicting gains in both the library and trade markets.