Despite a bad economy and an even tougher illustrated book market, PowerHouse Books, publisher of illustrated books about art, fashion, street and pop culture, is managing to do quite well this year. The downtown New York City publisher is probably best known for the publication of New York September 11, a benefit collection of photographs by Magnum photographers that has sold more than 200,000 copies (and generated more than $600,000 for charity) since it was released in late 2001. The book highlighted PHB's knack for quickly delivering lavishly produced titles on a variety of topics.

Dan Power, the founder and publisher of PHB, was almost apologetic about the house's recent successes. "The art book market is in the toilet but we seem to do well," said Power. He credited it to "a lot of media attention for our books. That has been critical." The company has grown from three or four books a year in 1997 to about 30 books planned over the next year. "We're about a $5-million a year company right now," said Power. Powerhouse has added about 10 employees since the end of 2001, and the house is looking to move into a new 5,000 square foot space near its present offices that will include a gallery as well as retail display for its titles.

"There are fewer retail outlets for fine art books," said Powers, pointing out the importance of an in-house bookstore. "There's no place downtown for visual browsing," he added. "We used to do several hundred thousand dollars a year in business from the SoHo Rizzoli. That just disappeared when it closed."

Sales and distribution editor Kristien Orozco said the Magnum 9/11 book "brought our name to the public and things have come together for us." PowerHouse handles its own distribution and Orozco oversees a sales force of about 25 commissioned sales reps.

The house's flexibility is reflected in its ability to reach different kinds of audiences for picture books. PHB offers quirky, inexpensive books like Back in the Days, a $35 collection of photographs of early hip-hop street fashion. "Its sales are exploding in nontraditional outlets like Urban Outfitters," said Power. But the house has also just published Zack Carr, a $75 book on the career of the creative director and force behind the scenes for Calvin Klein, that has attracted much media attention and sales from fashion community.

The house also publishes gaudy but hip coffee-table books, often subsidized by partnerships with corporate interests or with benefit projects. Nike approached the house to publish Sole Provider: 30 Years of Nike Basketball, a pictorial survey of Nike sneaker styles. The Blue Jean by Alice Harris, a survey of jeans as cultural icon, was published through a partnership with The Gap and is also a benefit project in support of the Save the Music Foundation, which supports music education in public schools.

Orozco credits PHB's success to its small size and ability to work easily with sometimes touchy artists. "We're structured informally, we work closely with artists and printers, we have great relationships with our artists and with our accounts and we try to be creative to find our customers."