An increased interest in works of fantasy helped to propel sales at the Wizards of the Coast publishing group in 2002. Revenue at the book group, which is a unit of the trading card, role-playing game company that has been owned by Hasbro since 1999, rose 17%, to more than $12 million, last year. Peter Archer, director of book publishing for Wizards, said the publisher has benefited from higher levels of interest in fantasy books that has been created by the success of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. "I don't think there is any doubt that Harry Potter and Rings have helped all fantasy publishers," Archer said.
But Wizards' success in 2002 wasn't just linked to the Potter carryover effect. Liz Schuh, director of marketing for books, gave a great deal of the credit for the improved performance to Wizards' distributor, the Holtzbrinck Group. Wizards moved its distribution to Holtzbrinck in fall of 2000, and after a dip in sales in 2001 as the Holtzbrinck sales force familiarized themselves with the line, sales bounced back in 2002. "We reaped the fruits of Holtzbrinck's sales effort last year," Schuh said, adding that Wizards also did a better job of coordinating its publicity and marketing efforts in 2002.
The company had two titles hit the New York Times bestsellers in the year, R.A. Salvatore's The Thousand Orcs, which now has 100,000 copies in print, and Dragons of a Vanished Moon by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, which has close to 90,000 copies in print. The company depends heavily on series publishing—both the Salvatore and Weis/Hickman books were part of different series—as well as novelizations of role-playing games. Its major tie-ins to games include Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, but, Schuh notes, "There is a misconception that if you don't play the games, you won't understand the book. That's not true. You just need to be a fantasy fan."
Wizards released 59 titles last year and has a backlist of 274 titles. Most of its books are done in either hardcover or mass market paperback. The trade paper format is limited mainly to omnibus collections of different series. "Our audience is used to looking for our titles in hardcover and mass market," said Archer, adding that many customers buy both cloth and paper editions of their favorite titles. The publisher has tested the e-book market and other forms of electronic delivery, but will wait until demand increases before developing an ongoing program.
Archer said he is optimistic about prospects for 2003. Wizards will up its title output to 61 and will also increase its marketing efforts, particularly to small hobby shops and independent bookstores. The increase attention to hobby shops is part of an overall effort to coordinate the release of books and games. "We're trying to migrate game players into book readers," Schuh said.
Wizards is working to broaden its audience, which is predominantly males between the ages of 15 and 35. The company will introduce its first YA imprint this year, under the Dragonlace Chronicles name; it will offer digest editions of Dragonlace titles. Schuh hopes to reach not only a younger audience with the new imprint, but girls as well. "The stories have a romantic aspect to them," she said. Schuh and Archer also have high hopes for the third book in the series War of the Spider Queen, which is being edited by Salvatore. Salvatore's own The Lone Drow will be released later this year, as will the third in Elaine Cunningham's trilogy Starlight and Shadows. "We're looking for a really great year," Archer said.