When Robert Ripley drew his first cartoon with the catchy headline "Believe It or Not!" in 1913, about a few noteworthy athletic feats of the day, the illustrator/journalist had no idea he was spawning a catchphrase and franchise that would last a century. The same can be said of Sir Hugh Beaver, a manager at the Guinness Brewery in Ireland, who, after getting into a dispute with some friends over which bird was the fastest in Europe, realized there was a need for a definitive book to settle such arguments. Both Ripley and Beaver, who first had their books published in 1929 and 1955, respectively, would likely be impressed with how their brands have weathered the ages. The 2007 edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not!, released last week, had a North American print run of 750,000; the latest U.S. edition of Guinness World Records (which also hit stands last week) went to press for just under a million copies.
That both books are thriving in print while many other reference works have struggled with competition from the Internet is due to careful management of the brand and quite a bit of targeted marketing. Certainly for the Canada-based Ripley Entertainment, which owns and oversees Ripley's, the book business had until recently been on the corporate back burner. Having licensed its brand to a number of publishers over the years, particularly Scholastic (which released a series of YA Ripley's books), the titles became more focused after Morty Mint, the former head of Penguin Canada, which had been a distributor for Guinness, pitched the company about revamping its main book.
Mint, who had come across the Ripley brand while working with Guinness—Ripley Entertainment runs a number of Ripley and Guinness museums around the world—said he began thinking that "Ripley should begin taking charge of its own publishing destiny." Instead of simply licensing its name to other publishers and focusing on its museum business, Mint wanted to see Ripley Entertainment get behind the book of odd feats and facts the way Guinness does for its record book. Now Ripley Entertainment, which has been working with Mint for three years—he works with the Canadian packager Miles Kelly Publishing and distributes the book in North America through his own Mint Publishers Group—is publishing its annual title under the recently started Ripley Publishing banner. Worldwide English-language sales for the first title the company did with Mint, the 2004 edition, hovered around 673,000.
Mint is now envisioning a publishing program more like Guinness's—namely, working off of the strong Ripley brand and ensuring it remains recognizable and, more importantly, current. For the 2007 Ripley's, Mint has bumped up the pub date from October to August to coincide with the release of Guinness; he's also gotten Wal-Mart to feature the two books in stand-alone kiosks in its more than 3,000 stores. And since the idea to reinvigorate Ripley's in print came to Mint after he caught an old episode of the TV show Ripley's Believe It or Not! (now in syndication after airing from 1999 to 2003), he is particularly attuned to ensuring the name remains exposed on TV and through other media channels. "Watching that show made me realize we have this whole new audience out there," he said. Mint is also looking ahead to Tim Burton's planned film about Robert Ripley. (The movie, which has Jim Carrey attached, has been sent back into development at Paramount.)
Sam Fay, v-p of sales and marketing at Guinness World Records, said she believes that interest in GWR remains high because people everywhere love to win and "be the best." Fay said that repeated interest from the networks in airing record-breaking segments helps; last week Good Morning America featured some of the book's record holders, and week-long Guinness specials are planned on both Regis & Kelly and the Food Network.
Fay, like Mint, is looking to make sure the Guinness name remains young and fresh, especially to its target audience: boys ages 7—12. To that end, a 30-second spot for the book ran in movie theaters before both The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the company has been promoting itself at generation X's (and Y's) newest breeding ground for daredevils: the X-Games. We can only imagine what Sir Hugh would think of the BMXers and skateboarders.