Three years ago, with its founding patriarch Thomas Winnett turning 80, Wilderness Press began to plan for the future. The Berkeley-based, family-owned company, already successful as a regional outdoors-oriented publisher, with over 200 outdoor, hiking and National Park guides in print, felt it was wise to not only broaden its editorial focus but grow its business with general bookstores, having long depended on alternative outlets. Laura Keresty, with a background in technology and environmental causes, joined the company as associate publisher. Former Wilderness editor Roslyn Bullas returned as managing editor after years working at Lonely Planet, soon thereafter joined by Heather Harrison as sales director, after serving in the same capacity at Lonely Planet.

The new blood, following a direction approved by the Winnett family, negotiated a co-branding agreement with the Washington, D.C.—based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit advocate for 13,000 miles of greenways made from former railroad corridors, allowing WP to start producing guide books to these trails in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England, new ground for the 40-year-old press, whose guidebooks had predominantly stuck to Hawaii and the western U.S.

Broadening the editorial range was just half the strategy for repositioning Wilderness for the future. The other involved where its books were sold. Historically, Wilderness sold three-quarters of its books outside of the general book trade, with a whopping 50% sold in outdoor retail stores and stores that serve the national park market. While Keresty told PW that she expects nontrade sales to remain significant, its approach to selling to the trade, with Harrison bringing her Lonely Planet expertise to bear in approaching chains and independents, has increased bookstore sales significantly. The private company does not release sales figures, but Keresty said sales increased 21% overall last year, with bookstore sales bumping up to represent 30% of overall sales (see pie chart).

The overall strategy seems to be working. Barry Rossnick, a senior buyer at Books Inc., the independent mini-chain with 10 stores in California, told PW that he has noticed the change at Wilderness in recent years. "The books look better with every edition," he said. Branding with Rails-to-Trails and creating series, like the Walking Guidebook Series (books on Chicago, Brooklyn and Boston are in the works), will only help establish a place for Wilderness Press on bookshelves. "With travel books, branding is everything," Ressnick says.

"What's so exciting is that we now have something for stores back East," said Heather Harrison. "We're trying to get the message out that we are not just publishing hiking guides to Yosemite anymore."