Shortly after being installed almost two years ago as president of F+W Publications following its purchase by Abry Partners, David Steward began reorganizing the niche book and magazine publisher around its various brands. Although the process is still evolving, Steward has been pleased with its progress so far. “If you put the brand at the center, it's incredibly liberating,” said Steward, who is using a business plan similar to one he coauthored when he was at Martha Stewart Living Enterprises. “The core of the Martha Stewart philosophy was, customers have many choices and we will serve our customers in whatever format they choose—rather than think of ourselves as a magazine, book company or merchandise company.”

While MSL is a personality-driven company, Steward sees the potential of transforming F+W, which has annual sales of about $250 million equally divided between books and magazines, into dozens of brand-driven mini-MSLs. In addition to its book imprints, the company has 50 magazines, a 5,000-title backlist, five book clubs and more than 100 Web sites. A key to Steward's vision is communicating to consumers through Web sites. With that in mind, F+W is beginning to add new sites, like its recently unveiled for Krause's avid coin collectors, and will launch one this fall for North Light Crafts, which will have streaming step-by-step videos and live author chats. was given a facelift in October, and Writer's Digest will get its own site next year. To help coordinate the Web initiatives, Steward recently named John Lerner to the new post of executive v-p of interactive media.

Since writing is one of the company's three largest revenue areas, F+W is experimenting with replicating its successful Writer's Market franchise in the U.K. At the end of April, the U.K.-based David & Charles launched Writer's Market UK 2008 and a related Web site. “Advance orders were double the expectations,” said F+W book division president Sara Domville.

The company is extending the reach of its brands in other ways. This summer, Krause, a leader in the publication of firearms titles, will release a photographic portrait of gun owners, Armed America. Media reaction was so strong even before the tragedy at Virginia Tech, said F+W Books marketing and design director Karen Cooper, that Krause moved up the pub date to July.

Adams Media is looking to give a boost to its popular Everything series, which has sold 13 million copies, by publishing fitness titles in a larger format and continuing to add new areas, like literary profiles, said Cooper. Adams is also reaching out to a new market for its Cup of Comfort books, which have sold two million copies. By tweaking the cover art and publishing them with better paper in a larger format, Adams is hoping to take advantage of F+W's push into the gift market, which began at the start of the year. F+W now has a gift rep force and a new position of gift sales manager. It also refocused another sales manager's job to concentrate on specialty wholesale, display marketers and mail-order catalogues.

Like many of the changes at F+W, it's too soon to tell how the push into gifts will affect long-term sales. But in 2006, said Domville, 60% of the company's book revenue came from the trade, with 25% from specialty retailers like Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann's and sporting goods stores. The remaining 15% was a combination of foreign, consumer, mass merchandise and sub-right sales.

The company's focus on branding programs means that, unlike the 2000—2005 period, when much of F+W's growth came from acquisitions, Steward is now putting the company's efforts on internal growth. This fall Jane Friedman, editorial director of Writer's Digest, How Books and Betterway Books, will oversee the launch of F+W's first humor line, Tow Books. Friedman calls humorist John Warner “the real heart of the project.” His 2005 parody of Writer's Digest, Fondling Your Muse, was the inspiration for Tow, and he will serve as an outside editor.

Not that humor, or books geared to the 18—35 set, are all concentrated in Tow. Under Friedman's direction, How Books (formerly How Design Books) will move deeper into pop culture this fall with the publication of Scott Francis's Monster Spotter's Guide to North America and Dear Future Me, based on the popular Web site. At North Light Crafts, editorial director Jay Staten is publishing books on knitting, crochet, felting and assemblage geared to hip, urban crafters rather than the more traditional titles found in Krause's Quilt and Sew division. Four years ago, North Light Fine Art Books added a pop culture how-to imprint, Impact Books, and the imprint's bestselling book, Jessica Peffer's Dragonart, continues to spawn new releases.

Many of F+W's books, hip or otherwise, benefit from the synergy of a variety of channels: magazines, Web sites and book clubs. For example, Impact editorial director Jamie Markle publishes 20 books a year specifically for the North Light Book Club and surveys club members on potential titles. “We turn to our magazines for their expertise, and many people that author articles also author books,” said Krause Publications editorial director Paul Kennedy. The relationship with the magazines, however, has evolved, Kennedy said. “When I started here, we did more looking to magazines for book ideas.” For book division president Domville, the way the magazine and book divisions co-operate is one of the biggest changes in the past two years. She agreed with Kennedy that the days when the book group would simply repackage magazine content in book form are gone. Still, she noted, “Magazines are great vehicles for us to understand our customer better and to advertise our books.”

But it's not just the collaboration between divisions that is so important for F+W going forward. By developing a relationship with its customers across channels, the company is hoping to build on the strength of its rich databases in the cases of Writer's Market and Krause, and content at imprints like Adams Media. For Steward's vision to succeed, the company must learn how to use its Web sites to help it deliver content however people want it—by book, magazine, direct or even over the cellphone.

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Memory Makers Books
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