Italy’s DeAgostini Publishing is one of the largest illustrated book and magazine publishers in the world, with its titles available in 46 countries and 21 languages, generating revenue of over $650 million annually. But a major hole in its book program has been the U.S. The company began to quietly address that two years ago when two U.K. executives, James Franks and Robin Pearson, marketing director and editorial director of DeAgostini UK Ltd., respectively, began researching ways, Frank said, “we could reformat our editorial assets for the U.S. market.”

To help research the U.S. market, DeAgostini hired Buz Teacher, founder of Running Press and now an industry consultant; the choice of Teacher to introduce DeAgostini to American retailers, distributors, and other industry players was deliberate since DeAgostini’s publishing program will feature lots of book-plus packages that are the hallmark of Running Press. “They have a real sense of what people want and what sells,” Teacher said of DeAgostini. “Because they sell in very large quantities around the world, they are able to put substantial creative and production effort into every product.”

After a year of interviews and discussions, DeAgostini began a product test last year, and the company was encouraged enough by the results to launch a major presence in the U.S. beginning with a debut at BookExpo America (booth 2840) and building to a rollout of a full line next year. The company has hired Darren Deguire, formerly with Advance Publications, as general manager, and rented office space on Broadway just south of the Flatiron Building in New York City. The first products have been drawn from material originally published for other markets, but Franks said DeAgostini plans to develop titles that originate in the U.S. as soon as possible.

DeAgostini’s list is aimed heavily at the children’s market, although there are titles and packages for adults as well. One title for adults that DeAgostini is bringing to the U.S. is Cake Decorating, a package that includes a cake decorating course as well as the tools to create cakes, which has sold 700,000 units in the U.K. Other strong sellers abroad appearing in the U.S. this year include Real Bugs (books plus preserved insect specimens) and Real Treasures (books combined with gems and minerals). Franks said DeAgostini wants its titles to encourage children to “build their knowledge on different topics that could one day develop into a passion for them.” The Real Bugs and Real Treasures titles are housed in what DeAgostini calls Collect-a-Case displays that it hopes will lead children to buy more than one copy of a title on a subject. To date, DeAgostini has arranged for distribution through supermarkets and will use BEA to discuss trade distribution.

Because of the tactile nature of the DeAgostini list, Franks is confident that his titles can still do well in a marketplace growing more digital by the day. DeAgostini will be putting its initial digital emphasis on the Web, where it has developed a number of Web sites that look to build a community around a particular subject. DeAgostini’s other digital initiative is developing apps based on its book content. Either available now or in the works are How My Body Works, My Animal Farm, plus digital photo and language courses.

Looking ahead to 2013, Pearson said the plan is to build on existing programs with new products and formats. “We have very deep wells of content to draw from, and many more exciting ideas for creative products within these brands,” Pearson said. “We will also introduce new programs based on our most successful international products, each one designed to work within different channels and given a unique twist that will appeal to the U.S. consumer.”