The topic at a recent American Book Producer Association (ABPA)’s brown bag lunch panel – open to nonmembers for $20 – was art books, and three publishers spoke to the assembled group of packagers about what is working, where it’s selling, and what projects they‘re looking for. Thames & Hudson’s President/Publisher Will Balliett, National Geographic’s recently named VP Editorial Director, Janet Goldstein, and Rizzoli’s Associate Publisher Jim Muschett engaged the audience in a lively, surprisingly upbeat discussion of what makes a successful art book. It differed for the three: for NGS, it was something that fit the Society’s mission and offered “value at a moderate price”; for Thames & Hudson, a multilingual, high quality book that could be sold worldwide was important; and for Jim Muschett, special sales opportunities were a big part of the successful book’s formula.
All agreed that social media is currently less important than reviews, or a book making a “best book of the year list.” Ebooks have not yet proven themselves in this category – despite each having worked with Apple, at its inception, to create iBooks. On the other hand, high quality design and manufacturing is increasingly important and, for Rizzoli and T&H, price (even above $100) is less critical than it once seemed to be. There were several reasons given for this, including decorators buying books for clients’ shelves – “books as staging,” one packager in the audience commented knowingly. And an appreciation for quality seems to go hand in hand with a willingness to pay luxury prices for it.
The publishers agreed it was important for packagers who want to do business with them to present a fully developed, well researched concept – “cook it a little more,” said Muschett, echoing an earlier comment from Goldstein – because with shrinking staffs, no one in house has the time to devote to creating a book from scratch. It’s important, too, that publisher and packager can work together to bring in the best book for the right price, which ABPA president Richard Rothschild referred to in his experience with NGS as “horse trading.” There was a lot of openness to the possibility of a packager supplying all components of the book, or just the design or editorial, and also surprising willingness to discuss which foreign rights might be retained or returned, if not sold within a reasonable amount of time.
Meanwhile, ABPA announced that its website is being revamped, and will soon have information about its thirty or so members that includes their subject category specialties, samples of their books, links to their URLs, and contact information. By the end of February, this will be available at their website, ABPAonline.org