The message from last week’s gargantuan National Stationery Show — all 270,000 square feet of it, sprawled over New York’s Javits Center from May 19-22 — was a gold-embossed, watermarked greeting card carrying that shopworn mantra: content is king. Well, this time around content was king, as an estimated 15,000 buyers seemed to breeze right by acres of blank books, journals, diaries, and calendars as they dove into the booths of traditional publishers such as Workman, Chronicle, Random House, Penguin Putnam, Sourcebooks, and relative book newcomer Blue Mountain Arts.
Amid the madding (and maddening) crowds, order pads were said to be smoking, and buyers were breathing heavily over Random’s new Potter Style line, for example, which launched at the show. Aimed at special markets, these titles consist of mainly recycled material from artwork in the Potter files, spruced up with clever designs such as the popular Ina Garten vertical cards, which extend the franchise of that East Hampton shrine to gourmandise, Barefoot Contessa.
Perhaps the most ballyhooed book of the fair, however, could be glimpsed over at Candlewick’s booth: Fairie-ality, from the Irish House of Ellwand, with drawings by fashion illustrator David Downton. This 130-page, full-color concoction of 150 designs was the brainchild of publisher Karen Lotz, and is packed with miniature couture designs for elves and fairies created entirely from organic materials — feathers, flowers, leaves, and nuts, plus a witty accompanying text. Like much of the sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy, the designs are preserved through photography (in this case, though, the target audience includes fashion gurus and design hounds). PR maven Jane Lahr, hired for her work on Dinotopia, is setting her sights on FAO Schwarz, Madame Alexander, Zany Brainy, and other outlets. The $40 book has a 50,000 first printing, with major licensing opportunities in the offing for both book (foreign rights) and non-book categories. Watch out for this one at Frankfurt.
Beyond fairies, other items flying high at the fair included Sourcebooks’ five-year-old romantic “coupon” book series, just updated with the popular title Love Checks — the checks come either blank or imprinted with promissory notes entitling the bearer to, say, a foot massage or a month’s worth of dishes. Meanwhile, much ado was brewing for Blue Mountain Arts, published by SPS Studios (it was the online card company sold to Excite@home by Susan and Mike Shutz, subsequently purchased by American Greetings). Now under the direction of Helene Steinbuck and Mike Levine, Blue Mountain has been producing gift books to go with their printed cards, and sales of the Language of… series have reportedly topped 2.5 million copies. And for what it’s worth, “Bookmark Gems,” a Canadian company showing elegant bookmarks of chains with crystal and metal beads, appeared to be selling up a storm.
The strong book presence this time around may owe itself to a noticeably fresher design sense than in years past. Garborg’s — the inspirational publisher of books and paper goods — has produced a very stylish line under the Max Lucado imprint, worthy of Chronicle Books. The same goes for Publications International, whose stand featured only their four-year-old paper goods line and not a single book, including an inspirational Silver Linings series with a handsome Prayer of Jabez knockoff. And Pantone has cleverly entered the market with a brightly covered and well-received line of its own. None of these smart designs could compete with the likes of Constance Kay, however, whose stand showing handmade art cards was jammed — as opposed to the deserted Kate Spade booth, where it seemed her fashion sense wouldn’t quite fly in fairie-land.