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Cover Story : The Two Sides of David Borgenicht

Quirk Books' president pairs the irreverent and entertaining with a dead-serious (though somewhat unorthodox) business model and brand.

August 2009 By James Sturdivant
Amid the gussied up romances, male action fables and screenplay-bound interpersonal dramas making up The New York Times’ trade fiction best-seller list, one book stands out like a corpse at a wedding. It’s called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” currently the only book on the list to combine gory scenes of zombie mayhem with the romantic exploits of a beloved Victorian-era literary heroine. Nothing in the book world in recent months has made the kind of splash (or should we say, splatter) that this title has, from the frantic Internet buzz greeting the announcement in February of its publication to the huge sales following its release this spring. The book has even been added to the curriculum at several university English departments.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was the brainchild of Jason Rekulak, editorial director at Quirk Books, a small publisher headquartered along a genteel block in the Old City section of Philadelphia. “We thought it was hilarious,” recalls company President and Publisher David Borgenicht. “I was a little uncertain as to whether it would find a market, who it would appeal to, but we all agreed the idea was too crazy not to try it.”

Combining a Jane Austen classic with schlock horror may be unpalatable to some, but such unorthodox pairings have proven a recipe for success at Quirk Books, which has also gained notice for an unconventional sales and licensing strategy designed to put its books, in the words of Borgenicht, “in the world at large.”

“I think it’s the attitude that the books we create need to be as compelling as iPhones,” he says. “If you are thinking about books that are going to sell in places other than bookstores, then you are not just competing with other books. You are competing with t-shirts and fart makers and candlesticks and music and DVDs and all these things.”

In an era of platform-neutral thinking, the most radical notion Quirk brings to the table is not that of dropping zombies into classic fiction. It’s seeing the printed book itself as central to a business model. If conventional books are like letters, nice to have, but losing ground to electronic delivery, then Quirk books are like singing telegrams—flashy, attention-grabbing and irreplaceable.

 

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