Can Infobase Successfully Usher the World Almanac Into the Digital Age? President Mark McDonnell discusses purchasing the iconic brand at a challenging time for reference publishers.
It's well-known that reference books generally have been suffering lately, another facet of the industry that has been affected by the Internet and consumers' easy access to free information. "For 2009, revenue-wise, … we estimated reference book sales would fall much [more] than that of the other categories we expected to do poorly this year …," says Michael Norris, senior analyst at Simba Information, a market research and consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. "The simple reason is that consumers have a different relationship with reference-book content than they do with, say, a great work of fiction or an engaging biography. They mostly just need a snippet of information here and there, and being that the Web houses a lot of what a consumer thinks he or she needs, few are bothering to buy traditional reference books."
Despite this outlook, last month New York-based educational media company Infobase Publishing purchased the World Almanac imprint from Pleasantville, N.Y.-based Reader's Digest Association. Infobase President Mark McDonnell is confident and optimistic about his company's latest acquisition, noting that he not only expects to continue publishing the chunky reference books, but expanding the World Almanac offerings both digitally and in print. He recently elaborated on his plans for the brand to Book Business Extra:
Book Business Extra: Why did Infobase Publishing purchase the World Almanac imprint now, in light of both the current economic environment and the fact that reference-book sales in general are suffering?
Mark McDonnell: ... We already owned the content of "The World Almanac" from a prior deal, but we did not own the brand World Almanac. And so this was an opportunity for us to acquire the brand and the right to publish "The World Almanac" and "Book of Facts" and "The World Almanac for Kids." So, even though there's obviously competition from the Internet, … those books are very strong sellers in the trade market, and so it made sense for us to acquire those properties. We also have plans to convert them to online pay sites. ... We … will launch two … online subscription databases—one for the older, high school, college, adult market, and one for the young-adult market.