On a Road Less Traveled
A few blocks from Philadelphia's famous Colonial-era buildings—buildings in which the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and drafted the U.S. Constitution—is an old restored brownstone. Away from the throngs of roving tourists, this quaint, historic building houses a contemporary publishing company that turns out some of the most creative and innovative book projects on the market today.
Running Press, an independent trade publishing house, specializes in highly designed adult non-fiction books, children's titles and most especially book-plus projects. Bestsellers have included Sisters, a compilation of pictures and compelling stories about the special bond of female siblings, and I Feel Great, And You Will, Too! by Pat Croce, the famously energetic and inspirational president of the Philadel-phia '76ers basketball team.
Established in 1972 by Buz Teacher and his brother Law-rence (the latter is now retired), Running Press started out with just two niches: how-to books for home improvement and gardening. The first real innovation, however, came in 1976 when the brothers produced a book with a seed company partner, in which seed packets were incorporated onto the cover art.
"It was a fun project and it attracted a different kind of attention than traditional books," remembers Teacher. And the rest, as the adage goes, is
history. Today, 85 employees produce and sell 175 new titles and book-plus projects a year. The company's backlist is 600 titles strong; 60 percent of annual sales come from the backlist lineup, says Teacher. Running Press uses numerous manufacturers and vendors, including R.R. Donnelley & Sons and Buchanan in the U.S., and L. Rex, JY International and Hong Kong Graphics abroad. "We have long-term relationships with some vendors," says Peter Horodowich, production director, "but it's also important for us to continue to meet new suppliers to see their unique capabilities and techniques."
Horodowich and his production staff often request quotes from vendors they've not used previously and will sometimes send a completed book to new vendors just to get feedback on quality, pricing and scheduling. "This helps us ensure that our current vendors remain competitive," says Horodo-wich.
In addition, Teacher often visits book manufacturing plants to get new ideas for projects. "I leave vendor selection to my production staff," says Teacher, "but I like to see for myself what new and creative techniques vendors are using. "We try to be original in our book projects," he continues. "So we pay no attention to things like traditional trim size or usual paper stocks. I've
always been fascinated with what's possible from today's printing and
Some of the unusual production tactics and strategies Teacher uncovered are apparent in the publisher's book-plus projects, which are among the company's most innovative releases. For example, Pocket Packets is a series of small themed kits, each containing myriad items. The Zen Gardening Kit, for instance, includes a 2x3-inch, 36-page booklet on the centuries-old
tradition; a small packet of sand and a cardboard base to pour it into; a tiny wooden rake; and three black pebbles—all packed in a palm-sized gift box.
"The challenging part is procurement," says Rachel Cabrera, Running Press' production manager. "For these kits, we have to source not only book components, but also things like bath oils, diffusers, sand and pebbles. It's an opportunity for us to learn other aspects of purchasing besides just the usual book components."
The kits are wholly designed in-house, says Bill Jones, design director. Ideas, which come from both internal and external sources, are floated at regularly scheduled "New Titles" meetings. Once an idea is approved, Jones and his design team develop sketches for packaging. "Our associate publisher sometimes builds prototypes of kits in his home workshop and brings them in for us in the design department to examine, build on and copy," says Jones. "On Monday mornings, it's fun to see what he's concocted in his basement over the weekend."
According to Cabrera, a book production veteran who spent many years in New York publishing houses, "Running Press really fosters creativity. Everyone is open to new ideas here. What drew me from New York was this team and the atmosphere. It's very cohesive."
Jennifer Worick, editorial director, agrees. "Everyone is encouraged to be creative and submit ideas." Project editors, for example, do not only developmental and copy editing, but also acquisitions. "If an editor has a book idea, he or she can propose it, get it approved and sign up an author—in other words, make it happen from conception to completion. This offers editors an opportunity to grow in their jobs and expand their skill sets."
Worick gives an example from her own experience: A fan of Nancy Drew titles, she spent more than a year re-reading the book series, researching rights and
submitting ideas to the Running Press team. Her efforts paid off. This year, the publisher will release licensed miniature books and magnetic postcards filled with Nancy Drew wit and wisdom, advice from the fabled teenaged sleuth.
Other licensed projects include miniature editions of popular Disney titles such as The Lion King, Mulan, and Beauty and the Beast. A partnership with Wine Spectator magazine generated the recent release of Wine Spectator's Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine.
Such projects allow employees (from editors to customer service personnel to salespeople) to fuse some of their interests and ideas into their jobs, says Worick. Undoubtedly, this practice is what enables Running Press to attract some top talent from other publishing houses, she adds. "This is an environment that really fosters idea-generation."
From Pat Croce to French cuisine
In addition to the book-plus projects, Running Press also produces traditional trade books, and one particular specialty: books authored by nationally recognized Philadelphians. Georges Perrier, chef and owner of the renowned Philadel-phia bistro, Le Bec-Fin, which regularly garners top ratings from Condé Nast Traveler and the Zagats, finally released a cookbook filled with recipes for his French cuisine. In addition, restaurateur and social activist Judy Wicks, owner of Philadelphia's White Dog Café, which Condé Nast Traveler called "one of 50 American restaurants worth traveling to visit," also published a cookbook through Running Press. The books and sample recipes are available at www.runningpress.com.
The company recently released its first e-book (Croce's I Feel Great, And You Will, Too!). Content conversion was a snap, says Teacher; the distributor, BarnesAndNoble.com, was able to use the original files from the publisher to republish in electronic form.
Asked if he'll release more titles as e-books, Teacher says, "Sure,
why not? "It's a simple thing to do," he adds. "We want to make our works as available as possible and allow readers to access text how-ever they choose, in print or e-book format."
And so, Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin's beloved city and the hub of Colonial-era publishing, progresses into the 21st century.
Workflow Tips From Running Press
How do only 85 employees each year keep 175 new titles and complicated book-plus projects on track? In addition to tried-and-true tactics, such as setting realistic production schedules and hiring talented employees, Running Press staffers use the following strategies:
View meetings as public forums. The creative team (editors, designers and production personnel) meet monthly to discuss current and upcoming projects. "We look at where everything is in production," says Jennifer Worick, editorial director. "The meetings are like public forums, so employees are all aware of successes and problems. Attendance at the meetings helps keep everyone up-to-date and accountable."
Fix problems and move on. Don't fight about them, says Rachel Cabrera, production manager.
Consciously foster teamwork. "Go for cohesiveness," says Peter Horodowich, production director.
Don't overwhelm employees with work. In a tightening economy, it's tempting to reduce staff and expect the remaining employees to produce more. But, says Bill Jones, design director, you can't get extraordinary work out of people who are swamped. "Assign workloads to staffers according to their skill level and available time."
Do your homework when choosing vendors. That's Publisher Buz Teacher's advice: "Place the project carefully the first time, then leave the files with the book manufacturer for easier reprint production. Everyone makes money with reprints: publisher, printer and author."
Running Press At a Glance
Running Press, Philadelphia
Description: General trade publisher
Produces: 175 new titles a year
Backlist: More than 600 titles
Publisher: Buz Teacher
Production director: Peter Horodowich
Publishing partnerships with companies such as Disney, Wine Spectator magazine and I Love Lucy; book-plus projects; mini editions; titles written by nationally recognized Philadelphians.
Primary book categories:
Adult non-fiction and children's titles
A significant recent offering:
I Feel Great, And You Will, Too! by Pat Croce
"If an editor has a book idea, he or she can propose it, get it approved and sign up an author—in other words, make it happen from conception to completion."
-Jennifer Worick, editorial director
"Our associate publisher sometimes builds prototype of kits in his home workshop and brings them in for us in the design department to examine, build and copy. On Monday mornings, it's fun to see what he's concocted."
-Bill Jones, design director