The Importance of Place: San Francisco
San Francisco’s counter-culture atmosphere has contributed to the artsy and free-thinking essence of a number of the many publishers located there, giving two of them, Chronicle Books and McSweeney’s, more in common than locale. Both are known for meticulous and original design and packaging. Be it high-quality paper-over-board bindings, embossing or die-cuts, or be it never-before-thought-of content and formats, each keeps innovation at the forefront.
According to Chronicle Publishing Director Lorena Jones, readers frequently say: “I knew it was a Chronicle book when I saw it.” Asked why Chronicle is able to be so inventive, she explains: “the culture here encourages experimentation and we have the freedom to fail. That’s how you innovate.”
Jones finds Chronicle’s strong brand identity and willingness to experiment inspiring and claims the existence of a “special sauce.” “It’s what happens when you attract people with creativity. That becomes exponential when they work together. It leads to a consistent statement we’ve been making to the world for 45 years.”
McSweeney’s Editorial Director Ethan Nosowsky confirms the similarity: “One place we have a lot in common with is Chronicle. They … attend to issues of the physical design of books to the degree that we do.” While he dislikes the word “brand,” he agrees that readers know what they can expect from McSweeney’s books, which is “high-quality writing paired with attention to high-quality design.” The attention to design is rooted in founder Dave Eggers’ training as an illustrator.
Nosowsky, who joined the house in late 2011, says: “I’ve never been at a place that is as driven to not let anything be less than excellent—every single book. These are people who are invested in how each book comes out.”
Through its website, its blogs, its quarterly and various magazines, says Nosowsky, “McSweeney’s sort of direct relationship with its readers is something that’s more rare even among small publishers.” It has solidly established itself as a publisher rooted in community with a quirky anti-authoritarian voice and a stellar attention to detail. BB
Related story: The Brand's the Thing