Visiting ABRAMS: The Art of Publishing Books

NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital & Print Media students  at Abrams with Michael Jacobs (fourth from right), President & CEO; Michael Sand (fifth from right), VP & Publisher, Adult Trade; and Jennifer Brunn (sixth from right), Executive Director of Publicity at Abrams.

“As the landscape of art book publishing has changed, we have diversified to become a leading publisher of visual books generally,” stated Michael Sand, Vice President, Publisher, Adult Trade at Abrams Books. With dozens of Abrams bestselling books spread out across conference tables, the stunning works highlighted Sand’s words. As one of our hosts for the afternoon, Sand welcomed NYU MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students to the Abrams offices, eager to talk about the steps the company is taking to expand its reach across its many imprints. Answering questions about Abrams’ new ventures, digital markets, and marketing strategies, Sand explained how the company has transformed itself, yet maintained its dedication to publishing quality visual books for a wide range of audiences.

Founded in 1949 by Harry N. Abrams, Abrams is known for publishing art and illustrated books as well as children’s books, ranging from picture books to young adult fiction. The company has also launched Abrams Press, an imprint focusing on narrative nonfiction. And with the recent acquisition of The Overlook Press, Abrams is expanding the range of books it publishes. “It’s a doorway and an opportunity to publish adult fiction, as well as a deep and diverse backlist to fuel the growth of Abrams Press,” Sand stated. It’s really an exciting development.”

Kristin Janecek, a student in the program, was fascinated to learn how the adult and children’s teams work together in the company. “I really enjoyed hearing how collaborative their adult and children’s teams are with projects Abrams publishes. That type of collaborative work isn’t seen often, so it was refreshing to hear.”

Michael Sand, VP & Publisher, Adult Trade at Abrams, talks about “The Good Neighbor” by Maxwell King, one of the bestselling titles from Abrams’ new narrative nonfiction imprint, Abrams Press.

When a student, Pilar Sanchez, posed a question about the company’s digital markets, Sand was more than happy to answer. The e-book market is a small part of Abrams, but this is another area they are looking to expand. Currently, approximately 90% of their titles are converted into e-books, and this includes their visual books as well. “The fastest growing sector is audio books,” Sand noted, reflecting further on their digital efforts. “It’s an expanding part of our business on the text side.”

In regard to the once perceived threat of e-books toward print books, Michael Jacobs, President and CEO smiled and said, “We discovered, happily, that the physical book isn’t dead. It is very much alive. And the books we make are reflections of people’s interests and aspirations, even statements about how they see themselves or others.”

To learn more about the company’s marketing and publicity efforts, we heard from Jennifer Brunn, Executive Director, Publicity at Abrams. Every book is approached differently; there is no “cookie-cutter approach,” Brunn stated. “It’s one of the things that makes every day different.” With the growing importance of social media, marketing and publicity strategies have changed. It is critical to look at an author’s platform and develop methods to leverage it for the sale of the book. If an author doesn’t have a platform, the challenge is to find a way to “get the word out,” Brunn noted. For those interested in pursuing careers in these areas, it is important to have “hands in a lot of different skills,” added Brunn.

Going beyond selling into traditional bookstores, Abrams is always searching for new special markets for readers to purchase their books. “It’s always been our idea to sell books outside of bookshops,” noted Jacobs. With a “lively and dedicated” special markets department, the company sells its books in Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and even “mom-and-pop” stores. “Custom editions of our books are an increasing trend from [outside] accounts,” Sand noted. “But we always like to give our books a little something extra.”

Abrams is noted for a number of publishing successes. One of its most notable success stories is The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series written by famed author Jeff Kinney. With over 210 million copies sold around the world, Abrams has set a standard in children’s publishing. Jacobs noted how the book series appeals to reluctant readers and acts as a “gateway to reading.” Having worked on the marketing and distribution of the first five books of the acclaimed Harry Potter series when he was at Scholastic, Jacobs had this to say about the Diary of the Wimpy Kid series, “With the exception of Harry Potter, I’ve never seen a book travel so far….I think they call that a home run or a grand slam. A once-in-a-generation success.”

Students explore the Abrams library, housing every title the company has published.

At the conclusion of the discussion, NYU students were given a tour of the beautiful new office space where the walls are covered with art collected by the founder, Harry N. Abrams. We viewed a special area that contains every work the company has ever published. The shelves were packed, even after Abrams donated over 10,000 books to Housing Works (one of the organizations the Publishing Students Association supported during its first annual Holiday Book Drive). Although the company has transformed a lot over the years, it still maintains its essence in every new venture it seeks. In the words of Jacobs, that means “passion, commitment, and putting your belief in it.” Jacobs’s parting words gave an insight into Abrams success: “You have to first start the energy, and keep it going. We are looking for new opportunities where we haven’t been before.”

By Jasmine M. Key






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