The publishing business may have changed a lot over the last decade, but that doesn’t mean established companies can’t build on past success. Andrews McMeel Publishing sees great opportunities ahead that should lead to more decades of leadership.
A division of Andrews McMeel Universal, Andrews McMeel Publishing prints as many as 200 new general nonfiction trade, cookbook, gift and humor book titles each year. The company is extremely well known for its collections of popular newspaper cartoonists, who include Garry Trudeau of “Doonesbury” and Gary Larson of “The Far Side.” It is also a leading calendar publisher with licensing relationships with renowned properties including Dilbert, Disney and Thomas Kinkade.
Andrews McMeel Universal’s history dates back to 1970 when it was founded as Universal Press Syndicate. Universal Uclick, as the division is now called, is currently the world’s largest independent newspaper syndicate and Andrews McMeel Publishing is a leading force in book and calendar publishing.
Founded in Kansas, the company is infused with Midwestern values. Andrews McMeel Publishing has drawn on its internal culture to become an industry-leading publisher. To this day, it remains a private company, and its founding families are still actively involved in operations.
“On the calendar side, we decided to focus on licensed properties, which enhanced our emphasis on content,” says Michael Nonbello, vice president and creative director for calendars and greeting cards. “That emphasis on content keeps us up to date on current trends and subject matter, as well as the direction of new and old formats.”
Andrews McMeel Publishing has adapted its strategic thinking to take advantage of major industry trends. For example, the children’s category is one of the fastest-growing categories in the publishing industry, and the company now markets many more products into that section.
Earlier this year, the company announced the launch of the AMP! Comics for Kids line of paperback graphic novel stories. The products are targeted at children in the middle grades (grades 3-8). Some of the first titles are “Big Nate Makes the Grade” and “Big Nate All Work and No Play: A Collection of Sundays” by Lincoln Peirce, “AAAA! A Foxtrot Kids Edition” by Bill Amend and “Lio: There’s a Monster in My Socks” by Mark Tatulli.
In August, the company announced an expansion of this graphic novel publishing effort. It signed a two-book deal with Tatulli for “The Chronicles of Desmond,” the first of which will be published in October 2013.
“We have a huge push going on to reach readers in the children and middle-grade category with our AMP! Comics for Kids line,” VP of Licensing James Andrews says.
Changes to the retail sector – such as Borders’ liquidation – have meant additional hurdles to overcome. “Borders’ closing was a blow to the calendar business, but calendar buyers didn’t go away,” Nonbello says. “We’ve shifted to different retailers and markets where people are shopping.”
“We’ve also become more involved in the specialty market,” Andrews adds. “We’re trying to get cookbook calendars into places like Williams-Sonoma, and sports calendars into retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods. The market has fragmented, but consumers are still there.”
The digital space is another area where Andrews McMeel Publishing has worked to expand. In fact, the company now has more than 1,000 digital titles.
“Growth in e-books has been tremendous and hasn’t slowed down for us yet,” Andrews says.
As the company moves forward, part of its focus will be on maintaining great relationships with licensors. Andrews McMeel Publishing strives to partner with renowned properties that have a significant pop culture presence. The company seeks relevant property owners when it recognizes a trend, and once it has licensors on board, they tend to stay.
“We have many licensors we’ve worked with for many years,” Nonbello says. “The first licensor I signed 20 years ago is still here, and they stay because we treat their properties with respect.”
Part of treating properties with respect hinges on ensuring that internal editors and designers have the skillsets and personalities needed to understand how the company does business.
Another part of the process is keeping the property owner involved. Licensors are given a great deal of input in the production and presentation of final products. Nonbello says Andrews McMeel Publishing keeps them involved at every level and every turn.
Andrews McMeel Publishing is well aware of the challenges and priorities that will be its focus in the next few years. It must continue to develop exceptional content and keep up with format changes, paying attention to e-media and how that affects products.
“We are aware of the volatility of the marketplace,” Andrews says. “Although it is getting better and some dark days are behind us, it is still a tough consumer environment. We need to keep our backlist relevant and fresh because it helps us get through tough times. From there, we must go out and find the new compelling content to take us into the future.”