The other day, one of my colleagues mentioned that she saw one of our titles at a knit shop window (below). The title was Silkworms, a nonfiction work we brought in from a Japanese publisher, Akane Shobo. A then on-staff editor, Sylvia Johnson, wrote the text. The awesome photographs by Isao Kishida completed the package.
We first published this book in the United States in 1982. Even I wasn’t part of the company then! And just a few weeks ago, Silkworms came up for reprint for the eighteenth time. We chose to keep it in stock because it keeps selling—70,000 copies so far.
That got me to thinking why this little book has done so well and about our backlist in general. To the first point, Silkworms has found its way into craft shops, knit shops, craft fairs, and the American Museum of Natural History. It’s popular among the home-schooling crowd.
Many publishers—especially large ones—make a routine practice of weeding out their older backlist titles, whether they’re selling or not. LPG actually assesses our backlist needs somewhat differently. For example, in the classroom and home-school markets, buyers aren’t so much searching for the latest copyrights as much as for content that’s appropriate for their kids. In the library market, copyrights matter a great deal more.
The result of this dichotomy is that we continue to reprint paperback books, like Silkworms, with quite old copyrights. They find their way into classrooms around the country. I just heard from an author the other week who exclaimed happily that he was still getting royalties from books he published with us in the early 1990s. A book on Silkworm moths that we published in hardcover in the early 2000s didn’t perform nearly as well. It’s slowly selling out the stock of its first and only print run.