Workman Legacy

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.


Publishing legend Peter Workman passed away over the weekend. There have been many wonderful profiles and articles about him.

I am a huge fan of the company he created and the care in which the books and products were produced. He left quite a legacy. Workman is a publisher with a unique perspective and unbelievably successful and innovative.

What is it about Workman Publishing that sets them apart?

Workman published for the long-term:  Publishers generally focus on promotion during the first 2-3 months. If it sells, they will continue to push it. But the vast majorities of titles do not sell and then are ignored by publishers. Workman was better than most at promoting and selling books for the long haul. They continued to market and sell the titles.  The marketing plan was set for years, not months. Workman used to run ads that listed the reprints and the number of copies in print. No other publisher did that.

Workman titles have a ‘special look’:  A Workman book has a certain style and look. Open up many Workman titles and it is obvious who the published the book. Very few publishers have a strong enough design that it is instantly recognizable. Also, Workman continued to look for the ‘feel’ of the book. The quality of print titles has declined as publishers cut costs, Workman titles maintain their heft.  Workman also experimented with new formats in books like GALLOP and BRAIN QUEST. Workman also created the PAGE-A-DAY boxed calendars.

Workman diversified their customer base:  Physical bookstores had two huge growth spurts during Workman’s time. In the late 1980’s, it was the growth of the mall bookstores via Waldenbooks and BDaltons. Then in the 1990’s, it was the massive growth of the superstore concept of B&N and Borders. Both of these trends created a lot of extra shelf space and publishers moved to fill it. Workman also grew with these but also pushed heavily into the special markets. When bookstores imploded and shelf space eroded, Workman thrived because at least 50% of their books were sold in channels outside of bookstores.

Workman strategically bought other companies: Today’s publishing corporate giants all were built by buying and absorbing other publishers. Workman also acquired a handful of publishers. But with each purchase, the publisher was allowed to basically remain independent. Algonquin remained in NC, Storey in MA and Timber Press in OR. By allowing each publisher to maintain its personality, Workman allowed each to grow but remain independent and strong.

Workman isn’t the only publisher to do these things. But they execute better than others. Plus they remain true to their original mission and continue to thrive in these changing times.

Peter Workman created a company that is respected by all. His impact continues to be seen today. He will be missed but his legacy will continue forever.


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