The Folio Society


The Folio SocietyFine book publishers are the gems of the publishing industry. Their websites aren’t smeared with computerized devices touting their capacity to hold thousands of books at a time. They often don’t capitalize on crowd-sourced recommendations and reviews, mostly because they expect their work to speak for itself. What you will find on their sites and in their shops may be confusing at first—since we tend to be conditioned to look for star ratings and bestseller lists to guide our browsing—but you see, fine book publishers are interested in the curation of literature as art. Their mandates often center around raising the status of a book to a collector’s item. They have less interest in the new and exciting, and more in the exquisite and timeless nature of beauty. The Folio Society has represented this movement toward elegance in publishing for over 60 years. So, come join us as we spend this week taking an intimate look inside The Folio Society.

Tell us about your publishing company.

The Folio Society was founded in 1947 by Charles Ede, a book lover who, in the midst of post-war, ration-weary Britain, had a dream of creating a publishing company that could produce beautiful, yet affordable editions of the world’s greatest books. That has been our ethos ever since. We understand that the pleasure in reading is enhanced by the typography, illustrations, binding materials, paper, and printing—all working together to create a sum greater than the individual parts.

How has The Folio Society evolved over its 60-year history? Are your original mandates the same ones that propel you forward into the New Year?

Our mandate hasn’t changed. We remain dedicated to great literature; reproducing exceptional editions of great fiction and non-fiction; bringing well-known classics to book lovers; and enticing them with some undiscovered gems. Of course, in the past, as a direct-to-consumer publishing house, it was only by opting into membership that people could buy our books. In the past few years, we have broken down all barriers. While membership remains a way for us to reward our most loyal, regular customers, anyone interested in our wide variety of titles can now browse and buy directly from our website.

What are the essential characteristics or beliefs that your staff, as a whole, shares? What is the mandate you all work toward achieving each day and what sort of work environment do you cultivate to help reach your organizational goals as such a unique publisher in the fine books market?

Two things bind all of us who work at The Folio Society: a passion for literature and a passion for craftsmanship. The great books we transform into Folio titles fire our imaginations and creatively challenge us every day. Collaboration and open thinking are key to us realizing these passions.

On average, how many people contribute to the production of a new title, and what roles do they play? Considering the care and personality that you infuse in each print, we imagine that your teams are composed of professionals with quite interesting skill sets.

A great number of people contribute to the creation of a Folio edition—it could easily number a dozen simply in our offices. The editorial team ensures our text will be the finest available from choosing the best translations to fact-checking at an array of specialist libraries across the world, even emending the textual imperfections which often creep into modern editions of classic works. They also work with our production teams to add extra value—selecting the illustrations, newly commissioned or researched, including newly drawn maps in history titles, and commissioning introductions from leading writers. Our production team is responsible for the beauty of the final edition, selecting the right paper, the right binding materials, commissioning artists, researching images in even the most inaccessible libraries and repositories; and of course designing all aspects of the book—the binding design, the typography, the page layout. Once a book is designed, the process continues with our printers and binders.

Let’s speak to the special introductions to your books, written by key figures in the arts, media, science, and more. How do you select these people to write the introductions and what guidance do you give them on what to include in their original pieces?

Authors, by their very nature, enjoy engaging in discussion about books and writing. More often than not they are delighted to be invited to introduce one of our editions, particularly when the title in question is a personal favourite or has had an influence on their own work. We have been fortunate to have an extraordinary array of literary talent, from many different fields, introduce our editions: Peter Ackroyd, Jay McInerney, Colm Tóibín, Margaret Atwood, A. S. Byatt, Penelope Lively, Terry Jones, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to name just a few. We prefer to give our introducers a free reign regarding the angle they wish to take. We are interested in their personal response to an author’s writing, and recognise that their skill is in shedding new and sometimes unexpected light on a great work of literature.

How does a publisher of fine books manage to produce beautiful tomes that are affordable to everyone? Representing an industry that’s placing increasing emphasis on printing mass market paperbacks as cheaply as possible, or converting entirely to an e-book model, your value proposition is admirable yet difficult to conceptualize.

Folio Society books are produced to last. We select paper for our books that will last 150 years. We choose exactly the right cut of exactly the right typeface to suit the subject matter or period of a title. We sew bindings—whether made of paper, cloth, buckram or leather—to ensure strength and longevity, to allow them to be opened and laid flat, and returned to their protective slipcases intact, for enjoyment many, many years later. While our books are more expensive than paperbacks (and certainly more so than e-books), they are not that much more expensive than the average hardback. So when you consider the craftsmanship and the edition’s longevity, Folio books are extraordinarily good value for the money.

Below you’ll find examples of the exceptional covers of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Between Silk and Cyanide, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, all of which show an amazing variety of typeface and graphic treatment as well as detailed views of the exceptional quality of the fabrics used on the covers of these special editions. By clicking on the images, you’ll find even more information about these special books.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Have you ever considered releasing curated e-books of your hardcovers?

We are passionate about literature—anything that enables people to read is a good thing. However, our objective is to celebrate the beauty of printed books, and to produce objects of permanence. At the moment, The Folio Society has no plans to release an e-book. Yet while we will continue to champion traditional craftsmanship, we are always curious about what new developments in publishing technology may be around the corner.

What are some new titles you’ll be releasing in the New Year and why were these particular works chosen?

We are about to launch some exciting new titles for Spring 2014—twelve beautiful new editions that reflect our eclectic and interesting range. In our spring list, Kirkegaard’s Fear and Trembling will sit side by side E. B. White’s Stuart Little; Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas appears in a spectacular new edition, as does Frederick Forsyth’s peerless thriller The Day of the Jackal. The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell is the first of a forthcoming series that will commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War; and to cap it all, we have created a magnificent illustrated edition of James Joyce’s final, and some believe, greatest work, Finnegans Wake. And that’s just the beginning of our year.

Here are some of the beautiful cover images of these exciting new releases. Click on the covers to see more information about the book, including close-up images of the artistic craftsmanship poured into each work.

Fear and Trembling by Søren KierkegaardStuart Little by E. B. White

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules VerneThe Day of the Jackel by Frederick Forsyth

The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul FussellFinnegan's Wake by James Joyce

How are you using your website to communicate with your audience? On that note, who do you consider to be your audience?

Our audience is really anyone who loves books—specifically, beautiful printed books. We are constantly striving to improve our site so that the books—of which there are more than 400 to be found there—are presented in the best light. More than that, we want to grow our website into a genuine hub for people who love literature, fiction and non-fiction, who have a hunger for discovering books they didn’t know existed, or finding their favourite book in a keepsake edition. They can read blogs, find out what is happening in the world of books beyond Folio, join in discussions with us through our social media, view videos about our books and explore Folio membership, especially if collecting books is a passion. The website will continue to grow and evolve and more content will be added almost on a daily basis.

How do you make use of your Twitter presence? What added value do you provide your readers through the medium?

Twitter is an important medium for us. It’s a great way for our readers—and those simply interested in what we do—to keep updated on our latest news, learn about new title releases, and have some fun with our competitions.

It also inspires us. Our recent #inscribedby campaign was a fantastic revelation, where we asked people to contribute pictures of books they owned which had been inscribed. From Second World War munitions workers to Zsa Zsa Gabor, each example we were sent told its own unique story. Just another reminder of why we love books so much!

Here are some of the great tweets that The Folio Society’s Twitter followers contributed to the campaign:

inscribedby1

inscribedby2

Inscribedby3

Inscribedby4

What are some of your most popular titles? Which have remained most relevant over time?

Many of the established classics such as The Wind in the Willows, consistently sit near the top of our bestseller list. However, sometimes unexpected titles prove enduring among our readers. For example, not many publishers could list Dee Brown’s majestic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy, or Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary together on their list of bestsellers.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth GrahameBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownThe Foundation Trilogy by Isaac AsimovThe Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

Outline your process of acquiring new titles. Do you exclusively publish classic tomes that have been published before with an established reader base? Do you also work with new authors?

Letters to Vicky edited by Andrew RobertsOur aim is to publish the world’s best books—from all genres—in a form that is worthy of their content. Each year, our publishing programme is carefully curated with this in mind, and our selections range from established classics, to relatively unknown titles that we believe deserve to be rediscovered. While the majority of our editions have been published before, each of our books offers the reader a new reading experience. From time to time, we also publish new compilations that are unique to us such as Letters to Vicky, correspondence between Queen Victoria and her eldest daughter, edited by Andrew Roberts.

Speak to the concept of books as “tactile and aesthetic objects.” From The Folio Society’s perspective, where does the reader’s journey with the book begin and how do you facilitate its evolution?

The journey can really begin anywhere—from an early childhood experience to falling in love and appreciating a classic later in life. What’s interesting is that we encounter many readers who tell us how much they like the feel of the paper, the sound of the page turning, that quiet crackle a book makes when it opens for the first time, and even the smell. There’s a total sensory experience that print book readers are loathe to abandon. And there’s a visual comfort many of us get from being surrounded by books—whether that’s the pleasure of strewn piles around the house or the organized richness of quality titles on our personal library shelves. We are dedicated to meeting those desires, providing books that are treasured for their aesthetic and experiential value.

The Folio Society’s Best Sellers

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams Pompeii - The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard The Once and Future King by T. H. White The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Animal Farm by George Orwell

A special thanks…

We thank The Folio Society, and in particular Toby Hartwell, Managing Director; Sheri Gee, Senior Art Director; Johanna Geary, Managing Editor; Jean-Marc Rathé, Brand Director; Simon Toombs, Head of Business Development; Finn Campbell-Notman, Illustrator; and Karen Klassen, Illustrator for their contributions.

2 Comments

  1. […] got such a treat for you this month! Remember how we published a feature story on The Folio Society earlier this year? We even featured a couple of their illustrators and went behind the scenes to […]

  2. Teta Bombardieri says:

    I believe that typography and illustrations are enhancing the pleasure of reading as well as adding love for the books especially in young readers.

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