AMP Responds to The Book Standard's 'Calvin and Hobbes' Story

By E&P Staff
From Editor & Publisher, October 27, 2005

NEW YORK Thomas N. Thornton, CEO of Andrews McMeel Publishing, took issue with a story posted Tuesday on E&P's site. The article -- from The Book Standard, a sister publication to E&P -- discussed the new "Calvin and Hobbes" book collection. What follows is Thornton's letter to the editor.


I read Mr. Chafkin's story about "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" which ran in The Book Standard as is currently posted on Editor & Publisher. The article is unfair to this publishing project and also inaccurate.

The lead sentence "What could have been..." couldn't be further from the truth. The past tense use is wrong to use here. "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" IS one of the hottest and best-selling books of the holiday season.

Also incorrect is the statement that we have been unable to fill pre-orders of "many booksellers" for the book. I wish Mr. Chafkin had checked more thoroughly with the publisher before writing the article and basing it on the comments of one obviously disgruntled bookseller.

Our goal for this project is similar to the goal we had for "The Complete Far Side." We want to be as sold through as possible by the end of the calendar year. As you are well aware, books are sold on a fully returnable basis. The risk is ours and ours alone. Indeed, the higher the orders from booksellers on books without any sell-through history, the more risk we take. While that may be a sustainable business model on an inexpensive trade paperback, it could be a devastating financial blow on a book that retails for $150. Even taking what is considered a normal return in the industry would be nearly catastrophic on this type of book. If we had priced this book on the typical margin mark-up that we work on, the retail would have been a minimum of $180 and, more likely, around $240. We felt (and we could be wrong about this) that $150 was the ceiling price. To hold that price, we had to take a lower margin and, therefore, increase our risk substantially.

That being said, we still printed 100,000 copies more than we printed on "The Complete Far Side." You may be surprised to know that the nearly complete sell-through of the 150,000 copies of "The Complete Far Side" in 2003 was not anticipated by the industry. It was considered a monumental and unique success in publishing. So to have Ms. Shrieber say that Andrews McMeel Publishing is not very good at doing a book like this couldn't be more incorrect. We created the model for books like this! And her comparative should be to "The Complete Far Side" at a $135 price point, not The New Yorker at $60. We don't consider a $60 price level a good benchmark against $135 and $150 books.

"The Complete Calvin and Hobbes"' first three weeks on sale show units sold of 34,329, per Neilsen Bookscan numbers. We're delighted with that and think it supports the 250,000-copy print run and will provide the single digit returns risk that we are striving for. We have ten more weeks of on-sale time before year-end so will need to average 21,567 copies per week to sell out (250,000 less 34,329 sold = 215,671 divided by 10). Since we have averaged 11,443 for the first three weeks, you can see your lead premise is incorrect. We need to sell a lot of books in the balance of the year!

While I typically would not go into individual account activity, I will with you in this instance since Ms. Shrieber has made public in what her store ordered and what they received. What they received on "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" is more than twice what they ordered from AMP on "The Complete Far Side" in the entire two-year period that it's been available. We felt that more than double was sufficient, but ordering eight times what they've ordered on "The Far Side" in a two-year period was far too aggressive and would have created a significant return risk for us. To put their order number in perspective, Barnes & Noble would have ordered approximately 150,000 copies of the book on a pro rata basis which they, of course, did not do. Our records also show Ms. Shrieber's chain ordered 600 copies, not 1,000.

It's also important to point out that there are other sources for our books. National wholesalers and regional wholesalers were all supplied with the book in the opening stage and retailers who needed more copies or saw surprising positive early sales results availed themselves of that stock.

Not to drown in detail, but I think it is important to have some basic understanding of what it takes to produce a book like "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Complete Far Side." We had to commit to the paper, both in quantity and in guaranteed payments, in December of 2004. The amount of paper we bought essentially set our press run at that time. The enormity of this type of project requires a paper mill to insist on an early order. Without one order in hand, we made a commitment for the paper to print the 250,000 copies.

A few more details about the paper and the ink and the requirements to do a book like this:

1) Kappa board (Eska board)

total tonnage: 250 metric tones -- equivalent to 13 (20-foot) containers

2) Ink Used

Total in Kilos: 12,000 kilos (to split in cyan, magenta, yellow and black) -- equivalent to 12 metric tons (1 x 20-foot container)

3) T-saifu cloth: 110,000 meters (2,000 rolls)

4) Text paper: 2,400 metric tons (equivalent to 127 20-foot containers)

5) Number of book blocks sewn per hour -- 150 copies per machine per hour (on two machines)

6) Cases made per hour: 700 cases per hour (two casemakers used to quarter-bind)

7) Casing: 700 to 800 copies per hour (3 copies per set so 750,000 total copies cased)

The first disc went to the printer on November 15, 2004, and the first finished set was packed on May 27, 2005.

Andrews McMeel Publishing couldn't be more proud of "The Complete Far Side" and "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes." The books hold the #1 and #2 all-time record for the most expensive New York Times Bestsellers in the history of book publishing. The total sales of "The Complete Far Side" of 326,000 copies and "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" at 250,000 copies says more than I can ever say about the house's expertise in publishing large format, high price point, high production value books. At list price, "The Complete Far Side" and "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" provide $81,510,000 for retailers' cash registers. Let's figure out how to focus more on the positives of this endeavor and less about looking for flaws when there are none.

Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas N. Thornton
Andrews McMeel Publishing