The Folio Society: Curating People’s Favourite books

An independent publisher, which publishes beautifully made books; curating a list of classic and modern literature for an international audience and reaching them via social online presence through digital marketing channels. Meet Tom Walker of The Folio Society, who shares their 75-year-long journey.

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Tom Walker, Publishing Director, The Folio Society shares how they are going strong for the last 75 years and more…

The Folio Society…

The Folio Society is an independent publisher that has thrilled and delighted a band of dedicated readers since 1947. “Today, from our workspace in the heart of London’s vibrant Shad Thames, we continue that tradition by crafting exquisite, illustrated editions for book lovers of all ages. We publish books that have changed the world, books that entertain us, books that blow our minds… books that have stitched themselves into who we are. Which is why every Folio book is a labour of love, expertise and, frankly, obsession,” says Tom.

“Our team of editors, designers and artisans will do whatever it takes to give each title everything it deserves, from outstanding intellectual firepower to extraordinary craftsmanship. Available exclusively from Folio through our website, for book lovers around the world, every book we make is a miniature work of art and we take pride in every single one,” he adds.

USPs as an independent publisher…

“Our quality in the publishing world distinguishes us. The fact that we have been going for 75 years and we have remained an independent publisher through all those years is exceptional. The way we did that is to become employee owned. Our creativity from the customer point of view, the quality that we publish, is trendsetting – we are here to set standards for beautiful books and classic books and to curate a list of classic and modern fiction for an international audience. The fact that our audience is international is very unusual for a publisher. Combined with that we are direct to consumer which differentiates us. Folio sells online to around 100 countries around the world, primarily UK, US, Canada, Australia, Europe – we only sell online and don’t have trade presence in bookstores. We reach out to our consumers via digital channels. We have developed a very significant community of Folio fans on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and we have a very dedicated fan base. What differentiates Folio most clearly is our community of readers which is a cult and obsessive fan base,” shares Tom.

“When we speak to our readers, we ask them directly what they want us to publish, and how. It is a great privilege to be able to be so close to our audience. Usually with a publisher, there is an intermediary but here we are the booksellers too. We start from right at the top with editorial rights,we work through production, marketing all the way to customer service and warehousing and international dispatch,” explains Tom.

On Indian readership…

“India is 31st in our 100-country list. It a small market for us but very significant and we would really like to reach out more here. We print our books in UK, Germany, and Italy, which are then warehoused in London and dispatched across the world,” shares Tom.

Challenges faced…

“One of the main challenges is cost. A lot of publishers have found in the last 2-3 years that when times are tough people turn to books: classics and contemporary classics. During the pandemic, we had some exceptional trading years. We built our customer base and did some fantastic publishing. I think the future for publishing is great; the challenges are more in terms of cost: we have seen a rise of nearly 40% in material cost in the last 12 months,” he shares.

Moving with the times…

“Our fan base is growing in all kinds of genres and authors. When e-readers came to the forefront 10 years ago, I always felt that was a big opportunity for Folio as people started buying Kindles and reading digitally, but a proportion of people wanted to read print as well as digital. For classics, people prefer to read elegant, printed versions,” tells Tom.

“The definition of classic books changes with time. So, helping to define what a classic book is and curating that for a modern audience is a big part of what Folio does. I think the shift for Folio in the last 10 years has been moving into genres like Fantasy, Crime classics, Thrillers, Children’s, etc. A Game of Thrones, for example, has been transformative for Folio. In Children’s books, Spider-Man and The Little Prince are always bestsellers. Now we are also experimenting with genres like romance. This keeps Folio exciting as we are taking our customers on a journey with different books and genres,” he adds.

“We publish about 40-45 titles per year. We have summer, spring, autumn and Christmas collections. In addition to the collections, we have 6-10 limited editions spread throughout the year which are even more elaborate and spectacular than regular Folio editions. A lot of time is spent on making these books: an artist might be given two years to work on them. The limited editions are a small but very successful part of what Folio does,” he adds.

Folio Book Illustrators’ award…

“The Folio Book Illustration Award was started last year to find and recognise new illustrators. Not many publishers commission contemporary illustrators for fiction. All our fiction titles are newly commissioned and have around 7-10 illustrations inside. We draw from a big pool of illustrators and we need an international list of artists to reflect our books. Our idea is to spot talent globally,” tells Tom.

Marketing through social media …

“A lot of our editions are limited or sell out quickly, and customers find out about them from a variety for channels including catalogues, emails and other digital advertising. Social media is very important to us across all platforms. We run Instagram Live with illustrators and authors, have competitions and regular daily engagements with our customers around the world. We take their opinions into consideration. If for example we are thinking of publishing adult Fantasy novels, we put together a list of books that we think we could publish and we ask for their thoughts: they do come back to us with a lot of ideas. It’s a two-way conversation,” shares Tom.

Moving ahead…

“We have positioned ourselves to appeal to cult and collector fanbases as well as finding a general gifting market. The new generation of readers are obsessed with design. We are building on the obsessive community of publishing, curating people’s favourite books, and it is a successful business model. We love listening to what our readers think: they help to define what and how we publish,” concludes Tom.

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