Book lovers know that reading can be a full sensory experience. It’s why electronic reading devices will never completely take over the literary world unless they engineer a way to reproduce the feel, the scent, even the pure heft of a book like those produced by Rizzoli Publications. “Book” might even be too inadequate a word to describe the work of art that is, and is contained inside, each title they produce. Born a half-century ago as a bookstore on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Rizzoli began publishing its beautiful, illustrated books in the 1970s. Owned by Italian parent RCS Media Group, Rizzoli brings a European sense of style and design to its wide range of books, from pop culture (including a book of Kim Kardashian’s selfies) to history and architecture.
Foreword Reviews Executive Editor Howard Lovy asks Rizzoli Publisher Charles Miers about the company’s international perspective and design, and how on earth they get their books to “feel” so good.
Does Rizzoli’s international background and perspective influence the types of books you choose to publish in the United States?
Indeed, in several ways: most important, we try to publish into our cultural community, which is international, so we think more about the overall community than parochial audiences. That said, we do consciously create a list of books within which there are titles that have particular resonances with places where we are very strong in our publishing activities: North America, the UK, France, Japan. And because of our heritage and strength in Italy, I keep an eye on having an Italian representation in our list.
Also, I’m from England, so that plays a role. And we’re a New York company, very much, so our interests and instincts are honed here, but in most cases we’re publishing individual books that play well in all these countries and in many other parts of the world important to us, too.
Rizzoli publishes books of all types and genres. What would you consider Rizzoli’s sweet spot in the books you publish?
In our program, there are really many sweet spots. It depends on the category and on our intentions: a finite run of an expensive art book can be as pleasing a success as a New York guide book that backlists for years; an architecture book that starts slowly and lasts forever can be as rewarding as a celebrity book that hits bestseller lists.
I find when a book has a real purpose for the reader and a message, when it is well made and visually inspiring … then it usually hits its sweet spot.
Italian design, of course, is legendary, but Rizzoli books truly are beautiful to behold. Can you tell us about your team of in-house designers?
When I became the publisher of Rizzoli, I inherited a style and mystique people already attached to our books, much to do with my Italian predecessors: Massimo Vignelli being the emblematic designer of our early history.
We carefully try to marry each book with designers who have a passion for the subject. We try to let each book develop its own language and the right language for its purposes. We don’t have in-house designers and have never had, for this reason.
We therefore don’t publish “Rizzoli” books per se, but I think the combination of our subjects’ and authors’ exceptional visual standards, the very high level of designers who contribute to our program—superb bookmakers, one and all—the quality of our production, and immodestly, perhaps, our taste and touch, too, make our books recognizably Rizzoli.
You have editors to handle the words, artists to handle design, but what about … feelers? Somebody to touch and handle the books to make sure they have the right kind of feel?
Yes, I personally, with all our authors and editors and designers, invest a lot of time and resources considering the expressive physical quality of our books. Inside and out.
All books need to feel good. Some specifically need to feel good in the hand, some require two hands; some need to be impressive to behold, some need to be adorable; some should be rough, some artful, some very tailored; some need to surprise and some should simply be classic. We try to make them accordingly.
Turns out, contrary to popular belief, millennials love physical books. So they’re not going to be replaced anytime soon. But do you see some kind of change in the way beautiful art books are “consumed?”
I think millennials have embraced our books, are very open to a very wide range of subjects and formats and designs and price points, and are fearless in their tastes.
The concept of the bookstore itself is more vulnerable than the physical books themselves, in the context of your question. If the bookstore as a vibrant retail format implodes, then many kinds of books will become much more limited in availability and therefore more expensive and bespoke … the information will gravitate to online formats or perhaps to self-publishing. I might then think it time to invest in a monastery and return to a pre-Caxton, pre-Gutenberg model of bookmaking.
In the meantime, we are reopening this summer our flagship Rizzoli bookstore, on 26th and Broadway, on a very grand scale, so we firmly believe people of all ages still love bookstores.
Name some titles you’re excited about this year.
The worst question: I’m enamored of all 100-some of them, or we wouldn’t be publishing them.
But if I have to kiss and tell, then right as we are speaking, and I’ll narrow it down to that criterion so I don’t prioritize one title over another in our list, we’re releasing some wonderful books by very special women: Chloë Sevigny’s first book, which is a self-portrait through favorite photos taken of her; Charlotte Moss on the influence of the garden on interiors; Lettie Teague on wine; and Kim Kardashian’s remarkable journal of selfies, and I think the first major book on this phenomenon.
You cover all genres, from antiques to world history. Is there any genre that you wish you could give the coffee-table art-book treatment?
So many … history, poetry, even self-help. There are many genres where lower price points and traditional formats so dominate the market that book lovers are perhaps resistant and it might be hard to convince booksellers that a more artistic or creative treatment could work. I remember though, growing up, when coffee-table history books and heavily illustrated self-help had a moment. And I think millennials are increasingly about visual consumption. So we are in a sweet spot.