Guiding the way through life
Gordon Books has found an interesting way to survive: The guidebook publishers' texts are externally attractive and enticing - they are small, well-designed and impossible to ignore in stores. "My goal is to create objects that are hard to pass up, that provide the sense that they can make life a bit more pleasant and gratifying," says designer Amir Hadad, who founded Gordon Books five years ago with his wife, Shira, who edits original titles for Keter Publishers.
Gordon Books, named for the Tel Aviv street that adjoins the home of its founders, specializes in leisure and lifestyle guides. The first book they published was "Sipur," a hefty Hebrew translation of Robert McKee's "Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting." Since then, they have published three well-designed, small-format translations of English-language guidebooks.
The first, "Hauniversita Haktana," a translation of "Condensed Knowledge" by Will Pearson, Mangesh Hattikudur and Elizabeth Hunt, includes trivial details from every field of knowledge, presented in the form of questions like "five doctrines in introductory philosophy courses," "five bloopers by famous physicists" or "four founding fathers of rock-and-roll." A success in local stores, the Hebrew translation has sold several thousand copies. Sales accelerated during a week in which contestants in an episode of "Hisardut," the local version of the "Survivor" reality television series, were offered the chance to bring a much-loved object to the isolated island. One contestant, Marina, opted to bring "Hauniversita Haktana."
The next book published by Gordon was a title in the publishers' "User's Manual" series, "Tinok: Hamadrich Limishtamesh." The colorful cover of the Hebrew translation of "The Baby Owner's Manual" by Dr. Louis Borgenicht and his son, Joe Borgenicht, reads, "Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips and Advice on First-Year Maintenance." Two more books in the User's Manual series will soon be released, one about caring for dogs and another about caring for cats. Recently-released "Sodot Shel Chefim" (Chefs' Secrets) features secrets from Israeli and American chefs.
"The leisure book and lifestyle guide niche is virtually unaddressed in Israel," says Hadad. "Mapa publishers has done a nice job in this field, but they mainly developed local guides which emphasize local hikes, B&B's, leisure and vacations. We were in the U.S. for two years, and when I went into stores there, like clothing or houseware chains, I saw that they also sold leisure books and guides. In addition to the fact that they contain useful information, they enhance the chains' label experience. The connection between books and fashion, housewares, objects and design is very natural, in my mind. These are small guides that offer humor, a light-hearted approach and charm that is nearly absent in guidebooks published in Israel. It's a very American phenomenon, but I believe we can bring it to the Israeli readership."
Hadad, 38, holds a Masters degree in film from Tel Aviv University and is also a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design's Visual Communications department. He worked as a graphics editor for Yedioth Ahronoth's "7 Days" weekend supplement from 1997 to 2004, and is now working on redesigning the Maariv daily.
"My background lets me do things that other publishers don't know how to do or cannot handle," he says. "In my opinion, you can publish books that cost NIS 70-75 and still provide quality design, high-grade paper and color. For example, 'Tinok: Hamadrich Limishtamesh' is sumptuously designed and packed with illustrations and graphics. We rounded off the book's corners to provide an utterly different sensation to anyone who holds it."
Does that increase the cost of production?
"To a great extent, and we found only one bookbinder in Israel who does this. In retrospect, it didn't justify the investment, but it is important to me to preserve the design when transferring the book to Hebrew. I look at our publishing company as a hobby. It is not my main source of income. About 1,000-1,500 copies of that book sold, but I believe that when the books about the dog and the cat come out, they will give a new push to the baby book. We are now pondering whether or not to use the curved design again, because it increases the cost of every copy by about 30 percent."
Hadad says that Israelis like value for their money. That is why "Hauniversita Haktana" appeared in a format which is more distinctive than that of its source. It is smaller, has fewer but larger pages, and a colorful cover with a prominent font and a picture of Einstein purchased from Israel's Open University archives. "It was clear to me that this book would fly or fail on its appearance," Hadad says.
"Sodot Shel Chefim" was also tailored to Israeli tastes. It has fewer tips about skinning an eel and more that suit Jewish-Israeli cuisine, plus advice from Israeli chefs Rafi Cohen, Yisrael Aharoni, Haim Cohen, Erez Komorovsky, Tzahi Bukshester, Shaul Evron and Jonathan Roshfeld.
Is there an audience for lifestyle guides in Israel? That is not clear. There are very few "how-to" books in Israel, and most of them focus on the business realm rather than daily life. Moreover, local fashion and houseware chains have not entered the book market until now. This may be due to the continued existence of a traditional division between books and other consumer products.
"I believe there is a strong connection between lifestyle and books. Books transfer a label's values in a way that no other means can," says Hadad, who worked in the U.S. as a labeling strategy consultant to companies and organizations. "If [the clothing chain] Castro decided to also sell books, it would enhance their label experience. It would cause people to linger a bit longer in the store and connect to the label on an emotional level, which clothing alone cannot produce."
Gordon Books is now working on a few original titles in the "Hauniversita Haktana" series: Ronen Dorfan is writing a book about sports, Yair Raveh is writing about film, and Kobi Arieli will apparently write about Judaism. Also in planning stages are translations of David de Rothschild's "The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook," Reza Aslan's "No god but God," and a guide to the role that labeling plays in the connection between marketing strategy and design.