Hal Leonard Expands Its Niche

The Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group (HLPAPG) has long been the book division of Hal Leonard Corp., the largest music publisher in the U.S. For most of HLPAPG’s existence, it has focused on publishing books related to the performing arts, but it has also had success expanding into new areas, a strategy it plans to continue. “We’re trying to develop new products by taking our expertise in music into account,” said John Cerullo, group publisher of HLPAPG, explaining that the division would like to build on its “relationships with creative entities.”

Until recently, HLPAPG published across five imprints: Hal Leonard (tutorial publications), Backbeat Books (biographies and memoirs), Limelight (acting and film), Applause (theater and cinema), and Amadeus (classical music and opera). Starting this fall, however, Limelight titles will be published under the Applause imprint. And with the exception of some coffee table books, all HLPAPG titles will be released in print and digital formats. Currently, the division’s hottest seller is a big, illustrated, print-only title: Rolling Stones Gear—a 672-page history of the iconic band told through pictures of their musical equipment, which retails for $60 in hardcover and has sold 25,000 copies to date.

HLPAPG has had “very modest growth” in the past few years, Cerullo said, releasing 100 frontlist books for the trade each year, and now boasting a backlist of 3,000 titles. The division’s sales account for approximately 10% of Howard Leonard’s net revenues, Cerullo said, adding that e-book sales have “picked up” backlist revenue for the past three years and account for 10%–13% of HLPAPG’s total revenue.

In November, HLPAPG will position itself more aggressively in the digital realm with the launch of its Zen and the Art Of series as multimedia e-books. The works are based on paperbacks written by Mixerman, a Los Angeles recording engineer. According to Cerullo, the titles are much more sophisticated than typical enhanced e-books. He described them as containing “groundbreaking high-res audio and production” values that surpass the limitations placed on enhanced e-books. “We had to create our own platform for these media files to work,” he explained. Three titles will launch the series: Zen and the Art of Recording, Zen and the Art of Mixing, and Zen and the Art of Producing.

This past spring, HLPAPG released some of its first books to move beyond the performing arts: the launch titles in Backbeat’s Spirituality series. Each title features spiritual insights as expressed by musicians, actors, or other public figures who “use their celebrity platforms to make a difference,” Cerullo said. Three new titles—The Spirituality of Oprah Winfrey, The Spirituality of John Lennon, and The Spirituality of Steve Jobs—will be released this fall. The publisher is also adding to its FAQ series of illustrated books that provide information on movies, music, and television. More than 50 FAQ titles have been published since the series debuted in 2007. Sales average 15,000 units per title, prompting HLPAPG to expand the series. Eight titles will launch the Lifestyle and Popular Culture FAQ line in 2015: The Beat Generation FAQ, Pro Wrestling FAQ, Soccer FAQ, and UFO FAQ will be released next spring, and Beer FAQ, Cocktails FAQ, Tattoo FAQ, and Dracula FAQ will be released in the fall.

Looking to 2016, HLPAPG will launch a line of history books as told through objects. The books will include photos of 100 objects pertaining to a topic, accompanied by text that explores each object’s importance.