A glance on the bookshelves of any techie will usually reveal at least one book from Peachpit Press. Publisher Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel chats about publishing, creativity, and gnarly tech topics.
A glance on the bookshelves of any techie will usually reveal at least one book from San Francisco-based Peachpit Press. Publisher Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel chats about publishing, creativity, and gnarly tech topics.
How did the publishing company get started?
Peachpit was started more than 16 years ago. We were frustrated with the cookie-cutter approach of the computer book industry and excited by the opportunities opened up by new desktop publishing technologies. Ever since, we’ve been committed to publishing the most creative, high-quality computer books in design, graphics, the Web, desktop publishing, and general computing. As a business of Pearson Education, the world’s largest integrated educational publisher, Peachpit has stayed true to that vision.
How did you personally get interested in doing this kind of work?
I put myself through college at UW-Madison doing typesetting, paste-up and camera work for the Daily Cardinal every night. I started to get into typography, photography and layout, and really developed an appreciation for professional graphics. Later, as an editor of a trade magazine specializing in graphic design, I spent my days talking to the world’s top designers, illustrators, publishers, and production professionals, learning about their favored tools, work processes, and creative challenges.
As creative professionals and computer users began to rely on their digital tools more, and as those tools became more and more complex, it was clear that there was a ongoing need for well-designed, well-written how-to information that was easy to reference. I started several how-to magazines and newsletters in the ’80s, and many of my authors went on to do books with Peachpit. Joining Peachpit seven years ago was like coming home again.
What is it like to helm a woman-run company that’s publishing for a mostly male-dominated industry?
It’s really a non-issue these days. But every once in a while I get a bit of a kick out of being the only woman in an all-guy meeting or event. I’m sure Marjorie Scardino, our CEO of Pearson worldwide, gets an even bigger kick out of crashing the old boys’ network of the Fortunate 500s. But the old-gal network is definitely gaining momentum. Young women today aren’t any more afraid of learning programming languages than they are of learning foreign languages.
How has the tech slump affected Peachpit?
The computer book business as a whole was down this year, in some cases as much as 20 to 40 percent. But we ended the year with double-digit growth, and I think this was because of a couple of reasons. We have an extremely devoted staff, and our authors are the best writers and teachers in the fields. Also, our backlist–books released in 2001 and earlier–continues to perform well, which is highly unusual for the frontlist-driven computer book industry. Some classics, like “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” that carry older copyright dates, have never been revised and are still selling at the same pace today as they did when they first came out.
How do you decide what will technology will stick around long enough to need a book on the subject?
Our editors and authors have strong contacts at all of the software and hardware companies, industry publications and Web sites, and many are practitioners in the areas they edit or write about. So, they have a thorough understanding not only of the impact of the technology on the market, but also of what users’ real-world needs are. The biggest challenge is identifying the right timing for introducing books on emerging technologies.
What makes your authors different than those of other publishers?
They all have a passion for sharing their hard-won knowledge with others, for teaching things in a new way, for making gnarly tech topics easier to understand.
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