Originally published in Publishers Weekly Volume 255 Issue 27 07/07/2008
by Judith Rosen
Founded a decade ago by Karen Christensen and her ex-husband, David Levinson, as a reference book packager, Berkshire Publishing Group in Great Barrington, Mass., transitioned into a trade and professional publishing house in 2004. But even before that, Christensen knew that the direction she wanted the company to take would involve China and sports.
“Back in 2001, when I made my first trip to China, I was really taken with these Olympic bid posters that were all over. I came back to Great Barrington and put them up,” said Christensen. “They were so much about my vision for the company: looking at the global future, at the role of Asia in the 21st century and at the role of sports.”
Seven years later, the Beijing Olympics are almost here and Christensen is hoping her vision will soon bear fruit for the company. Berkshire is preparing a five-volume Encyclopedia of China for publication at the end of the summer. And the house is also rushing out a trade paperback about the Chinese Olympics tied to an unusual convergence of date and time for the grand event–the Olympics will start on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 at 8:08 p.m.–China Gold: China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, which she helped edit, along with lead editors Fan Hong and Duncan Mackay.
Two years ago Christensen, who was recently named to the National Committee on U.S. China Relations, launched a monthly journal on doing business with China, Guanxi: The China Letter. She is using her connections from the magazine and from Berkshire’s contributors worldwide to create partnerships with Asian houses like the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House in Beijing. Among their planned collaborations is a single-volume reference book on China based on the encyclopedia. Berkshire also entered into a licensing agreement with Chinese e-book publisher Apabi to sell The Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport online in China. And it is readying its first line of gift books, the Kailun Chinese Zodiac Collection, which will launch next year in time to celebrate the Year of the Ox.
“I’m trying to look at the big trends that are going to have impact on our future,” Christensen said about her publishing strategy. “My mission is to find new ways to put information in people’s hands, preparing them to make decisions.” To do that, Berkshire is pursuing both print and electronic approaches to get the word out about its books, which are put together through a virtual network of contributors connected via e-mail and Skype. “There are different approaches to reference publishing,” said Christensen. “I want the quality of academic reference and the reach of popular reference like Wikipedia.”
Berkshire sells to both the academic and bookstore markets. Earlier this spring it was the first book publisher to sign with Exact Editions, which up until then had only offered online subscriptions to magazines and journals. Christensen, who refers to the arrangement as “an experiment,” is looking to the online bookstore at www.exacteditions.com to sell Berkshire’s books to individuals and small businesses.