The Future of Publishing by Prosper Assouline
When almost any book can be downloaded for free on the Internet or ordered on Amazon, one wonders how publishing houses manage to pay the electricity bill. Prosper Assouline, founder of the luxury Assouline Publishing house and brand, has adopted another position: “All of my books are going to more expensive. I’m going to make them with the best paper, the best everything in order to make them more and more exclusive,” he says.
Specializing in fashion, art, photography, design, architecture and lifestyle, Assouline Publishing was created in 1995 in Paris. 15 years later, the company produces an average of 40 to 60 books per year. “I have two iPads” says Assouline. “I love the iPad, it’s fantastic, but it has nothing to do with my business.” I met Assouline in his office on the 18 floor of his Chelsea office, in one of the most beautiful buildings in New York, on a Monday sunny afternoon last week:
MALKA GOUZER: How did you get into book publishing?
PROSPER ASSOULINE: Initially, my idea wasn’t to make a business out of publishing. At the time I was a magazine publisher and had no intention of creating a new company. I just wanted to make one book, about my favorite hotel in the world, La Colombe D’Or. I took the pictures; my wife, Martine, wrote the text. Because this first book got good press and sold well, we decided to make one or two a year. Now we produce 50 books each year, and it’s our major business.
GOUZER: And how did you end up in the magazine world?
ASSOULINE: When I was 16, I started as an intern in the art department of Filipacci. I became the art director and published my first magazine when I was 18 years old. I have been a publisher forever. I learned everything “in the kitchen”; not by attending school, nor through family money, but by starting “in the kitchen” and by working and working.
GOUZER: People talk endlessly about the way the book industry will change given the influences of different technologies and media. To your mind, what are the main challenges the publishing industry should be prepared to confront in the near future?
ASSOULINE: I have no time to think about these things. I just want to do my job and to continue enhancing the quality of my books. Assouline just started. The first step was the book and the second one is the brand. Now I am just working on the brand.
GOUZER: What book are you dreaming of doing?
ASSOULINE: Maybe to illustrate the bible and to make it interesting. Because nobody wants to read it.
GOUZER: Do you like books as collectible objects?
ASSOULINE: Besides collecting books, I don’t collect. I love everything, I love art but I don’t collect. No match boxes, nothing. I am against collections. They don’t interest me. If I could afford to have art, I would love to sleep with a Brancusi. But it’s a little expensive, at 26 millions dollars.
GOUZER: Are planning to move back to Paris one day?
ASSOULINE: No, I’m staying put in New York. But New York is not a city. For me it’s the succursale of JFK. It’s an airport. People come and go.
GOUZER: Could you conceive running Assouline Publishing Inc, without the aid of your wife Martine?
ASSOULINE: No! If she were not to be here, I wouldn’t do this. It’s like a bicycle with one wheel. Without her, the company wouldn’t work.
GOUZER: Do you divide tasks?
ASSOULINE: Oh yes, it’s very clear. She takes care of all of the editorial part and I take care of all of the image and development. It’s super clear. I cannot develop something without her and she cannot develop something without me. So we have an obligation to stay together. Another 20 year. We have been married for 20 years.