Incorporated: 1893 as Otto Maier, Verlagsbuchhandlung
Sales: EUR 258 million ($324 million) (2003)
NAIC: 339932 Game, Toy, and Children's Vehicle Manufacturing; 511130 Book Publishers
Ravensburger AG is a publisher based in Ravensburg, Germany, that educates and entertains the whole family with its broad variety of puzzles, games, books, TV shows, and arts and crafts kits. The company is Europe's leading manufacturer of jigsaw puzzles, which are manufactured in Germany and the Czech Republic and marketed throughout the continent by the company's subsidiaries in major Western European countries. Ravensburger is also a leading manufacturer of brand name board games, and the Ravensburger brand is known by over 90 percent of German consumers. The company's game and toy manufacturing arm accounts for roughly 80 percent of total sales and about half of the company's revenues are generated around Christmas. Ravensburger's book publishing arm publishes educational and entertaining books for children, from toddlers to teenagers. The company's products are exported to more than 50 countries around the world. Other Ravensburger subsidiaries produce programming for German television stations, help brand name companies with event planning and promotion, and run the company's amusement park. Ravensburger is owned by fewer than a dozen members of the founding Maier family.
Bookstore Owner Becomes a Publisher in 1884
As a publishing enterprise, Ravensburger evolved from the Dorn'sche Buchhandlung, a bookstore in the southern German town Ravensburg near the Bodensee lake. Since 1845, the bookstore had been partly owned and run by bookseller, journalist, and publisher Carl Maier. After his sudden death in 1867, his wife Julie inherited his share in the bookstore. In 1876, after completing apprenticeships with booksellers in Berlin, Graz, and Zurich, Carl Maier's oldest son Otto Robert—then 24 years old—became co-owner of the Dorn'sche Buchhandlung. Besides managing the bookstore in Ravensburg, he soon developed a special interest in the publishing activities the store ran as a side business. Accommodating the bookstore's customers, Dorn'sche Buchhandlung published maps and booklets focusing on the geography, biology, and history of the region, how-to literature for craftspeople, textbooks for schoolchildren, sheet music of church hymns, and a few board games. In 1883, Otto Robert Maier signed his first publishing contract with two architects to produce a collection of patterns for gravestones to be used by local stone-masons. One year later, Maier signed a local teacher and author to create eight Gesellschaftsspiele —games for adults—which were then released by Dorn'sche Buchhandlung.
In 1884, Maier published his first commissioned board game for the whole family: Reise um die Erde ("A Trip Around The World"). The game was modeled after the popular novel by Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days, which had been published nine years earlier. By the time the game was published, there was already a thriving market for a broad variety of games for children, teenagers, and adults in Germany. Reise um die Erde, in which players could follow the adventurer Phineas Fogg on his trip around the world, became a bestseller and remained in Maier's catalogue for 30 years. Besides the use of a popular theme, the game's success was credited primarily to its lavish color and graphics, its detailed tin figurines, and the high-quality durable board. A handful of suppliers—specialty printers, book binders, figurine and dice makers—delivered the different parts for this and other popular games that followed. They were then assembled, put into boxes, and shipped from Maier's bookstore.
While these games gave the young publisher a chance to follow his strong interests and talent in art and creative design, the financial backbone of his enterprise grew out of a different line of publications. In 1885, Maier published a collection of patterns for stonemasons and gravestone designers. At the time, construction and related activities were booming in the newly founded German Empire, and the fashion of the time was to embellish new buildings with style elements from earlier eras. Therefore, patterns and other how-to literature related to such architectural styles were in great demand by architects, stone engravers, locksmiths, and painters. Targeting regional craftspeople, Maier published patterns that they could easily use. In order to avoid high cash advances, Maier asked the authors he signed to deliver their work in regular installments, which were then published as one volume of a larger collection. This method generated a steady cash flow that made Maier's publications easier to finance and more affordable for his customers. It also allowed him to pay the authors and printers for the next installment out of the revenues the last one generated. Within 30 years, Maier had published about 90 such pattern collections, each of which comprised between 5 and 15 bound volumes.
In 1891, Maier became the sole owner of Dorn'sche Buchhandlung. Two years later, he sold the bookstore and decided to devote his time and energy exclusively to publishing. In 1892, his publishing business Otto Maier, Verlagsbuchhandlung was officially registered in Ravensburg. By then, Maier had married, become a father, and moved in with his in-laws, who were lawyers. By 1899, he had moved his business to another building in Ravensburg's center, moved his family to a newly built residence, published a number of short stories for young readers written by a local minister, and authored a number of games and patterns under the pseudonyms "Otto Robert" and "C. Hoffmann."
Expansion in Germany and Europe after 1900
Between 1880 and 1915, the number of game publishers exploded. In 1900, Otto Robert Maier registered Ravensburger Spiele ("Ravensburger Games") as a trademark. Realizing that his business could succeed only if his products were sold throughout Germany, Maier hired Jacob Dietler, an experienced bookseller, as a traveling salesman. By 1902, Maier's product catalogue included about 100 games and roughly 50 hardcover books for teenage readers, arts and crafts sets, picture books for children, language guides in pocket book format, as well as technical, legal, and medical publications. Besides visiting bookstores, Dietler's task was to offer Maier's products to toy and stationery stores. At the same time, the company founder systematically employed all the marketing tools available to him to reach potential customers, including brochures, advertisements, and press releases. Maier also realized that he had to adjust the cost of his products to his customers' financial resources. Therefore, his cut-out books, picture books, and games were available in different editions, either hardcover or paperback, with accessories of varying cost.
The next logical step to expand his business was to move beyond Germany's borders. In 1912, Maier started offering some of his games in nine different European languages. However, the beginning of World War I interrupted this endeavor. By that time, Maier's enterprise employed 19 people and generated a quarter million goldmarks. Maier's oldest and youngest sons Otto and Eugen had to serve in the German army during the war, while his son Karl helped manage the business. After returning from the battlefield in 1918, Otto and Eugen also became involved in the family business. Three years later, Otto Maier became a co-owner and managing director. By that time, the German economy began to feel the impact of the increasing inflation that quickly picked up speed in the early 1920s. Selling books and games became much easier because people were eager to spend their money as soon as they received it. On the other hand, suppliers delayed their shipments. To become more independent, the Maiers hired an experienced book binder and two printers to work on the company's premises. The company's cash was used to purchase another building in the Ravensburg city center, right next to the one the publishing house already occupied. In 1924, the company founder retired. His oldest son, Otto, became the company's new executive director, while Karl and Eugen became shareholders. Otto Robert Maier died in December 1925.
Second Generation Takes over in 1925
Besides his duties as executive director, Otto Maier oversaw the development of the book publishing business. His brother Karl took on the management of the arts and crafts collection and technical books, while his brother Eugen devoted himself to the development of new games and children's books, as well as to the improvement of the internal workflow of the company. When the worldwide economic depression hit Germany in the early 1930s, the company could not avoid layoffs and shortened hours but limited the scope of the crisis by launching its own public works program—the renovation of one of its inner-city buildings.
Vision 2010: We will be the leader in quality in our markets. We will be at the top in our areas of business. Be a successful European group of companies and remain independent. With our excellent products and services for entertainment and education, we will promote self-development as well as communication and cooperation within families and society. By working together, the management and the employees are responsible for the material and intellectual achievements and will contribute to and will be a part of the net product to the company.
After 1933, when Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party (Nazi) came to power, the company focused on specialized books for the construction trade, for artists and craftspeople such as carpenters, arts and crafts kits for children and teens, and on arts and crafts books. Activities such as woodworking and model plane assembly for boys or weaving and sewing for girls were greatly encouraged and widely taught at school and in the various youth organizations the Nazis had formed. A book series for artists covered various instructional guides for oil and water color painting, painting of miniatures, pastel and charcoal drawing, lithography, woodcut and linoleum printmaking, letter art types, and technical drawing. Maier's non-political product range saved the company from being shut down—a fate suffered by many other German publishing houses. However, a number of Jewish authors the publisher had worked with fled the country to escape the wave of increasingly violent anti-Semitism. At the onset of World War II in 1939, Maier employed 65 people. Many of them, including Eugen Maier, were inducted into the military. As more and more German cities became the target of bombings, securing the company's assets became the most important task of the remaining workers. It was successfully accomplished. Luckily, none of the company's buildings in Ravensburg had been demolished during the war. Machinery and equipment, office furniture, even some of Maier's inventory survived. However, the war took a much greater toll: Eugen Maier died on May 8, 1945, the day when the war officially ended in Europe.
Trade Magazine Publishing after World War II
The company's luck continued in the chaotic years following the war. Only a few days after French soldiers had marched into Ravensburg in late April 1945, they went shopping at Otto Maier Verlag, standing in line to buy one of their favorite games with instructions in French instead of simply confiscating them. At the same time, the company's offices had been crammed with old printed material, none of which were seized for use by the Allied military government. In the following weeks, Otto Maier's employees lived from the cash flow generated by selling old inventory over the counter to a steady stream of "pilgrims" who came to Ravensburg to snatch some of their favorite games or books from "the good old days." Only six months after the war had ended, Otto Maier Verlag received an official permit from the French authorities to resume operations. Despite the red tape—every publication had to be approved by the military government—the company was ready to write a new chapter of its history.
Realizing that the reconstruction of the country would be the foremost task for many years to come, Otto Maier set his sights on publishing a new professional book for bricklayers. In November 1945, a man named Tress visited Maier in Ravensburg and proposed publishing a trade journal for the construction industry. Although the company had never published a periodical, Otto Maier agreed to work with Tress. In May 1946, he received the license to publish the journal, which was named BAUEN UND WOHNEN ("Construction and Residences"). The first issue, which was 24 pages long, was published soon after and the print run of 15,500 copies sold out. Between 1946 and 1951, Otto Maier Verlag published between 6 and 12 issues a year with print runs between 8,000 and 15,500. After the currency reform in 1948, sales of the journal dropped significantly. In addition, another such publication with almost the identical title evolved in neighboring Switzerland in 1947, and the legal battle between the two over rights to the name of the journal went on until 1951. With other editorial, production, and advertising issues mounting, Otto Maier decided to drop the project. In the following year, he suddenly died after a surgery. He was 62 years old.
- Otto Maier begins publishing board games and books.
- Maier published a collection of patterns for stonemasons.
- The publishing business Otto Maier, Verlagsbuchhandlung is officially registered.
- Otto Maier launches foreign versions of its board games.
- The company establishes its own production department.
- Otto Maier Verlag survives World War II undamaged and receives a publishing license.
- The company's graphic design department is formed.
- The game Memory is launched.
- The game Malefiz ("Barricade") is introduced.
- Ravensburger puzzles are launched.
- The book and game publishing arms become two separate subsidiaries.
- The company's legal form is changed to a limited liability corporation.
- A television production subsidiary, Ravensburger Film + TV, GmbH, is formed.
- The company becomes a family-owned corporation.
- Management Holding company Ravensburger AG is established.
- Ravensburger acquires French game manufacturer Jeux Nathan.
- The company launches a massive product innovation program. Renewed Success with Games in the Late 1950s
The cash from publishing BAUEN UND WOHNEN helped Otto Maier Verlag enormously in getting its traditional branches back on their feet after the war. By 1948, the company's workforce had reached prewar levels. Two years later, three traveling salesmen were back on the road again. Around the same time, the company began to present its products at the major annual book and toy trade shows in Frankfurt/Main and Nuremberg. After Otto Maier's death, his brother Karl became the company's executive director. He oversaw the expansion of its printing department, the creation of a sales department, the reorganization of the company's accounting division, and the reallocation of management responsibilities among the third generation of the Maier family. Otto Maier's son Otto Julius joined the company's technical book department and gradually acquainted himself with all aspects of the family business. Eugen Maier's son Peter took an interest in the company's books for children and youth and in finding new game ideas. In 1955, Willi Baumann, an experienced traveling book salesman, joined the company. He brought not only a growing number of orders but also invaluable insight into the marketplace. Determined to help launch Otto Maier Verlag to a new level of success, he tried to influence business decisions regarding the company's product lines, pressured for predictable publication dates, and finally took on the management of the company's sales department in 1959. In the same year, Peter Maier's sister Dorothee joined the company to learn the book selling and publishing trade. After finishing her training, she took over the editorial management of Otto Maier Verlag's book publishing arm in 1962. Also in that year, Peter Maier, who had successfully established a graphic design department, left the company to pursue projects of his own. Four years later, he gave up his share in Otto Maier Verlag.
Meanwhile, the company's markets underwent fundamental changes during the 1950s. The demand for the publisher's books for the trades decreased as mechanization made its way into the construction industry. Improved technologies brought about changes in the arts and crafts market, where instructional literature and old-fashioned cut-out books were replaced by kits with pre-fabricated parts. Within only a few years, the company's sales dropped sharply, while much of its cash was invested in acquiring a large piece of land in Ravensburg's business district and in expanding the in-house printing department. However, big German and Swiss toy retail chains started asking the company for new board games. At that time, Ravensburger's reputation among Germany's toy retailers was synonymous with high quality. When the diminished cash flow was just about to cause a severe financial crisis, a number of successful board games helped turn around the company's fate once again. A soccer board game created by a popular German sports reporter was launched in 1957 and became a bestseller. One year later, following the demand from toy retailers, the company brought out a kit for amateur magicians, which was also well received. In 1959, Otto Maier Verlag published Memory, a game by Swiss inventor Heinrich Hurter. One year later, the company introduced another game by German inventor Werner Schöppner, which Karl Maier named Malefiz. Memory and Malefiz, which became known as "Barricade" in non-German speaking countries, turner out to be huge sellers that helped establish the company among Europe's leading makers of board games. By the early 1960s, games contributed more to Otto Maier Verlag's total sales than books. In 1963, Otto Julius Maier became a personally liable shareholder in the company, which employed roughly 280 people and generated DM 10 million in sales in 1964.
Puzzles, Electronic Gaming, and More:
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Otto Maier Verlag managed to stay on top of the German board game market. The company also continued to publish educational book series for children and teenagers. However, the major boost in sales during that time period came from another novelty the publisher put out in 1964 for the first time: jigsaw puzzles. Made out of thin wood, and later from cardboard, the puzzles became Otto Maier Verlag's new signature product. Since there was no need for any instructions in foreign languages, exporting the puzzles was no problem. In the mid-1960s, the company began to set up subsidiaries in many Western European countries, including Switzerland, Austria, France, and the United Kingdom. During the 1970s, the company's business soared. In 1977, the games and book departments were transformed into legally independent subsidiaries, Ravensburger Spieleverlag GmbH and Ravensburger Buchverlag Otto Maier GmbH. By 1978, the company's workforce had grown to roughly 800, including 27 traveling salesmen, and sales had grown more than tenfold within 14 years, passing the DM 100 million mark for the first time. In 1979, Karl Maier died at age 85.
In the 1980s, electronic media such as television, video, and computer games began to change the way people spent their leisure time. Ravensburger ventured into the evolving market in different ways. The company founded a television production subsidiary, Ravensburger Film & TV GmbH, that created and produced animated and entertaining shows for children and families.
A venture into interactive media in the mid-1990s, including "educational entertainment" CD-ROMs and computer programs, was abandoned in 2002. Besides the new electronic media, Ravensburger wanted to profit from two other trends: event marketing and amusement parks. In 1993, the company established Ravensburger Freizeit-und Promotion-Service GmbH, a marketing, event planning, and promotion service for large manufacturers of brand-name products and for operators of leisure facilities for children. Five years later, the company's amusement park Ravensburger Spieleland opened its doors. A number of acquisitions and high-risk investments in the late 1990s caused a sudden financial meltdown of the company's capital and resulted in several million euros of net losses in 1999 and 2000. After streamlining the company's operations and cutting the group's activities back to its core markets, Ravensburger was back in the black again in 2001.
The process of creating a company that was able to function without the involvement of family members began in 1981, when its legal form was changed from a company with personally liable family shareholders into a limited liability corporation. In 1988, the company was transformed into the legal form of a joint stock company. Five years later, a holding company named Ravensburger AG was established as an organizational umbrella for the group's various activities. In 1995, Otto Julius Maier retired from the management of the Ravensburger group and became president of its advisory board. His cousin, Dorothee Hess-Maier, succeeded him as executive director until she retired in 2000, while the day-to-day business was managed by two experienced executives from outside the family. The Ravensburger group was hoping to succeed in a domestic toy market that was stagnating at the same time that competition from large international toy manufacturers and retail chains was increasing. Toward this goal, the company began manufacturing new products such as "intelligent" board games with integrated electronic modules, three-dimensional puzzles, toys for toddlers, electronic games for young men under 20, and stuffed animals modeled after popular cartoon characters under license agreements.
Ravensburger Spieleverlag GmbH; Ravensburger Buchverlag Otto Maier GmbH; Ravensburger Freizeit-und Promotion-Service GmbH; Ravensburger Spieleland AG; F.X. Schmid Vereinigte Münchener Spielkartenfabriken GmbH & Co. KG; Ravensburger S.p.A. (Italy); Ravensburger Gesellschaft m.b.H. (Austria); Carlit + Ravensburger AG (Switzerland); Jeux Ravensburger S.A. (France); Ravensburger B.U. (Netherlands); Ravensburger Karton s.r.o. Policka (Czech Republic); Ravensburger Ltd. (United Kingdom); Ravensburger F.X. Schmid USA Inc.
Hasbro, Inc.; Schmidt Spiel + Freizeit GmbH; AMIGO Spiel + Freizeit GmbH; Carlsen Verlag GmbH; Friedrich Oettinger Verlag, Loewe Verlag GmbH.
1883–1983: Hundert Jahre Verlangsarbeit Otto Maier Verlag Ravensburg, Ravensburg, Germany: Otto Maier Verlag Ravensburg, 1983.
"Eine fast antikapitalistische Verlegerin," Financial Times (Deutschland), November 20, 2002, p. 37.
Goldschmitt, Wolf H., "Moorhuhn und Teletubbies verdrängen Malefiz & Co.," Welt, December 13, 2000.
Iwersen, Sönke, "Ravensburger entdeckt Kleinkinder als Zielgruppe," Stuttgarter Zeitung, June 4, 2003, p. 13.
Simonian, Haig, "Gegen die Spielregeln verstoßen und gewinnen," Financial Times (Deutschland), May 8, 2002, p. 38.