Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd.
Incorporated: 1948 as the Charles E. Tuttle Company
Sales: $10 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 511130 Book Publishers; 424920 Book, Periodical, and Newspaper Merchant Wholesalers
Tuttle Publishing is one of the leading publishers of English-language books on Asian topics. Its subject areas include cooking, martial arts, language skills, origami/ crafts, and design/architecture. Popular titles include the Bruce Lee Library series, The Absolut Book, and The Henna Body Art Kit. Tuttle also publishes paperback versions of Everyman’s Library classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Frankenstein. The company is owned and run by Eric Oey, a second cousin of founder Charles E. Tuttle, whose Periplus Editions is one of the largest English-language book distributors and publishers in Southeast Asia.
Tuttle Publishing was founded in Japan in 1948 by Charles E. Tuttle, Jr., whose family had entered the publishing business in 1832 and whose father owned an antiquarian bookstore in Rutland, Vermont. After graduating from Harvard in 1937, Tuttle had worked at Columbia University Library’s rare book department before returning to run the family store when his father fell ill. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and in the postwar occupation of Japan, where he decided to remain after his discharge. Though he did not speak the language, Tuttle began to support himself by finding rare Japanese books to sell to American universities and the Library of Congress.
He also discovered an unmet need for books on Japanese language and etiquette among the U.S. troops stationed there, and in 1948 he decided to found the Charles E. Tuttle Company in Tokyo to publish and distribute such books, along with other English-language titles imported from the United States and Great Britain. They were initially sold at Post Exchange (PX) stores on military bases, as well as to Japanese civilians who wanted to learn more about America.
By this time Tuttle had fallen in love with the country (and with a Japanese woman), and he decided to expand his firm’s mission to promote cross-cultural understanding by publishing “books to span the East and West.” In 1951 his first titles appeared for sale in America on subjects that included Japanese cooking, philosophy, literature, and language. Early Tuttle books ranged from The Art of Bonsai to a collection of stories by Ryunosuka Akutagawa that included “Rashomon,” on which the Oscar-winning film by Akira Kurosawa was based. Some were highly specialized, such as the limited-edition The Handmade Papers of Japan, an elaborate history of Japanese printing that included 187 samples of actual paper dating as far back as AD 740. Priced at $250, it quickly sold out.
During the 1950s and 1960s Tuttle helped introduce Americans to such Japanese traditions as haiku poetry, origami, and martial arts, with a 1960 book on karate selling 200,000 copies in hardcover. To facilitate development of new material, Tuttle employee Tom Mori launched an affiliate called the Tuttle Mori Agency to secure translation rights.
By this time the firm’s distribution unit, Tuttle Shokai, had become the leading importer of English-language books in Japan. Its primary competitor, Yohan, was founded by employee Frank Watanabe in 1963 with Charles Tuttle’s encouragement to focus on distributing books from the United States, as Tuttle Shokai concentrated on ones printed in Great Britain. During this period sales grew steadily as Japanese interest in U.S. culture surged.
Though Charles Tuttle lived in Japan with his wife Reiko, his books’ title page declared that the firm was based in Tokyo and Rutland, where the family bookstore continued to operate. In 1971 Tuttle was recognized as Publisher of the Year by the American Publishers Association, and in 1978 he returned to Vermont to once again run the antiquarian bookshop his father had founded in 1910. At the same time his firm would continue to publish Asian-interest titles for the English-language market and to distribute books in Japan, while Tuttle himself began publishing books on genealogy in Rutland.
PETER ACKROYD NAMED CEO IN 1990
In the mid-1980s Tuttle sold half of his Japanese book distribution unit to the family of Australian Nicholas Ingleton, who took over its management. In July 1990 Tuttle hired Peter Ackroyd, a 42-year-old New Zealander who had worked for Rupert Murdoch, to serve as president and CEO of the firm’s publishing operations. Ackroyd subsequently announced plans to make its output more mainstream and to expand by acquisition.
In early 1991 Tuttle opened a publishing office in Boston and purchased the U.S. paperback rights to 1,200 titles in the Everyman’s Classic Library from J. M. Dent Company of England, issuing 35 books that year and announcing plans to add 50 more each year over the next five. In the summer of 1991 the company reached a tentative deal to acquire Atlantic Monthly Press, the prestigious book-publishing arm of the Atlantic magazine. Some in the industry questioned the value of a deal that did not include any pre-1986 titles, and it ultimately fell through when financial terms could not be reached.
Books published during the year included a Thai cookbook; Bachelor’s Japan, a guide to Japanese nightlife; and Kung Fu actor David Carradine’s The Spirit of Shaolin. The firm also launched a new imprint called Yenbooks, whose titles would include the popular “Making Out” series of colloquial phrasebooks.
Tuttle had annual sales of approximately $40 million, most of which came from distribution of English language books in Japan. Only about 20 percent was derived from publishing, while 10 percent came from distribution of books in the United States.
In June 1993 company founder Charles Tuttle died at 78. After his death the company continued to be run by Peter Ackroyd, while the family bookstore in Rutland was taken over by employees Jon Mayo and Jennifer Shannon.
Charles Tuttle understood that language studies would be the key to improving understanding between Japan and the West, and he was one of the earliest and most active publishers of books to teach Japanese to Western readers, and English to the Japanese. Many of the books published by him received awards from the Japanese government and recognition in the U.S. for their role in facilitating cross-cultural understanding. Charles Tuttle died in 1993, but his spirit lives on in the companies that now comprise Tuttle Publishing. Tuttle continues to provide publisher services, distribution, and fulfillment to a select group of publishers.
In the mid-1990s Japanese distribution began to grow as sales of English-language books in that country expanded beyond their traditional base of foreign-language bookstores. The firm had success with photography, fashion, and design books, which were popular with female buyers in particular. Tuttle published about 35 new titles each year and kept as many as 500 in print.
In 1994 the company launched a new imprint called Journey Editions to publish illustrated books by actors and other celebrities. Early titles included Andy Warhol actress Mary Woronov’s Wake for the Angels and actor/musician/artist Martin Mull’s Paintings, Drawings, and Words. The relatively costly series did not live up to expectations, however, and this began to have an effect on the firm’s bottom line.
SALE TO PERIPLUS IN 1996
In October 1996 Tuttle Publishing was sold to Periplus Editions, Ltd., of Hong Kong, which published and distributed books in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Periplus owner Eric Oey, whose father was Chinese-Indonesian and whose American mother was a cousin of Charles Tuttle, had grown up in the United States and Singapore before beginning a doctoral degree in Indonesian language and literature at the University of California–Berkeley. Along the way he’d started a small Indonesian firm called Java Books to distribute a travel book series for which he had written an entry, and in 1988 he founded Periplus Editions in Berkeley to publish books about Indonesia in English. He moved the business to Hong Kong several years later after giving up on his doctorate, and a map publishing unit and Singapore-based production arm were subsequently added. Periplus’s output included pocket guides for tourists, cookbooks, and a popular series about Asian style. The purchase of Tuttle would give Oey more titles to distribute in Southeast Asia, as well as providing a new venue for selling Periplus books in the United States.
After completing the acquisition Oey took the title of company president and Peter Ackroyd left to head Element Books. The firm’s new owner pledged to strengthen ties between the Boston and Tokyo offices, as well as to Periplus, and he soon began working to build on Tuttle’s success with books on cooking, gardening, martial arts, and New Age topics. Tuttle also took over a Periplus cookbook series called Food of the World, which was relaunched in hardcover with a lower list price of $16.95. The firm benefited from Periplus’ Singapore production unit whose access to low cost paper and skilled printers enabled the creation of lavish yet affordable general-interest titles such as Entertaining Asian Style, a combined cookbook, architecture, and style guide.
During 1996 the company also had its first New York Times bestseller, Richard Lewis’ Absolut Book: The Absolut Vodka Advertising Story, which sold 300,000 copies over a period of several years. In 1997 a new series was launched that collected the unpublished writings of the late martial arts star Bruce Lee, whose first seven titles sold more than 500,000 copies over the next three years. Tuttle’s sales had increased an average of 13.5 percent each year since 1991, and they jumped 30 percent in 1997.
In early 1998 Periplus bought a 75 percent stake in Tuttle Shokai, after which Nicholas Ingleton stepped down and Oey took the reins. Later that same year, however, Oey sold control of the distribution unit to competitor ICG-Muse. The emergence of online booksellers such as Amazon.com and a host of smaller, more flexible competitors was making it hard for the established English-language distributors to compete, and several years later Tuttle Shokai and Yohan merged and took the latter’s name.
The year 1998 also saw Tuttle Publishing celebrate its 50th anniversary. Since its founding the firm had published 2,000 books, 800 of which were still in print.
- Charles E. Tuttle founds English-language book distribution company in Japan.
- Firm begins publishing books on Japanese language and culture.
- The Tuttle-Mori Agency is founded to handle translation rights.
- The Ingleton family buys a stake in the Japanese book-distribution business.
- A Boston publishing office is opened under new CEO Peter Ackroyd.
- Charles Tuttle dies.
- Eric Oey buys firm; Absolut Book is the company’s first New York Times bestseller.
- Bruce Lee Library debuts to strong sales.
- Majority stake in Japanese distribution subsidiary is sold to ICG-Muse.
- Vermont-based distribution unit expands, adds new clients.
- Firm begins shifting operations of Boston office to Vermont.
DISTRIBUTION EXPANDED IN 1999
In 1999 the company’s North Clarendon, Vermont, distribution center was doubled in size to 78,000 square feet as it began performing fulfillment services for other area publishers such as Inner Traditions. Recent Tuttle books included The Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia, a reissue of Okakura Kakuzo’s classic The Book of Tea, and The Henna Body Art Kit by Aileen Marron, which sold more than 150,000 copies.
In 2000 Tuttle signed an agreement with PublishingOnline.com, which would digitize many of its titles and offer them for download. Late the next year the firm laid off 12 of its Boston staff of 17, and the office’s remaining operations were eventually shifted to Vermont. The decision was blamed on a decline in sales, which had become acute after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
During the early 2000s the firm continued to add clients to its distribution roster, and in 2004 it began distributing books in North and South America and the Middle East for Milet of London, which published books on Turkish arts and culture and dual-language children’s books.
In the fall of 2005 Tuttle released a follow-up to its hit book on Absolut vodka ads, Absolut Sequel. An initial print run of 100,000 copies was ordered, and it was advertised in the same publications as its subject. The firm was publishing 160 titles per year and working on plans to boost the total to 200, while its Vermont distribution unit was handling fulfillment for a dozen clients out of three warehouses. New books for 2006 ranged from Photography in Japan: 1853–1912 by Terry Bennett to Korean Style by Masha Iwatate.
Nearly 60 years after Charles E. Tuttle began selling English-language books to servicemen in postwar Japan, Tuttle Publishing continued to follow his mission of offering “books to span the East and West.” Under Periplus, the firm was boosting its output while expanding U.S.-based distribution.
PRINCIPAL OPERATING UNITS
Tuttle; Periplus Editions; Journey Editions.
Kodansha International; Japan Publications Trading Company; Chronicle Books; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; Dover Publications; Random House, Inc.
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——, “Small House to Buy Atlantic Monthly Press,” New York Times, June 24, 1991, p. D1.
Falk, Ray, “Letter from Tokyo,” New York Times, July 19, 1953.
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——, “Getting Personal: Body Art,” Publishers Weekly, August 16, 1999, p. 46.
——, “Is Tuttle Ready for Fall? Absolutely,” Publishers Weekly, August 1, 2005, p. 12.
——, “Looking East and Going to the Dogs,” Publishers Weekly, November 3, 2003, p. 24.
——, “Tuttle Publishing Celebrates Golden Anniversary,” Publishers Weekly, November 2, 1998.
——, “Tuttle Publishing Lays Off Most of Boston Staff,” Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2001.
Saxon, Wolfgang, “Charles Tuttle, 78, a Dealer in Books on U.S.-Asian Ties,” New York Times, June 11, 1993, p. 28.
Sherman, Steve, “Everyman Library Lives, in Paperback from Tuttle,” Publishers Weekly, April 19, 1991, p. 33.
Stephens, Jacintha, “The Business of Style—Chapter and Verse,” Asiaweek, October 19, 2001.
Taylor, Sally, “Japan’s ICG-Muse Buys Tuttle Shokai,” Publishers Weekly, January 18, 1999.
Teo, Anna, “From Academic to Travel Book Trail-Blazer: Periplus Books,” Business Times Singapore, August 8, 1994.