Walsworth Publishing Company, Inc.

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Walsworth Publishing Company, Inc.

306 North Kansas Avenue
Marceline, Missouri 64658-2105
Telephone: (660) 376-3543
Toll Free: (800) 369-2646
Fax: (660) 258-7798
Web site: http://www.walsworthyearbooks.com

Private Company
: 1937
Employees: 1,500 (est.)
Sales: $100 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 511130 Book Publishers

Walsworth Publishing Company, Inc. is a family owned and operated publishing company located in Marceline, Missouri, best known as the hometown of Walt Disney. Walsworth's main focus is the publishing of more than 5,000 high school yearbooks each year. Not only does the company print the yearbooks, it provides a complete range of services to help high school students produce professional quality work. On the production side, Walsworth educates students through desktop publishing seminars and offers online tools to help yearbook editors design pages and create covers. Walsworth also helps students finance their books through advertising programs. Telephone, fax, and e-mail support is available for assistance in all aspects of the yearbook program. In addition, Walsworth maintains a commercial book division, which publishes textbooks, cookbooks, travel guides, and encyclopedias. It especially caters to the needs of university publishers and technical and scientific publishers. Despite its relatively small size, Walsworth has made an ongoing commitment to investing in state-of-the art printing technology. It is one of only a handful of publishers with a full line of in-house printing capabilities, including prepress capabilities, printing, binding, and special finishes such as foil stamping, embossing, and debossing. As a result, Walsworth is contracted by larger publishers to do trade work. The company maintains its headquarters and finishing plant in Marceline, handles sales and marketing out of its Kansas City, Missouri, office, and runs regional offices throughout the United States. Furthermore, Walsworth owns Walsworth Yearbook Ltd. in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Virginia Beach, Virginia-based The Donning Company Publishers, a specialty publisher of limited-edition commemorative biographies and histories of businesses, schools, and communities.


Walsworth was founded in Marceline in 1937 by three brothers: Don, Ed, and Bill Walsworth. Originally known as Walsworth Brothers, the company was an adjunct to a local theater endeavor. Don's wife, Joy, was in charge of mounting the plays, while he put together the programs, sold the advertising, and printed the show bills. In the beginning the programs were crude publications, composed on a borrowed typewriter and reproduced on a mimeograph machine. The brothers drummed up more business by producing show bills and selling ads for theaters in surrounding states. They also ventured beyond programs by printing cookbooks collected by their relatives.

Walsworth expanded further after World War II came to an end in 1945. Its salesmen continued to sell show bill advertising, but the company also began printing books for veteran organizations and produced other memorial volumes to commemorate people's military service, as well as church cookbooks. In 1947 Walsworth began producing high school yearbooks, a field for which it was highly suited. At the time, yearbook publishers produced the books free of charge for students, with the profits coming from the sale of local advertising. It was, in fact, the sale of ads in all of its books that was the key revenue stream.

The company changed its name to Walsworth Publishing Company, Inc. in 1956. A year later, one of the founders' sons, Don Walsworth, came to work for the family business. He would become the key to Walsworth's rise to prominence. From his early childhood he knew he wanted to be involved in the printing field. In elementary school he helped produce show bills by shaking up scores of gallon jugs of chemicals and developer needed in the paper film photographic process in use at the time. "Man, did I hate doing that," he told Printing Impressions in a 2003 profile. "But once I got into high school, I worked on making plates and became pretty efficient at that." He became an education major at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he also played on the varsity basketball team before breaking an arm during his sophomore year. In addition, he traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to take printing courses at Carnegie Tech. It was also during his sophomore year that his parents died. By the time Don Walsworth joined his uncles to help run the family business after he graduated from college in 1957, yearbooks were unquestionably the main product, but Walsworth remained more of an advertising company than a publisher. The yearbook business was very much a seasonal affair. In the spring, as the yearbooks were produced, the company was a whirl of activity, but production was slow the rest of the year, forcing regular layoffs. As a result, it was difficult to retain an experienced workforce necessary to grow the business, and all too often valuable equipment stood idle. Walsworth attempted to rectify these problems by convincing a number of schools to take delivery of their yearbooks in the fall rather than the spring. The company had two busy seasons, which helped to even out production, but spring time, as school came to the close for the year, remained the preferred time for yearbooks. In the 1960s Walsworth began to focus more on commercial printing to achieve balance. Walsworth also shifted its focus away from ad sales and began concentrating on the production of the yearbooks, which it now sold to the schools instead of giving them away.


Don Walsworth assumed the presidency of the company in 1967. He took over a small business that was not even a breakeven affair. According to St. Louis Business Journal, Walsworth's liabilities exceeded its assets. However, that would change under Don Walsworth's leadership. In 1970 the company added a commercial printing department and had the production capabilities needed to take on specialty publications like church directories and history books, as well as the reprinting of books. Walsworth launched its commercial book division in 1974 in order to produce high-quality, four-color books, such as community history volumes, military books, and other general trade publications. But just as important as the investment in new printing equipment was the creation of a new force of sales representatives (or reps). In this way, yearbook reps could concentrate on schools and their specific needs, while the new reps, more knowledgeable about the printing needs of commercial customers, could concentrate on their area of expertise.


Walsworth has prospered into the technology leader in the yearbook industry as part of our goals of providing customers with the best possible service while helping them produce yearbooks of superior quality.

Walsworth continued to grow its capability over the next decade. Company headquarters expanded in downtown Marceline, and the company opened a large finishing plant in the town and a prepress facility in nearby Brookfield. Walsworth's yearbook sales and marketing office also was opened in Kansas City during this period. In the meantime, another generation of the Walsworth family became involved in the business. In 1982, after graduating from the University of Missouri, Ed Walsworth joined his father. He started out as a commercial book sales representative, but soon graduated to management posts, eventually becoming executive vice-president overseeing manufacturing and plant management personnel. In addition, he launched Quality Binding L.L.C. in 1988, serving as its president and chief executive officer until it was sold in 2002.

Walsworth acquired The Donning Company Publishers in 1985 and launched another expansion effort in 1990, but given the rise of new high technology introduced in the publishing field the company was essentially forced to make ongoing investments to stay current. "If you don't stay on the cutting edge, I'm afraid you'll get lost in the shuffle," Don Walsworth told Printing Impressions. "We have great people here analyzing it constantly. A couple of our employees concentrate solely on new products, methods, new techniques and material. They travel the country and the world to do that, and that's how we stay abreast of the market."

In the late 1990s Walsworth began to automate its prepress workflow by implementing the Adobe PDF software. The company encouraged schools to submit all of their copy as PDF files and within a short time had completely transitioned to the new process. As a result, composition that once took weeks to do was now complete in a matter of days. Lead times were shortened and Walsworth was able to turn around projects much quicker than before. According to the company, it operated the largest computerized prepress production center in a single location in the United States.

Walsworth also embraced the Internet, using it to provide technical support as well as to serve as a storehouse for design suggestions, graphics, easy-to-use templates, and articles written for novice editors. Don Walsworth told Printing Impressions that one of the key factors in the company's success was simplicity. "We try to make it as easy as possible for customers to perform whatever they have to do, be it commercial printing or yearbooks." He added, "We're not selling printing per se; we're selling security." The company's new capabilities also allowed it to use Marceline as a remote production site for Walsworth Yearbook Limited, established in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2000. PDF files were created in Scotland, then transmitted to Marceline, where the books were printed, bound, and then shipped to Scotland for delivery.


Starting in the late 1990s and through 2004, Walsworth invested more than $30 million on new technology, new presses, new bindery equipment, and plant expansions. For example, in the early 2000s Walsworth added a new four-color digital HP/Indigo press, plastic coiling equipment, a hi-die punchee, roll sheeter, and a U.V. coater. Much of the specialized equipment allowed Walsworth to pursue new sources of business. The company enjoyed particular success in the children's niche market, landing substantial business from the likes of Leap Frog and CRC Press. The new equipment also helped Walsworth to win more business from technical and scientific publishers and contract work from the major publishers like Houghton Mifflin. While yearbook publishing remained the company's chief business, a willingness to invest in new technologies and equipment played a significant role in the growth of the commercial book division. Don Walsworth summarized the company's approach for Printing Impressions in 2003: "We've been innovative in various technologies. We've been pioneers in many different areas: page pagination, complete pagination, eight-up film, computer-to-plate and now computer-to-press. We've been innovators, not followers. We maintain an entrepreneurial atmosphere here. We're somewhat of a risk taker, but we want the rewards, too."


Don, Ed, and Bill Walsworth form Walsworth Brothers to produce theater programs.
The company begins producing yearbooks.
The name is changed to Walsworth Publishing Company, Inc.
Second generation Don O. Walsworth assumes the presidency.
Commercial Book Division is formed.
A major expansion effort is launched.
The company begins a large investment in new equipment and technologies.

Don Walsworth was 69 years old when he spoke to Printing Impressions after the publication named him as one of its 2003 inductees to the RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame. He received less welcome publicity in 2003 when he was named a curator at the University of Missouri and received scrutiny because his company did printing work for the university, which to some represented a conflict of interest. According to public records Walsworth received less than $280,000 in business with the school between 1997 and 2003, a small fraction of the company's revenues, which totaled in the neighborhood of $100 million a year. Some of that work included the programs and media guide produced for the university's athletic teams. Don Walsworth maintained that he was not directly involved in the bids his company made to win university business and had nothing to hide. Nevertheless, the issue continued to prove nettlesome. In October 2005 the University of Missouri curators approved a new conflict-of-interest policy to prevent curators from making money in con-nection to the university until they had been out of office for two years. An exemption was carved out for Don Walsworth, however, stirring up further controversy. He did not lack defenders, who pointed out that the amount of free printing his company performed for the universitypocket sports schedules, season ticket brochures, and postersfar exceeded Walsworth's for-profit work for the school.

Despite his age, Walsworth was very much involved at the University of Missouri, especially with his beloved basketball team, and remained in charge of the family printing business. His son Ed left in 2002 to start a new company, Walsworth Solutions, to provide schools with online software applications to serve their printing needs. Another son, Don Walsworth, Jr., stepped in to support Walsworth Publishing. The younger Walsworth, a Stanford University graduate in economics, had shared his father's passion for golf and spent 15 years as a professional golfer, competing around the world, before turning his attention to the family business. As president, he was in all likelihood his father's heir apparent.


The Donning Company Publishers; Walsworth Yearbook Ltd. (Scotland).


American Achievement Corporation; Jostens, Inc.; Life-touch Inc.


Cagle, Erik, "Selling Peace of Mind," Printing Impressions, September 2003, p. 30.

Carlisle, Nate, "New University of Missouri Curator Downplays Firm's Ties to College," Columbia Daily Tribune, January 17, 2003.

Friedman, Leah, "Walsworth Leads Family Publishing Co. Back into Profits," St. Louis Business Journal, June 28, 2004.

O'Connor, John, "High School Yearbooks Becoming High-Tech," State Journal-Register (Springfield, Ill.), July 1, 1996.

Zagier, Alan Scher, "Marceline Publisher Bypasses Curators' Conflict of Interest Rules," Associated Press, October 7, 2005.