Brand Interview: David E. Carter
How long has your company been in business? Please tell us a bit about your company, its mission, goals…
I produced my first logo book in 1972 – this was a time when there were NO logo books. NONE. With much effort, I identified and collected nearly 1,000 logos that were outstanding. I put the book together the old fashioned way: I shot them in a darkroom with a big graphic arts camera. Made film, then made prints from the film. Next step was to paste them into a book layout.
I sent letters to 17 publishers, and all turned me down. One actually wrote something like, “there is no market for logo books, because there are no logo books.” I saw just the reverse, and self-published the book. I pre-sold enough copies in 5 weeks to hit break-even, and THEN I paid cash for the press run. Within a year, I sold 4,000 copies of the book – all with direct mail. That was the beginning of of something very big. Over the next 35 years, I produced 114 books, and became the best-selling producer of graphic design books. Ever.
Do you donate to charities? Tell us about that also and why.
I have one charity. Ohio University Southern is very near to my hometown of Ashland, Kentucky (just across the river). It’s primarily a commuter school, and attracts many young people who are the first in their families to attend college. They have a great Electronic Media program, and they are changing the lives of many young people.
I went to graduate school at the main campus of Ohio University (Athens, Ohio), and that was a life-changing experience for me. When I moved from Kentucky to Florida, I was leaving behind my “dream office.” It was like a museum. Seriously. The director of the Electronic Media program asked me what I was going to do with all my “stuff.” I had no idea, but I really didn’t want to part with the memorabilia I had, but saw no options. He said, “we would like to take the best of your office environment and make a David E. Carter Creativity Center and Museum on our campus.” And they did. (See www.creativitycenter.org)
Tell us about your brand.
For the books I produced, my name is my brand. But my visual identity for my books is a caricature of me that was done by the legendary Al Hirschfeld. Yes, the guy who has drawn everybody in show business from The Beatles to Elvis Presley to Johnny Carson and hundreds more.
Why did he draw ME? Because I discovered that Al Roker’s wife had commissioned him to do a caricature of Roker as a Christmas present. Once I learned that Hirschfeld did commissions, I knew that I needed to have that image on ALL of my books. I wrote a check, visited Hirschfeld in his brownstone, and he captured my image in art. Best money I ever spent.
In what order did you present your company to the world? Did you start with marketing and products, or website, blog and social media?
Social media didn’t exist when I began producing books. I started with direct mail, then I became a “shameless self promoter.”
How long after the launch of your company did you start pitching in social media?
I didn’t get into social media until just a few years ago. I feel like an aging dinosaur.
Did you do research or study any software, take webinars, teleclasses, before approaching any area of your marketing or web presence?
I was an early adopter of Macintosh technology. My first Mac was a MacII cx in 1989. It had a 40 MB hard drive, with 2 MB of RAM. I have never used anything other than a Mac.
Do you advertise locally in newspapers and/or nationally in magazines? Are they effective?
My first 8 books that I self published were sold by direct mail. Very primitive by today’s standards, but very profitable. After those 8 books, I sold the business to Art Direction Book Company of New York City in 1977, and they became my publisher until 1996. Then, I switched to HarperCollins, the big buys (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.) They were my publisher until I walked away from book publishing in 2008.
Did you know anything about different types of papers, when you wanted to print your marketing materials?
I knew quite a bit about paper, printing and advertising. The book business was never my primary activity. I owned an advertising agency that was a member of the AAAA (American Association of Advertising Agencies,) and I won a couple of Clio Awards for my ad work.
From Printed books to eBooks
In 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, I saw the future of eBooks for graphic design. By then, the Kindle was really making inroads in the traditional book world. I spent nearly 3 years building Bright Book, the first mover in eBooks for the graphic design world. In the end, this was an idea that was ahead of its time. In the end, I realized I had to fold the tent and move on to something else.
The changes in media today are causing huge disruptions in newspapers, music, and other areas. I was a pioneer in a market that wasn’t ready for my innovations. Will this market ever be ready for eBooks for the graphic designers? Maybe not. Too many people are used to getting free information on the internet. Why pay a few dollars for an eBook when someone can do a google search and find design ideas there? The down side of this is the major graphics books producers (printed books) are cutting down to almost NO new books. Where is the market headed? I don’t know.
Do you speak at events? If so tell us about that.
I used to do this extensively. I conducted full-day seminars for Advertising Age beginning in 1977, and then became a frequent speaker on the topic. I was on the program at conferences in Rio de Janeiro, Helsinki, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, and other places.
What is coming up in the year or two we should watch for?
We shall see.
Is there anything you haven’t yet tackled, but will want to do soon?
During the 1980s, my ad agency started a TV production company, and I created programs that won 7 Emmy Awards. In addition, we produced a number of comedy sketches that appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. After I walked away from book publishing in 2008, I re-discovered my love for producing TV. I immersed myself in the new digital video technology, and produced a couple of well-received documentaries. One was nominated for an Emmy Award, and the other, on baseball, was shown at the Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival in 2010.
What will I tackle next? Fun stuff. Whatever I do, it’ll be fun.
To learn more about David E. Carter, please visit the links below:
Biography at www.logobooks.com
Museum website at www.creativitycenter.org
Other website links: