Amber Books Marks 15 Years African-American Publishing

By Diane Patrick (Mar 29, 2013)

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Amber Books, an independent publisher specializing in nonfiction titles for the African-American market, marked its 15th anniversary in February by winning an NAACP Image Award in the Youth/Teen category for publishing Gregory Reed’s book, Obama Talks Back: Global Lessons—A Dialogue with America’s Young Leaders.

Based in Phoenix, Az., Amber Books—an imprint of Amber Communications Group Inc.—has 95 titles in print across six imprints. All of Amber’s books are published in paperback with prices ranging from $12.95 to $21.95. ACGI’s imprints include Amber Books; Colossus Books (musician and celebrity biographies, including titles from the former Busta Books imprint); Amber/Wiley Books (self-help and financial titles copublished with Wiley and all still in print); Joyner/Amber Books (one title, copublished with broadcast personality Tom Joyner); and two brand new imprints, Amber Classics (self-help reference) and Desmoon Books (fiction), launched in 2012.

Amber Book revenues grew about 20% in 2012 compared to the previous year, ACGI president and CEO Tony Rose said, credited the growth to e-books, as well as increasing international sales “and the global popularity of African-American history and culture.” The company’s bestselling titles include Is Modeling for You? and Ageless Beauty by Alfred Fornay and Yvonne Rose; African American History in the United States of America, compiled and edited by Tony Rose; Lil Wayne: An Unauthorized Biography by Jake Brown; and Nicki Minaj: The Woman Who Stole the World by Lynette Holloway. Amber’s titles are also licensed by Black Expressions Book Club, with 30 titles signed to date. In addition, Rose has acquired and licensed paperback rights from Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hyperion for publishing and distribution by ACGI.

A former music industry executive and record producer, Rose began his book publishing career in 1997, when he and wife Yvonne, then a professional model at the time, expanded a short business brochure by Yvonne into a book, Is Modeling for You? The Handbook and Guide for the Young Aspiring Black Model, which they self-published to sell at a festival they were attending.

The next year Rose formed Amber Communications Group with a mission “to provide self-help books for the African-American community—a niche market that I knew well from my music production days.” The couple went on to publish nonfiction titles such as How to Play the Sports Recruiting Game and Get an Athletic Scholarship by Rodney McKissic, and The African American Woman’s Guide to Successful Makeup and Skincare by Alfred Fornay.

Looking to leverage a popular list of nonfiction, Rose has also negotiated partnerships, licensing, and e-book–licensing deals for ACGI in the U.S., South Africa, Canada, Europe, and Asia, including a seven-book international deal licensing e-book rights to K-Tel International for titles from ACGI’s Colossus Books imprint.

While Amber’s nonfiction sales declined between 2002 and 2006, when sales of urban/street lit and hip-hop crime fiction were booming, Rose said during those years he switched the company’s focus to pop-culture nonfiction and found new readers and new revenue. “Our way of competing was to put out biographies of [hip-hop stars] Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne that would [spotlight] successful urban people who made it through a music vernacular.” Being able to adapt to changing times has been one of the keys that has kept Amber Books in the forefront of African-American publishing for 15 years.