The company's called BrownTrout. And like a lot of company names, it has a history. "Brown" is for Marc and Mike Brown and Marc's wife, Wendover, the Utah calendar kings. "Trout" because of their love of outdoor lore. And in there somewhere is a tip of the hat to Utah itself with its famous fishing streams.
Today Marc and Wendover work out of San Francisco; Mike holds things down in Los Angeles."The whole thing got started in 1981 when I quit my job in Utah to work with Ken Sanders at Dream Garden Press there," says Marc Brown. "We did some regional history books, an Ed Abbey novel and a calendar. Then in 1986 my brother Mike, my wife and I started BrownTrout publishing. The first year we did three calendars. Last year we did 114. This year we're looking at 165. In 1996 we may be doing as many as 300."
With Mike working the field, Wendover doing design and crunching numbers and Marc coordinating the business from the presses in San Francisco, Brown-Trout is growing so fast it's getting stretch marks. The calendar craze has been booming in America, and the BrownTrout people have been riding the wave.
"There's a school of thought that says we actually got into the business about four years too late," says Mike. "But we finally found the angle of doing regional calendars - micromarketing - and that has made all the difference."
Adds Wendover: "Every time we grow it frees us up to do more calendars we'd like to do. That's what I like."
And why has America gone bonkers over calendars?
"Interest tends to build," says Mike. "People get a calendar one year, like it, and buy that same calendar again the next year. And people like having a quiet moment when they can look up and reflect on a nice photograph. It's what people need these days."
Armchair historians trace the new calendar craze back 25 years, when J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth "Hobbit" calendar hit the shelves. It was such a sensation that astute marketers began jumping on the bandwagon.
Soon the Sierra Club came on board with its scenic "eye candy" calendars. Then cartoonists and artists started to show up. Most of those calendars were sold through bookstores - not gift stores - so a new brand of customer and retail outlet was driving the interest. It wasn't long before the inexpensive "pretty" calendars passed out by funeral homes and banks were being blown out of the water by high-minded literary wonders that people bought out of pride and love - not just necessity.
Today, when it comes to calendars, just about anything and everything goes (see related story on E1).
"Someone once said if it's a noun, BrownTrout will do a calendar about it," says Marc Brown. "And in a way, that's true. If something is photographically interesting, it's a possible subject for us."
This year (for 1995) BrownTrout has a list of releases that runs the gamut. The headliner for the company for 1995 is photographer David Muench. Not only do Muench's photographs appear on several calendars, but his work is the subject of two new BrownTrout trade publications, "Images in Stone" and "Muench: American Portfolios," the latter - done with Muench's son Marc - may be the most stunning collection of landscapes ever shot.
Meanwhile the calendar biz itself is buzzing with a series of astrology calendars and a series of calendars for each region of the continent. The South ("Barns of the South"), East ("New England Places") North ("Wild & Scenic Quebec") and, of course, the West ("Desert Light") are well covered. California gets 10 calendars by itself.
Most of the states get calendars. So does a whole preserve of animals (owls, trout, bears). There's even a "Mormon Country" calendar.
Adds Marc Brown in retrospect: "Over the years we've had to borrow money from friendly sources to keep going, but we've always been able to finance our growth. The funny thing is, there's still a growing demand."
Needless to say, BrownTrout plans to keep growing right along with it.