Marlene Taschen Talks Leading The Family Publishing House And New Visions
The story of Taschen reads like an entrepreneurial fairytale: in 1980, 18-year-old Benedikt Taschen opened a store selling comic books in Cologne, Germany. Shortly afterwards, the teenage businessman began publishing his own comics. Then, spotting a gap in the market, he started printing glossy but inexpensive art books. Now, Taschen has stores and offices around the world, employs hundreds of people and collaborates with artists such as Jeff Koons and David Hockney.
Taschen still sells budget-friendly titles, but now also produces some of the most expensive tomes in the world. Most famously, it sells “sumo-sized” limited editions, such as Helmut Newton’s Sumo, which was sold in Taschen stores for HK$200,000 (one later sold at auction for more than HK$3 million). The company is now led jointly by Benedikt and Marlene, his eldest child, who became CEO in 2017. Here, Marlene discusses how she is expanding the business in Asia.
You opened your first store in Asia in Hong Kong in 2018, then last year you opened a store in Tokyo. What do you have planned for your Tokyo store?
This year will be a real celebration for our Tokyo space. We have some great Japanese-themed books coming out, one with Kengo Kuma, which we have held back because he is the architect of the Olympic stadium and we want to release it to coincide with the Olympics.
We also have another book on Japanese architecture and a beautiful, limited-edition book with a Japanese chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa, who is the owner of Les Créations de Narisawa. I have eaten there once with my father. It is such a special experience—he makes these very visual dishes, often inspired by nature. He also has an excellent menu of sakes—I think we had 16 sakes in one meal. It was wonderful.
How much has your business grown in Asia over the past few years?
We are a privately owned company and we don’t discuss exact figures, but over the past three years we have seen double-digit growth in Asia.
Are you planning to open more stores in Asia?
Are you planning to translate more of your books into Asian languages?
It took quite a while to find the right partner, but we are now bringing out a substantial range of books in simplified Chinese. We have translated books into Chinese before—at different times and with different titles—but we are building a proper translating programme that is going to keep developing from one year to the next. We translate some individual books into other Asian languages, but we are also looking to possibly translate more books into Japanese and Korean.
Which books sell particularly well in Asia?
On one hand, our Basic Art Series and our Bibliotheca Universalis Series sell really well. Those are our more democratic titles—they are offered at a good price point. On the other hand, we have seen a great increase in demand for our high-end collectors’ editions.
We have people who are collectors specifically of Taschen limited editions. They often buy each book not once but twice because they put one into storage and the other one they live with. So, in some cases it is a form of investment; it’s not just about owning a beautiful item.