AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
Ahead of the Curve with Communities
In certain publishing circles, “community” is now a favorite buzzword, and the talk is often about whether publishers will be able to gear up to serve the kinds of communities in which today’s readers congregate.
No, wait, you say. Independent publishers have been serving geographic, nongeographic, and online communities for years, in some cases for decades, and not only by providing books that are especially interesting to them.
And of course that’s true, as many articles in the Independent and many panels at Publishing University—among other things—have shown and will continue to show.
Can the huge houses that establishment circles are buzzing about manage to follow suit? Do they even want to do that? Should they want to? So far, the only clear answer is Maybe. But if they do decide they need to serve communities, they can find plenty of great examples to learn from, including the four that follow here.—Judith Appelbaum
In a Time-honored Tradition
Quilting is an amazing craft form that has always focused on community. Hundreds of years ago women sewed by hand in groups to keep each other company; after that, women shared sewing machines. And by making amazing quilts, wall hangings, table runners, wearables, and home decor items, crafters are making themselves and other people feel better. When the Twin Towers went down, quilters created stunning wall hangings within two weeks, and then we created a book, America from the Heart, and donated all the profits. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the quilters’ community put a call out and were able to donate thousands of quilts to homeless families as well as clothes, sheets, towels, and other necessities.
I believe that we are very lucky to serve such a dynamic market, and to have served it for more than 25 years. During that time, we have expanded from a core of independent quilt shops to include more general craft stores such as JoAnn Stores, Hancock’s, and Hobby Lobby as customers. And trade sales, which have always been a smaller part of our business, have been growing.
To serve our community of quilters, we offer not only print-on-paper books but also e-books, nonbook products, services, events, and so on. Currently we publish more than 50 books a year; we sell acrylic templates, bolted interfacings, journals, papercraft, and mixed-media products, and we are branching out into a Surface Design Center for painting on fabric. We also have a subscription-based monthly electronic club and an iTunes App that Apple has picked for “What’s Hot,” and we have jumped into social media with both feet.
We communicate with our readers in many ways. We see them at trade shows and now meet up with them through our blog (ctpubblog.com) and on our Facebook and YouTube pages. We also tweet, send out weekly e-newsletters, and conduct consumer surveys on a regular basis.
On our blog we have weekly blog candy giveaways. And we have Creative Troupers—a force of fiber and mixed-media artists who work on new product lines for us to develop samples for our booth, packaging, and material for magazine or online posts. The artists in this terrific group love our products and share their enthusiasm with others.
We guarantee the technical accuracy of our books and put our contact information in every one of them so that any reader who has a problem can call and speak with one of our technical editors to get the help they want.
Many of our authors have Web sites and blogs, and we link to all of them on our blog. We are also fortunate to be in a field where authors travel and teach at local quilt shops or guilds. Many of our authors travel all over the world teaching quilting and other fiber arts. They are our best sales force and part of what keeps C&T strong.
Many crafters make items for themselves, and many crafters, like me, create items to give as gifts. Over the years I have created quilts, fabric bowls, scarves, and much more. I create because I love the way it makes me feel to work with my hands. It relieves stress and gives me a sense of accomplishment. It also brings joy to my heart when I see the delight in the eyes of the receiver. So, when I think of community, I think how lucky I am to be part of the C&T family and the greater quilting community. I get to see and touch beautiful, handmade crafts every day . . . what else could you ask for?
Spreading Out Together
We count a large percentage of the 8 billion global citizens as our potential BK community. People from over 140 countries arrive on Berrett-Koehler’s bkconnection.com Web site every month. We realize that the overwhelming majority of these people will not buy our products, but our goal is to make it as easy as possible to spread the word from those who do purchase, so the ratio of buyers to those influenced by our content is always improving.
The Internet changes everything in this regard. In the early days of the company, the ratio of purchases to souls touched may have been 1:100; today we strive for 1:1,000; one day it may reach 1:1,000,000. Therefore, we devote significant resources to reader-driven and author-driven viral marketing and buzz programs in our frictionless Internet and mobile-device global economy.
The books we publish are nonfiction and categorized in three areas, which we call agendas: BK Business, BK Life (career and personal development books), and BK Currents (current affairs books). These three integrated agendas address the company’s overarching mission of “creating a world that works for all” by providing new ideas at the individual (BK Life), organizational (BK Business), and societal (BK Currents) levels. This paragraph from our Web site illustrates these connections by defined market segment:
We believe that to truly create a better world, action is needed at all levels—individual, organizational, and societal. At the individual level, our books help people align their lives with their values and with their aspirations for a better world. At the organizational level, our books promote progressive leadership and management practices, socially responsible approaches to business, and humane and effective organizations. At the societal level, our books advance social and economic justice, shared prosperity, sustainability, and new solutions to national and global issues.
Our titles are available as e-books in numerous formats (PDF, EPUB, dedicated readers such as Kindle, mobile devices such as iPhone/iPod Touch) and as audio and DVD products. In addition, we offer article- and chapter-length versions of content from our books with the Fast Fundamentals: BK Whitepaper Series; and several media-rich interactive products such as self-assessment applications, live webinars with archived recordings, and iPhone apps (launching this spring). Also, we distribute our content through a host of digital partners such as Books24×7, Safari Online, and iLibrary, and we promote our authors’ workshops, seminars, and live events through the Berrett-Koehler Authors Cooperative.
To communicate with our books’ readers, we use:
• an e-newsletter called the BK Communiqué that presents not only BK-related items
but also news about the publishing industry, interviews with authors, interactive
features, and lots more
• sales-oriented emails that offer new and classic books at a discount
• social networking pages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Scribd, etc.)
• exhibits at trade conferences—a great way to get feedback
• consumer surveys about topics such as book covers, book titles, future books, digital
reading preferences, and so on
Also, we often invite selected readers to provide some consumer feedback on what we call our author days, when we invite an author in to spend a day meeting with the entire staff.
Other ways we’ve set up to help writers and readers communicate with each other include:
• Future Search, a periodic planning conference with participants from all
Berrett-Koehler stakeholder groups, which means readers, staff, distributors,
printers, digital partners, manuscript reviewers, and more
• Berrett-Koehler Authors Cooperative, an independent, author-driven organization with
approximately 100 members
• BK Author Videos and Flash Movies, short videos and Internet Flash Movies about
our books that we produce or facilitate and that include an option for viewers (who
are presumably readers too) to send feedback to the author; for example, our Flash
Movie for our book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Diehas a section
at the end that lets viewers send the author their own secret and share their life
secrets with other viewers
• links to our authors’ blogs on our Web site, right on the home page
• Facebook, BK Scribd, and BK Twitter pages, and a BK Author YouTube channel
• the BK Communiqué e-newsletter reader blog and interactive challenges in each issue
• author appearances at our trade show booths (we exhibit regularly at BEA, the
American Society for Training and Development, and the Academy of Management)
• other author appearances—as a company, we are committed to facilitating author
appearances—and the interactions they enable—throughout the United States and
even around the world
When You Are the Reader You Serve
I decided to publish for the women’s travel market for three reasons. It’s what I know best; I’ve been a part of this group for more than 20 years, so I knew how to appeal to it. I wanted to position myself as an expert on this topic. And even though others were publishing in this niche, their books weren’t speaking to me, so I knew there was an opening for me to create my own community.
I have a very healthy Web site with content that complements and expands on the Wanderlust and Lipstick guides. I also offer a free monthly e-newsletter that includes product recommendations, information on my tours, giveaways, and links to the latest articles on the site. Finally, I offer tours for women (and sometimes men) travelers. The tours grew out of a demand from women who had purchased a book, visited the site, or connected with me through Facebook.
I communicate with my readers through the site, my blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
For their part, readers can communicate with authors. For instance, readers come to WanderMom.com, a Wanderlust and Lipstick–managed site, to make contact with Michelle Duffy, co-author of Traveling with Kids.
The key to success in serving a community seems to be a constant but gentle approach. Stay on your community’s radar, but not in a pushy way. Provide information without always trying to sell.
Wanderlust and Lipstick
With Long Careful Campaigns in the Virtual World
Starting with our first book, we have published for the adoption market—families who have adopted, adoptees, and birth parents. Now we are expanding our market to include foster families, foster children, and people who have aged out of the foster system as well.
Our writers, editors, and other staff all have families who have been touched by adoption in some way, so we not only sell to this market, we are this market.
We offer a ton of useful—and free—information on our site, which has a special area for social workers and offers attractively formatted articles for use in informational packets for prospective adoptive families and for people doing postadoption education. We also have notecards and adoption jewelry. And we speak at adoption events throughout the year.
Through a number of e-lists on Yahoo! and other forums established by people touched by adoption, bloggers talk about us and link to our resources. Our monthly e-newsletter usually features an article with links to books that can be helpful to readers interested in the topic. Plus, we have a Facebook group and a presence on Twitter (but I need to be better about keeping things updated).
For our newest book for adopted teens, we have a Facebook group and a new blog set up by several of the contributors; there are about 100, mostly adoptees, and we recruited them via the Web and the groups in which we are active.
For our flagship parenting book—Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections, a 2006 title edited by Sheena Macrae and Jean MacLeod that has more than 100 contributors—I started a Yahoo! group in 2003 that focused on topics adoptive parents struggle with and are interested in learning more about. Unlike the random chat in most Yahoo! groups, our conversation centers on a specific topic, and we talk about that topic for two weeks before starting to talk about another one.
The topic is generally introduced by a document several pages long that includes probing questions, resources, and links to get things started. Today, the group has almost 4,000 members. It was instrumental in formulating Adoption Parenting, and we direct people to the group from the book and vice versa.
For our book Forever Fingerprints by Sherrie Eldridge, we created a nationwide network of read-alouds at local libraries, churches, and adoption support groups, developing our network online. During one November day, we had more than 250 different readings.
To work effectively within a community, you need to build trust. In our market, there is a lot of bad information, but we have always insisted on high-quality content that will be well received by the professionals who work with adoptive families, and we often look at tough issues from a variety of viewpoints instead of just saying, “This is the right answer.” The right answer for one family may be far different from the right answer for another.