AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
Good Moves for Bad Times
Advice on coping with economic difficulties is plentiful these days. Advice that you can act on is in shorter supply. But IBPA members have stepped up to meet the need. Read on for tips and insights from publishing companies of many sizes and sorts, including a self-publishing start-up and a long-established midsized house.
A Better Price for Printing
When we recently reordered our popular book on spices, I didn’t like the price I got from my regular printer. Although I like working with this printer, we got other quotes. One was considerably cheaper, and when we approached our regular printer, it lowered its price.
We saved several hundred dollars on 1,500 books, and the delivery time was very fast, even though fall is usually the busiest month for book printers.
Doyle Marine publishes to the boating community, and, as you might guess, that market is in the tank. I expect the current economy to continue its decline through 2010, returning to a relatively healthy economy somewhere around 2014.
During the downturn over the next few years, we have decided to reprint our most popular title instead of creating two new expanded editions. We have two reasons: Sales have dropped 90 percent over the last few months, and printing costs abroad will be going down in the near future. We expect those costs to stay low in step with the U.S. economy. On a run of 30,000, our saving will be considerable, and we will not be sitting on inventory while having a nervous breakdown.
We are also expanding our product base with smaller items (which we manufacture), and we are expanding our list of books in areas other than marine—for example, a bathroom-remodeling book with several new twists is in the works. “Why bathrooms?” you ask. During the crash from ’89 to ’96, many people were stuck in their homes, unwilling to sell them because moving to a new home often meant losing money on the current one and paying interest of 12 to 17 percent. Instead of moving, they remodeled. People are stuck in their homes for many of the same reasons today, while a great number of foreclosed homes have been trashed by the former occupants and need remodeling as well.
None of our current products will be quickly outdated, and this whole business of returns in the publishing business is unacceptable. So far, when we have rejected a typical return policy, we have met with no resistance. We will continue to work around returns during this time when every penny counts toward overhead.
A Less-Expensive Audio Option
Griffyn Ink Publishing has just released Resonance, the World’s First AudioMovie™—an audiobook complete with cast, soundtrack, and sound effects. With the economy as it is, people are buying fewer audiobooks, opting instead to share with friends and use the library. Our AudioMovie™comes on a USB flash drive and is a less-expensive option. It saves on production and shipping costs, and we pass those savings onto our customers.
We’ve gotten great feedback. Many people were used to uploading conventional audiobooks to their computers so they could listen on their MP3 players. Now, they just plug and play.
Griffyn Ink Publishing
Changes and Constants
We are definitely a backlist publisher. That is, we invest only in books and other resources that have evergreen qualities for our market, which consists primarily of educators and others who work with children and teens. Because we work with our authors to develop topics that relate to most children at some stage of life, our books are continually needed by parents, caregivers, teachers, counselors, and youth workers.
As we consider new titles, we’re being even more critical in our research and evaluation to determine what books will sell well right away and for many years. We have several successful series, and we’re continuing to add titles to them.
In terms of business practices, we’ve capped salary increases and we’re hiring only if a position becomes vacant. We’re bidding out printing jobs to more vendors than usual to get the best possible prices without sacrificing quality. We’re also scrutinizing the trade shows we attend and cutting back to attend only those shows that make a quantifiable return on our investment. This enables us to use our sales and marketing resources (human and financial) more effectively.
Partly because our customers have been increasingly responsive to our nonbook products that align with our mission of “supporting young people’s social and emotional health,” we recently acquired Attitude Matters®, whose product line, In a Jar®, offers content on card decks and in game formats that cover a broad range of topics such as Daily Dilemmas for Kids and Feelings in a Jar. We’re very pleased with the response to this addition of products from our core market, and we’re finding new sales opportunities within the gift and specialty markets.
This fall we’ve partnered with several companies to expand our book formats to meet specific customer needs. Increasingly, selected titles will be available as e-books and in formats such as large print and Braille, and formats for kids with specific learning differences such as dyslexia.
Since we’ve seen steady and substantial growth in Web sales and Web traffic, we’re working on improving our search engine optimization and we’re doing more paid Internet marketing. We’re also increasing our internal e-marketing efforts, and in 2009, we’ll be upgrading our Web site. In addition, we are also developing better analytics to get more reliable information on how our marketing efforts are performing. These results, obviously, will drive our future decisions.
Our paper catalog mailings are being adjusted to reduce costs, in terms of both paper and postage.
Free Spirit is into its 26th year, so we’ve experienced several economic downturns. My philosophy is that even in good times, it’s prudent to run your organization lean. We’ve also survived because our mission has always been very focused. This focus drives every decision we make, which means we rarely get drawn too far off course. Also, our staff is extremely talented and dedicated. They’re kept informed of how we’re doing, and what they need to be doing to keep us moving forward. This makes an enormous difference. Hire the best.
Free Spirit Publishing
Sales Calls Plus Mailings Raise ROI
As a new publisher, we’re experimenting with a variety of marketing efforts. We’ve been operating both a brick-and-mortar store and an online store for a number of years, and we sell many products from other publishers as well as the two books we’ve published: Overcoming Evil God’s Way and Annie Funk: Lived to Serve, Dared to Sacrifice.
Since we’ve published only two books, we’re finding it difficult to gain access to the big distributors. We’ve established a distribution agreement with Baker & Taylor and advertised in their September catalog but haven’t seen significant results of that yet. We use Amazon Advantage to make it possible for Amazon.com customers to receive free shipping, and we’re getting a small but steady stream of orders from Amazon, but with the discount rate and their payment terms, that is not lucrative. We also use Google AdWords, which produces a small stream of results; good results definitely require keyword research.
Prior to publication of our books, we made a round of targeted sales calls to independent booksellers across the country, then followed up with a mailing to those customers after the books were printed. The ROI has been better on this targeted marketing than on the work we’ve done with the national distributors, because the discounts are not as deep and we are able to target potential customers more closely.
We’re now getting started with targeted emails to our customer base. Because we’ve been running an online bookstore for five years, we’ve got a large list of customers. It’s clear already, though, that we will need to continue refining and targeting our emails to get a greater response.
Of course, we sell our books through our own Web site and continue to look for ways to get more traffic there.
From our experience, it seems that there is no substitute for the hard work of developing a customer base and spreading the word about our books.
Faith Builders Resource Group
My primary and most successful way of increasing sales is by marketing myself as an expert through the Constant Contact e-marketing service. Each time I send an e-blast, I receive invitations to be a speaker, and my talks market and sell more books.
Silver Lining Solutions
Six Successful Tactics
Some pretty basic things seem to be working for me as a first-timer. Here are my suggestions, all based on direct experience.
If you can, consider paying suppliers who have good credit ratings/reputations in cash. In these times, it will be especially appreciated, and you’ll be considered a good client. If you can’t pay in cash, don’t pay your suppliers late. It is critical, especially now, to maintain your good credit rating and avoid supplier interest charges that can add up quickly.
Check references, always, before sending money, even if the references are big names and intimidating. I’m now looking into how I can run credit checks on other companies, as an added protection against the current credit crunch. I don’t know how much this costs, but I’ve noticed that some suppliers are running credit checks on me to determine what credit terms they might offer. This is a very prudent practice now no matter what side of the transaction you’re on. If your supplier has a history of late payments, for example (even a recent history), it could signal cash-flow problems for them, which in turn might mean cash-flow problems for you. Also, check with your state agencies about whether any complaints have been lodged against someone you’re thinking of engaging to work for you. Any state’s “Department of State” Web site will probably include information about obtaining these details.
Get bids from different vendors for things like printing, cover design, and ARC/galley production. You’ll learn about price variations and why they occur, about items that incur extra charges, about what different choices you can make (e.g., paper stock, cover stock, lamination, stock photos versus originally produced artwork), and about how to suit choices to your particular needs or wish list. You’ll also get a feel for how different companies conduct business. Read your bids carefully to make sure that any original specifications you’ve provided are named in the bid. This isn’t something I noticed right away, and it’s important to verify. You may think getting multiple bids takes a lot of time, but it’s worth the effort.
If you want a set quantity of bound galleys/ARCs to send to reviewers and booksellers, consider printing them digitally, even if you have to use a supplier other than the printer who’s printing your final book. For smaller quantities (under 1,000), it’s significantly less expensive than offset printing. It also seems to be a standard practice for at least a few major houses. For books with minimal graphics, I’m hearing that the difference in quality relative to offset is imperceptible. Maybe some other members can report on experiences with this.
If you are arranging signings in small communities and you have the marketing dollars, consider having a drawing for a few gift cards that can be used at local businesses or at the bookstore that’s hosting your event. Here again you might consider buying the gift cards with cash. It shows your support of the community that’s supporting your book. It’s also fun and may help draw people to your event. A related idea is offering the gift cards for businesses that will keep a small stack of your flyers or postcards near their cash registers or in another visible spot.
I’m happy to see that personal touches—meeting for coffee instead of over the phone or exclusively via email, for example—still really help solidify a business relationship. When it’s your name on the door, it’s especially important to try to meet your local suppliers. Personal meetings can spark leads from them to other useful services or contacts, and you’ll be able to reciprocate by offering assistance in your own areas of expertise.
Lenox Road Publishing LLC
Free Copies Spur Sales
I am giving away free copies of my book Mentor the Kid and the CEO from my Web site with an envelope inside that people can use to order more copies of the book. New orders are coming in now. Also, I think the free copies have helped with bookstore sales.
More Affordable, More Available
After almost two decades of developing various elements of the tips-booklet niche, it occurred to me that two things could further distinguish it:
developing an entire information product line (digitally delivered and printed) from a single tips-booklet manuscript
selling in bulk and licensing
Accordingly, I launched a membership Web site at PublishingProsperity.com to teach about information product development and large-quantity sales throughout the year.
My recommendations for others are:
Develop smaller, less expensive products and publications related to publications you have. This is how my own tips booklet came to be in 1991, when the economy was also slow. More than a million copies of that tips booklet have since been sold in various formats and languages.
Go to different places to sell your books and related products. Corporations and other groups realize they need marketing tools to survive and thrive. Your books and other products can give them the perfect breath of fresh air in their markets, both online and offline.
When Crises Boost Receptivity
We have been pretty well insulated from the decline in sales so far. I think this is because we publish books (and distribute DVDs) that are critical of the established order, so when things go terribly wrong people are more likely to be open to what we offer. Also, I’ve always pegged the prices low, but I think what we’re seeing is more about the appeal of these books in times of crisis.
Newspaper Searches Pay Off Too
I write, edit, and publish all my books — it’s a one-person operation in my home.
It used to be easier to get books by local authors into the chain bookstores; each one had its own community-relations person. All that has changed. Now I market my books via the Internet, book signings at book festivals, membership in book associations, and speaking engagements. Presentations at libraries, schools, book clubs, and organizations interested in the topic of the book are most effective for me. I also teach classes at local colleges and special-interest classes on writing that give me the opportunity to sell books. I have quite a network here in the West Valley of Phoenix.
I am out there all the time keeping my name and my seven published books visible. One rather interesting method I used was checking the local newspapers’ calendar of events. Since most clubs are looking for outside speakers, I noted each one that I thought would be interested in one of the topics of my books, called the number listed, got in touch with the program person, and asked if they needed a speaker
Most of my speaking engagements came from searching the newspapers. And one presentation usually leads to another through referrals. I know I can sell my books when I stand in front of a group and talk.
I do okay, but I am always looking for new and creative ways to market, stay in touch with other writers, and meet challenges.
A Paean to Meeting People
Positive personal contact works best. By this I mean selling at author readings, open-to-the-public book fairs, the workplace, and publication parties. Sell to friends and relatives and to their contacts. I might sell more at one open mike than through 10 blogs and Web sites combined.
At an open mike, offer to donate half your earnings there to a reputable charity. Offer a 25 percent discount in the weeks before Christmas and/or offer to donate $2 from every sale to the venue. Make buying from you seem like giving back to the community at large.
I mistrust hype about any nondirect selling method. Yes, some publishers sell effectively nondirect, and that’s great. But personal contact remains essential—“I’ll buy it if you autograph it for me”; “I like the way you read that poem, so I’ll buy it”; “I’ll buy it because you helped me last month”; “I like your writing and your donations to charities—so I’ll buy a copy of your book!”
Planning and promoting readings, performing at open mikes, standing and selling all day at book fairs—these approaches might not be glamorous, edgy, or high-profit. Nevertheless, they help sell real books to real people. Produce a beautiful, sturdy book whose themes and craft you can offer with sincere passion, and go meet people. In my humble opinion, there is no better way to sell books.
David D. Horowitz
Rose Alley Press