In an effort to assist PMA members in learning some of the tricks of the
trade used by surviving publishing companies, I have decided to interview PMA
members and share some of their thoughts, failures, and successes with you.
Yes, even the successful ones have failures along the way. This month, we’re
introducing two companies in one–Whole Person Associates/Pfeifer-Hamilton
Publishers of Duluth, Minnesota. This company presents a role model, and the
principals of this company, Nancy and Don Tubesing, reflect the makeup of
many PMA member publishers–people who run a family business. The following
interview was with Don Tubesing.
When and how did you begin your publishing company?
In 1969, Nancy and I developed a freshman orientation program (listening
group) for Ohio University. We expanded on the idea of the three-day
orientation and decided to set up “Friendship Groups” to be used throughout
the whole quarter. Audio tape was not yet popular so we pressed a record. The
record led the groups into discussions. We had 144 groups going. By the time
we got through with that project, we ended up with a manual. And I was smart
enough at that time to ensure that we owned rights to the manual and record
for publication. We sold the whole package (record and manual) for $20. We
sent out 2,500 promotional pieces and sold a complete set to 420 colleges. We
earned enough money to pay our graduate school debts.
Then, in 1971, we moved to Milwaukee. As Dean of Student Affairs at a local
university, I developed several interactive tape products. We were marketing
these products on the side while working at schools, and this eventually
ended up supplying the down payment for our first house. We moved to Duluth
when Nancy got a teaching job in 1977, and I was going to set up holistic
health centers (a church-based center with physician) as part of a project we
had begun in Chicago. The deal fell through, but like all entrepreneurs I’ve
ever read about, we used that canceled project to propel us into something
better. There always had been a thread of business and publishing throughout
our other careers, as publishing was a sideline of ours. We were therapists
and encounter group leaders and tried to involve our teaching and education
with publishing and communicating.
Whole Person Associates (WPA), our first publishing imprint, started out of a
seminar company for stress management. The majority of our books were sold in
the back of the room after the seminar. Kicking Your Stress Habit was our
second publication. While the book was selling extremely well through our
seminars and via direct mail, it was hard to crack the bookstore market.
In 1980, I managed to get myself booked on the Today Show as the “Stress
Holiday Doctor.” I went to a regional wholesaler and told them about this
booking, but they wouldn’t order books until they got an order from a
bookstore. I went to my local Dalton, sold them on the book, and they placed
an order for 500 copies. I returned to the wholesaler who gave me the first
lesson of this business when I told them about the 500 copy order. They said,”Fine, send us 300.” While I appeared on the Today Show and sold all 500
copies at the local Dalton, I also discovered the futility of trying to make
money by only selling your books through the bookstore.
We developed more publications out of our seminars. We had not yet put a
catalog together. Then with the cuts from the Reagan administration, our
seminar registration level started to go downhill. We experienced a 60%
drop-off rate directly after the Reagan election. We had to make a transition
to keep afloat. We wrote books for other publishing companies; we packaged
books for others; we continued training. Basically we did what we had to do
to stay alive. In 1982, we started to develop the WPA (Whole Person
Associates) publication line and catalog and made our living for the next
four years off this–books dealing with stress management and wellness.
What we did when we first began business helped us throughout the years. We
developed a mission statement right away–using body, mind and spirit
components, promoting interaction by the reader, and focusing on stress
management and wellness.
We now do video courses, but we are not selling videos. We are selling a
course. It uses a 20-minute video to deliver the information, a 20-minute
workbook to help people apply the information to their own lives, and 20
minutes of group discussion. Altogether it becomes a course.
Our goal is to develop products with at least a 10-year shelf life. Our
backlist is the key to our success. Our catalog today contains more than 200
products that are marketed directly to professionals, and this is a steady
business, growing 10-15% per year. We have a very clearly defined and narrow
niche. We have a few books that have emerged from this imprint and moved into
the bookstore, but 95% of WPA sales come through the catalog and/or
conferences and repeat sales.
When and why did you begin Pfeifer-Hamilton?
Nancy and I were reading a columnist’s articles in the Duluth newspaper, and
we found him fascinating. We decided to publish a book in 1985 by this
author, Sam Cook. Up North, a celebration of this region of the country, was
delivered to us on the nineteenth of November and had completely sold out its
5,000 copies by December 14. Small mom-and-pop groceries stores and other
local non-book outlets were our best sales points. (These books were
hardcover with jackets and sold for $14.95.) Based on this response, we knew
we could sell lots more if we could get them before Christmas. We asked R. R.
Donnelley if they could please give us 2,500 more copies and they turned
around the second printing in six days. My son and another person drove all
night after picking up the books at the plant to make sure that they all got
to the stores before Christmas. We decided then to publish a book a year at
the holiday time.
The next year we didn’t develop a book, but instead we bought 8,000 copies of
a book from Random House on the trip to the North Pole. We bought it at a 70%
discount on a non-returnable basis. We marketed it to our local area so that
we could have another Christmas book. It was a success and Pfeifer-Hamilton
Our mission at P-H has been evolving. It was initially to develop books
celebrating our regional area, books which could be given as gifts to friends
and relatives. P-H’s publishing schedule fit well with WPA’s since P-H’s busy
season was during the downtime of WPA.
Then we tried to leapfrog the region and go nationwide with the Bering Bridge
book. What we thought would be an outstanding success did not achieve our
goals, due to a variety of reasons, one of which being the demise of the Cold
War! Then our national success developed out of a regional book, Old Turtle.
We experienced such a regional success with that book that we decided to go
national again. We now do six to eight books a year under this imprint but
all of them begin and are tested regionally. Some make it to the national
level; others have success at a regional level only.
Lots of authors and people with ideas began coming to our door. Some we have
published; others we have helped. Today there are 17 organizations or
individuals who do regional books in the Duluth region. The development of
the Duluth publishing activity has good and bad points. There are only
100,000 people in Duluth and we’re now sharing this limited market.
These last two years at P-H, we decided to aim to be a midsize national
company rather than a seasonal regional company. We’ve had some success and
have also found that it costs more than we can often afford. We’re pulling
back our horns a little bit, focusing on Minnesota, but we will allow the
books to grow by themselves outside of this region.
We have continued to develop really good books, and when we see one that has
a market response that is trackable, we market it to the extreme. Our
bestsellers start regionally and grow, sometimes, nationally.
To this day, we do not have a distributor. We have a collection of
wholesalers who buy from us and have a couple of rep groups to the gift area.
We hustle (using outside publicity people and our own staff) in any way we
can to any person or group who will listen. For us, the bookstore system has
been wonderful. The chains have supported us. But we can’t run our company
depending upon bookstore sales alone. For us, bookstore sales are “gravy,”
not what we survive on.
I don’t think we could have paid our bills if we depended on bookstores. You
must have creativity and hustle. Those two ingredients will take you far.
Only publish a book if you can define how you’re going to sell it outside of
the bookstore market. We (independent publishers) have the advantage over the
big publishers because we can effectively develop the alternative markets. We
should capitalize on developing this and fit our titles, when we can, into
the bookstore system.
Don ended our discussion by commenting, “I don’t know really what I’ll be
doing in 10 or 20 years from now, but I do know that it will in some way
involve communication and publishing.”
That statement sums it up for most of us!
|[This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor February, 1997, and is reprinted with permission ofg ATlishers Marketing Association.]