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Slow-Cooked Sales: The Collectors Press Recipe for Success

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While many publishers are
into fast food—they want to cook up a bestseller that immediately
gratifies and fattens the bottom line—Richard Perry, a former executive
chef, focuses more on slow-cooked success for his company, Collectors Press in
Portland, Oregon.

 

His recipe calls for providing a
quality product and focusing on profits rather than sales. “We are much more
interested in seeing a profit than identifying gross sales as our benchmark,”
Perry says.

 

Perry started his company in 1992
with The Maxfield
Parrish Identification and Price Guide
and sold some of the
Parrish prints from his own collection to finance it. Acting on a suggestion
from Richard Abel, the founder of Timber Press, the fledgling publisher “made
spreadsheets that spanned an entire wall, filled with cells that added,
subtracted, multiplied, and divided my empire-to-be only to find that few of
the numbers came to be.” Still, the experience was valuable. Perry remembers
that it taught him about controlling expenses, which he also sees as more
important for profitability than simply racking up sales. “Good ideas are
easier to come by than good ways to deliver those ideas affordably,” he observes.

 

Doing What They Do Better

 

Collectors Press books are
designed to take readers on “nostalgic journeys, using select collections,
innovative design features, and quality production standards.” Its offerings
include Pulp Culture:
The Art of Fiction Magazines
, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Elvgren: His Life and Art
, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Retro Barbecue,
and Come Fly With Us!
A Global History of the Airline Hostess
—a varied collection
at first glance, but all the titles marry Perry’s love of food with his hobby
of collecting, his love of art, and his interest in popular culture and
nostalgia. And, Perry notes, all are about “topics that are interesting to our
audiences and that we know we can do a better job with than anybody else.”

 

“Two big things make them stand
out—their content and production value,” says Brian McGeehan, brand
manager for books and videos for Diamond Comics Distributors in Baltimore, a
Collectors Press distributor. “They are not the cheapest, but they offer very
high quality at a good value.”

 

With annual revenues in the $1
million to $5 million range, Collectors Press is growing at about 10 percent a
year, and Perry says he has “a lot of fears about growing too fast.” The goal
is “calculated, measured growth as opposed to huge growth spurts.”

 

If he and his staff love a book
concept and they’ve decided they can do the book “first or better or, ideally
both of those things,” Perry believes that the profits will follow if he keeps
expenses low.

 

Toward that end, he was the sole
employee of his business for its first five years; the Collector Press
warehouse was his garage; he took orders from his home, and “on the weekends,
my wife and family would come together for packaging parties,” Perry says.
“We’d have a garage full of books ready for UPS to pick up on Monday.”

 

To create that first book on
Maxfield Parrish, Perry and his wife used PageMaker on an Apple Macintosh 2si.
“We’d print out pages and pages of captions and use glue sticks to glue the
captions underneath prints,” Perry recalls. To market it, he ran small
advertisements in collectible and antique magazines and sold out his first
printing of 5,000 copies within six months.

 

Even today, Collectors Press is
run on a “shoestring French fry” of a budget. It publishes roughly 14 titles a
year with only eight full-time employees, one part-timer, and some interns, in
a no-frills “warehouse setting” without a fancy address or expensive furniture,
which is decorated with movie posters and kitchen collectibles from the ’50s
and ’60s.

 

Routes to Readers

 

With books on special interests
such as retro cooking and movie posters, Collectors Press sells everywhere from
Costco to CandyFavorites.com, which is the online persona of McKeesport Candy,
the oldest candy wholesaler in the nation (and a retailer of the Collectors
Press title Candy:
The Sweet History
).

 

Sam’s Club currently stocks six of
its titles, but “dealing with the wholesalers is a risky business,” Perry says.
“You have to count on getting a lot of books back. The last thing I count on is
selling through 100 percent. I’m what you call a cautious optimist. “

 

In addition to selling through
distributors and retailers—including traditional booksellers as well as
gourmet and gift shops—Collectors Press does a lot of business directly
with consumers via its in-house mailing list and its Web site. “We have an
800-number and have been taking direct orders for 10 years or more,” Perry
notes.

 

To ensure that the word gets out
about a new title, the company uses good reviews from high-circulation and
influential publications instead of costly advertising. “We send out hundreds
of [press] packages for each title and do a full-color brochure for each title.
We focus on making sure the media know all about our titles because that’s how
we connect to the public,” Perry explains.

 

Good reviews in publications such
as The New York Times
(Pulp Culture),Vanity Fair
(Coca-Cola Girls),
and The Washington
Post
(Retro
Housewife
) have contributed to buzz and the eventual success of
these titles, as have mentions on the <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Today
show and National Public Radio’s <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>All Things Considered
(both featured Candy:
The Sweet History
).

 

Because “reviews are huge,”
possible responses from reviewers influence acquisition decisions. “We think
about a book and what The
New York Times
or <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>The Chicago Tribune
are going to think
about this,” Perry says.

 

How Quality Counts

 

Close to 99 percent of Collector
Press’s printing is done overseas, primarily in Japan, Hong Kong, and
Singapore, where, Perry reports, he can get the quality he needs at an
affordable price. He tries to give a lot of business to the same printer in the
interests of volume discounts, but he get quotes from several companies because
“getting quotes is a way to keep the relationship honest.”

 

The idea is to publish books that
can be successful without being blockbusters. Because the company keeps
overhead low, even a book that doesn’t meet projections can be a money-maker.
“Our books are beautiful enough to sell at some price level,” Perry explains.
“Our feeling is if we make beautiful books, print 10,000, and sell only half
that many, we can sell the overstock [at a price that will] still give us our
return on investment.”

 

Jenny McCune, a business
writer based in Bozeman, MT, began her career in book publishing and reports
regularly on publishing and publishers for the <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>PMA Independent
. You can reach her at
jennymccune@imt.net.

 

 

 

Richard
Perry, Founder and President

Collectors
Press

Portland,
OR

www.collectorspress.com

 

Previous
experience:
Perry trained as a
chef at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland and worked as a restaurant
chef before going into publishing.

 

Initial
capital sources:
Part of Perry’s
Maxfield Parrish print collection and credit cards.

 

Meaning
of success:
“I know that success
can be defined in terms of numbers, but success for me has a different meaning;
I enjoy getting up and going to work; my work is integrated into my life, and
I’m happy with what I do.”

 

Biggest
challenge:
“Finding a way to be
different among a growing number of publishers.”

 

Publishing
perks:
Impromptu barbecues and
potlucks on summer Fridays, with Perry as chef.

 

Outside
activities:
An avid cyclist, Perry
and a Collectors Press author went to the Tour de France in July to cheer Lance
Armstrong on and research a new book. Perry also participates in charity
bicycle rides throughout the year.

 

 

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