Basic Health Succeeds with Special Sales
by Linda Carlson
Special sales are especially interesting to most publishers: what could be better than selling both backlist and new titles nonreturnable, in bulk, at least partly prepaid—and, as a bonus, reducing the printing cost per copy for your own inventory?
“Talk to Norm Goldfind; he has a great track record in special sales,” I was told. What I wasn’t told is that he must be a dynamo, as half of a company that publishes 20 to 30 books a year. That works out to about two books a month—for a man who’ll celebrate his 50th anniversary in publishing come October.
“I function as publisher, acquisitions editor, and director of marketing, special sales, foreign rights sales, and trade show exhibits,” said Goldfind, whose Basic Health publishing company is based in Laguna Beach, CA. Warehousing, fulfillment, and accounting are handled by a partner at Basic Media Group in Columbus, OH.
This publishing whirlwind also supervises the virtual workforce, the nine or ten freelancers who each work 10 to 40 hours a week in editing, art direction, book design, production, publicity, and sales.
“When I founded the company in 2001, it was important to conserve resources,” he points out, explaining why he went virtual for what will probably be his last entrepreneurial venture. With its maximum staffing flexibility, this arrangement makes labor costs easy to control. The Basic Health crew is scattered across the United States—and even across the Atlantic, because one editor has relocated to Ireland. The group doesn’t even meet by teleconference or online; all communication is via personal emails.
Not all those emails come from Goldfind; once he acquires a title, it never crosses the desk in his home office again. The electronic file is routed to an editor, and then to the text designer, who serves as the Basic Health manuscript coordinator, keeping projects moving through copy editing, text design, and proofing.
When Goldfind travels, either for business or for pleasure, he downloads orders via laptop and forwards them to Columbus, which is also where his telephone and fax calls are answered when he’s away from his desk.
Filling the Whole Niche
Basic Health’s mission is to publish books by experts in a wide range of health-related fields. “Our goal is to help consumers of varying ages, lifestyles, and health concerns make choices that will lead them to optimum health and enhance the quality of their lives,” says Goldfind. That’s why the company specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, alternative medicine, and environmental issues.
Because many manufacturers who serve these markets like to package their supplements and other products with books by credible independent sources, Basic Health has a ready market for special sales. Goldfind prefers authors with significant credentials, often doctors or scientists, whose degrees and experience make bulk sales to the nutraceutical industry easier. Authors’ use of their books is another important contribution to the Basic Health bottom line. One physician buys 10,000 copies at a time; by mentioning his book on infomercials, he had sold 80,000 of the 90,000 copies in print by early spring of this year.
Not every Basic Health book sells that well, of course, and Goldfind is comfortable with far lower unit sales.
“I think of us as a backlist publisher, and I look for books that will have a long life,” he says. Although his bestseller, the 752-page Healing Without Medication: A Comprehensive Guide to the Complementary Techniques Anyone Can Use to Achieve Real Healing, was published in 2003 and has 160,000 copies in print, some titles sell only 250 copies a year. Typical print runs are 2,500 to 5,000.
“I want to provide one-stop shopping in my niche,” Goldfind says, “and that means I acquire manuscripts and reprint rights for topics that plug holes in my line.”
With limited runs on some titles, the Basic Health publisher is anxious to make the transition from short-run printers to downloadable publications and print-on-demand. He’s also interested in selling books chapter by chapter: “Not everyone needs a whole book on diabetes; one or two chapters may be enough.”
Because Basic Health often carries two or three books on the same topic, with each author having a different perspective or approach, Goldfind can imagine a customer buying a chapter from one book and a chapter from another.
What Spurs Special Sales
One reason for Basic Health’s success in special sales is Goldfind’s attendance at natural health and alternative medicine trade shows. That’s where he often meets prospective authors; where he finds British, Australian, or other English-language publications for which he can buy U.S. rights; where he sells some foreign rights for Basic Health titles (he also travels to Frankfurt); and where he can match his books with manufacturers.
“Special sales could be my full-time job,” he says, chuckling, “but I only have so many hours in each day.”
If you’re a publisher interested in special sales—and you are similarly limited to 24 hours in your day—here’s what Goldfind recommends:
Do careful research. Determine who buys books to offer in promotions or for packaging with products and find out how you can reach that person. Then send a carefully targeted letter with a sample copy of your book.
Be patient and persistent.“Making a special sale is like being pregnant,” he says; expect the process to take several months. Also, you may have to check back with your prospect several times before a purchase decision is made.
Be flexible about price. Special sales usually require a far greater discount than ordinary trade sales. Goldfind is fortunate in that his market is not especially price sensitive, so his cover prices are often higher than those of trade paperbacks or hardbacks in other genres, which makes his net price higher despite significant discounts.
Offer personalization. Books sold as premiums often require a second cover, sometimes with a message such as, “Compliments of [manufacturer].” Basic Health recently did a book with three different jackets for the hardbound edition and a fourth cover for the paperback. Another title had a product-specific insert.
Negotiate advance payment. Ideally, that advance payment will cover printing costs for your special sale and for books for your inventory.
Focus on the advantages. Besides avoiding returns, you’ll reduce your cost of goods sold with the larger press run. And, if you’ve researched the company carefully, you are unlikely to have accounts-receivable problems.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle for the Independent.