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BUILDING THE BUSINESS
Fulcrum’s Focus on Balance Creates a Positive Path to Success

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The American West is critical
to the future of America. Bob Baron believed that in 1984, and it’s been
critical to the success of Fulcrum Publishing, the company he and a friend
founded back then in Golden, Colorado. Today, as Fulcrum begins planning for
its 25th anniversary, the company employs 30 people and, by year’s end, it will
have some 500 titles in print.

 

Named for the concept of a fulcrum
as a balance point and as the point at which motion begins, the company still
operates with balance. And living life to its fullest is part of Fulcrum’s
guiding philosophy as well.

 

“We also want to learn something
new each day,” says Sam Scinta, associate publisher, a goal reflected not only
in Fulcrum’s titles—new ones include <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Ancient Denvers: Scenes from the Past 300 Million
Years of the Colorado Front Range;
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Prehistoric Journey: A History of Life on Earth;

and 30 Days to Better
Health
—but also in its managers’ approach to business.

 

“We have faced the same full
litany of ‘challenges’ as other independent publishers,” Scinta explains, “but
we tend to think of them as opportunities.”

 

The bottom line? “For us, two
maxims hold true: one, the fact that our industry has some unique
characteristics is no excuse for not being good business people; instead, we
must be more creative than people in other industries. And, two, we must be
committed to long-range vision: individual titles and business models sometimes
require time to succeed.”

 

Cost-Cutting Conclusions

 

Probe for details and you’re
rewarded with more of Scinta’s upbeat perspective. He believes there are three
keys to Fulcrum’s success: that commitment to the long term (not just five, but
fifty years); the nimbleness to implement new and different business approaches
quickly; and the willingness to make changes and be creative. This willingness
does not always yield immediate success, he admits, and then points out, “Some
of our best ideas have been born in our missteps.”

 

Reducing editorial and production
costs has always been an issue for publishers, and Scinta cites two examples of
what Fulcrum has tried—and where its ability to make quick changes has paid
off. To cut overhead, the company once decided to use more freelancers. “In the
long run, however, this raised costs,” Scinta remembers. “We lost immediate
control of projects, and it resulted in a nonunified approach to our books.”

 

The experiment documented the
importance of keeping jobs in-house. Today Fulcrum is back to using more staff
and fewer freelancers, and, Scinta says, “The results have been wonderful.”

 

Another innovation: focus on
inventory turn, rather than unit cost. Working with Malloy Inc., the book
manufacturer it uses most often, Fulcrum orders shorter runs of books than it
did in the past, and it reprints more often.

 

“This cuts inventory overhead
costs and allows us to match production costs more closely with actual
sell-through,” Scinta explains. Instead of keeping a year’s worth or more in
inventory for several titles, Fulcrum now strives to stock no more than four
months’ inventory of its best sellers.

 

Handling Sales In-House

 

When you talk sell-through with
Scinta, you get another dose of positive thinking. As he notes, returns are a
major issue for most publishers. “Returns are a reality in our industry,” he
says. “Instead of complaining about them, publishers should see them as
offering certain opportunities and build the existence of returns into their
business models.” Too often, Scinta continues, publishers use returns as an
excuse for poor performance.

 

Penetrating new accounts is
another challenge for smaller publishers, and it’s one that Fulcrum has tackled
head-on. In 2005, disappointed with the sales results from independent commissioned
sales reps, the company brought sales in-house. “We essentially replaced our
entire in-house team, and recruited new sales managers—including a book
wholesaler and retail book salesperson—from a variety of fields. It does
require more sales management, but we have a creative team in the sales
department and throughout the company that appreciates the issues the industry
faces and the opportunities available to companies like Fulcrum.”

 

The effort has been worth it,
Scinta reports, noting that half the staff is now dedicated to sales and
marketing, and that “with this focus, we have seen an increase in revenues over
the same period last year.” Plus, the company gets better feedback from
accounts.

 

Making It Big with a Movie

 

Most successful publishers have
had a lucky break or two. Fulcrum’s most glamorous came less than two years
ago. In early 2005, an old friend introduced Baron and Scinta to Academy
Award-winning actor Robert Duvall, who mentioned that he and novelist Alan
Geoffrion were working on a new Western to be called <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Broken Trail
.
Fulcrum staff had been discussing expanding into fiction, and once Scinta
reviewed material developed by Geoffrion, the company immediately contracted to
publish his book as Broken
Trail
.

 

It was a gamble, even with
Duvall’s interest, because no movie deal was finalized at the time. Not much
later, the AMC-TV network committed to produce <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Broken Trail
, which drew a record
audience when it was first broadcast last summer. Book sales broke records for
Fulcrum too, with weekly volume averaging more than 6,000 copies in the first
couple of months. Rave reviews for the novel, encore presentations of the
movie, and a “Buy the book” link from <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>brokentrail.amctv.com
will, Scinta
hopes, mean 100,000 copies in print by Christmas.

 

“Indeed a fabulous story,” he
says. “It has been interesting, watching the book rocket into the Amazon top 50
and seeing heavy demand from a variety of customers.” And of course it was “a
real treat” when Duvall visited Fulcrum’s BEA booth to sign books.

 

Eyes on Writers and
Readers

 

With or without celebrity
connections, authors are treated respectfully at Fulcrum, Scinta reports. The
company strives to provide services that New York–based publishing
conglomerates do not offer them, including better editorial interaction and
Scinta’s home phone number. “If authors are working on a book at odd hours, I
need to be available,” Scinta says.

 

Also, he points out, the staff
discusses the realities of publishing with each author early in the publishing
process (“Oprah is a long shot,” Scinta says, smiling) so that expectations are
reasonable. And marketing strategies that Scinta calls “scrappy” benefit all
Fulcrum authors—celebrity, unknown, and backlist.

 

“One easy thing to do: Know thy
customer,” Scinta says when asked for advice he’d give other independents. “Get
out to visit bookstores—I spend 15 to 20 hours a week in stores. And call
accounts personally. Ask your staff—every one of them—to do the same, to be the
eyes, ears, and good ambassadors for your company.”

 

Linda Carlson
(lindacarlson.com) writes for the <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Independent
from Seattle, where she is
currently speaking for Humanities Washington on “Speeders, Galloping Geese and
Doodlebugs: An Important Part of Rail History.”

 

 

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