Chunking, and Other New Ways to Get More from What You’ve Got: Part 1, Repackaging
by Linda Carlson
Publish once, sell twice. Or three times, or four. That’s what a few independent publishers are doing, often with parts of books, and what many more are considering. Especially now, as you launch new titles, it can pay to see what revenue you can generate with a variety of formats.
The more times you can sell your content, the better off you are, says Sandra Phillips of Smart Shopping Montreal in Roxboro, Quebec: “Take advantage of the many markets out there!”
The easiest and potentially most profitable way to sell previously published material is by simply repackaging it. Both single-title and larger publishers are doing that, and it’s what this article discusses. Part 2 of this series will describe other ways of reselling published content and adaptations of it.
Once a Part, Now a Product
At Boone and Crockett Club in Missoula, MT, any chapter from Measuring and Scoring American Big Game Trophies is $5 as a download; the entire e-book is $15. In Calgary, Alberta, Brandon Royal’s Maven Publishing now offers chapters of two books on preparing for MBA program admission. Released in March 2010, one title sells for $17.95 as an e-book, and the excerpts, sold as PDFs, range from $2.95 to $14.95 (in U.S. dollars). The other title retails for $14.95 as an e-book and $29.95 in print on paper; e-excerpts from it are $2.95 to $17.95.
Janet Chapple—whose Granite Peak Publications in Oakland, CA, publishes the 352-page, pound-and-a-half Yellowstone Treasures: The Traveler’s Companion to the National Park—created “Visiting Geyserland” from content in the book to give Yellowstone visitors a guide they could carry more easily while walking. It’s a booklet, printed in black ink, that offers text and maps of the 10 geyser basins near Yellowstone’s roads. It sells for $5.95 (the price of the printed Yellowstone Treasures is $23.95; the e-book is priced at $14.95).
Avalon, based in Berkeley, CA, has created a thriving line of niche publications from chapters of its books. The company, which publishes the Moon and Rick Steves travel guides, among other series, redesigned its books several years ago to make chapters into standalone products. Labeled Moon Spotlights and Rick Steves Snapshots, they come directly from the original, larger guidebooks, with no changes in pagination. They do have different titles and covers, though, with text explaining where the content comes from, publisher Bill Newlin notes.
Since launching the Moon Spotlights in January 2009, Avalon has created more than 90 titles for the line. Sales range from 500 to 5,000 copies, with 40 titles having lifetime sales to date of more than 1,000 each. Page counts range from 65 to 180, and prices are generally between $7.95 and $9.95. None of these titles has been priced at more than $12.95, while the original Moon guides are usually priced between $16.95 and $21.95.
Spotlights with fewer than 65 pages are offered only as e-books; most others are printed through the digital printing service operated by the Constellation subsidiary of Avalon’s parent company, Perseus. The most popular 15 titles are printed offset. “We assumed the primary market would be online sales, but instead our biggest early successes were in the bookstores—Barnes & Noble at first, then Borders and the independents,” Newlin reports.
“Avalon’s timing was perfect: the travel buyers at the chains have begun asking for titles at lower price points, and these fit the bill,” IBPA board member Dave Marx of Passporter Travel Press said when he referred me to Newlin.
The Rick Steves Snapshots, which Avalon launched in September 2009, now have 18 titles as paperbacks, all printed offset, and dozens more as e-books. The paperbacks sell 3,000 to 10,000 copies annually. Like the Spotlights, they’re usually priced between $7.95 and $9.95. By contrast, the more comprehensive Rick Steves guides sell for $17.95 to $24.95.
Avalon also does similar chapter pullouts from such books and series as Road Trip USA, Dog Lover’s Companion, and Great American Motorcycle Tours.
At Communication Unlimited in Novato, CA, Gordon Burgett cites specific examples of how selling pieces can make you money and create a market for the “parent” publication.
When he owned a dental publication imprint, Burgett sold Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] for All Dentists in four ways. Customers could buy the entire three-ring binder publication with printed text/CD, or an excerpt consisting of seven key chapters. Or they could choose single chapters or one- to three-page excerpts covering individual SOPs.
“The excerpt with the seven sections was most popular and a great way for new or strapped dentists to back into the larger ($369) book,” he reports. “They could try one SOP to put out the biggest fire first, then add sections until they reached $369, when we just sent them the rest of the major book. If a practice was having trouble with collections, for example, that might be the chapter it bought (for $60).”
Today, Communication Unlimited sells digital editions of chapters and case studies from What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know and The Perfect School to instructors of graduate education courses. “These professors usually select four to seven chapters, and we grant them permission to put them in anthologies to be sold only to their classes,” Burgett notes.
Because he charges just $10 or $15 per chapter, Burgett calls this “small stuff,” but it does increase royalties for the authors. With each book priced at $24.95 in paperback and $20 in digital format, selling by chapter gives Communication Unlimited the potential to gross $40 to $105 per instructor per title.
Speaking of small stuff, Fred Zimmerman at Nimble Books in Ann Arbor, MI, says his excerpts from a book of science fiction criticism sell steadily in Kindle format. He has created Kindle versions of four chapters from a 2008 release, Through Stranger Eyes—one on Star Wars, one on Tolkien, one on The Matrix, and one on George Orwell—and he prices each at 99 cents on Amazon.com.
“My reasoning was that each chapter would be more keyword-discoverable than the book as a whole,” he says, noting that each sells 10 to 20 copies a month. Zimmerman doesn’t know how many repeat buyers he has because Amazon doesn’t provide that data, and he adds that this is “obviously not a way to get rich, but at least it produces some steady sales action, which can only help raise awareness.”
Zimmerman’s Web site, which says that Nimble wants to be the preeminent publisher of torpedo histories, got started with “pieces” when he was offered a history of the torpedo boat. Rather than publish it as one 500-page book, he decided to break it into 10 volumes of 50 to 100 pages each, printed on digital presses by Lightning Source. Seven are in print, with some also available on the Kindle, and more are in production. “My sales statistics clearly show that users purchase multiple volumes, each of which is profitable as a standalone,” he reports.
Although he considered eventually publishing an omnibus volume, Zimmerman says it’ll be easier and less expensive to have Lightning Source shrink-wrap the set of 10. Once “pieced” together, the torpedo boat book set will probably sell for about 70 percent of the cost of the 10 volumes purchased separately.
Another California firm that sold parts of a forthcoming book is String Letter Publishing of Escondido, which had published about 50 traditional books before it started work on Acoustic Rock Basics, launched this month. In March it began selling downloadable PDF/video packages derived from the book, such as “How to Clean Your Violin.” They range in length from three to ten pages and 10 to 15 minutes of video, and sell for $3.99 or $5.99. In their first four months, String Letter sold 800 packages via an unobtrusive listing under “Downloads” on its Web site.
To sell pieces of a book, especially online or as downloads, you must do two things, advises Julie Houk, director of publications for Boone and Crockett Club. “You must know your customer base, and you must be committed to market, market, market.”
Sales of her company’s chunks of its book on American game trophies have been limited, a fact she attributes to the demographics of Boone and Crockett customers, older men who are probably less likely to shop online or buy electronic editions. Houk also says the company has not put much time or money into marketing the chunks.
At Granite Peak, Janet Chapple echoes Houk: “Be sure to have a market in mind before publishing materials based on your books.” She has not broken even on her “Visiting Geyserland” booklet, issued in 2006, in part because it is sold only at visitor centers in Yellowstone National Park and from Chapple’s Web site.
“A panel of advisers at a Publishing University once advised me to create a booklet using only the 37 maps in Yellowstone Treasures, but I have not yet found a way to market that successfully,” she says.
By contrast, sales of chunks were immediate and have been strong for String Letter, which sells about 25,000 books a year but considers itself primarily a magazine publisher. It issues two print periodicals, Strings and Acoustic Guitar, and several electronic newsletters with broad circulation. It also offers premium content on its Web site by subscription.
This means that all the company had to do to promote the chunks of Acoustic Rock Basics was announce each one in its newsletters and on its site. “You’ve got about a three-day window,” says David Lusterman, the publisher. Sales continued strong for 72 hours after each announcement, and 15 to 20 percent of them were to previous customers.
Why to Sell Chunks
Besides generating more revenue from the same work, publishers cite other reasons that selling chunks is profitable, especially when the chunks are sold in electronic form.
At Communication Unlimited, for example, this resolved issues with sales to Australia. Because mailing a printed copy of a procedures manual to Australia originally cost about $50, and because Australian three-ring binders use different hole spacing than those in America, Burgett switched to selling Down Under by chapters and in digital format.
At Nimble Books, Zimmerman says he’s using chunks to determine what sells best for e-readers. Right now he describes print and e-reader formats as having separate markets.
Why Not To
Many IBPA members do not publish material that excerpts well, children’s books and small-format gift books being two examples. Others say they want to sell chunks but lack the technology, especially for credit card sales that can trigger immediate downloads of electronic purchases.
Some, like Boone and Crockett Club, know that many of their current customers do not shop online, which is usually the most cost-effective venue for selling pieces of books. At High Plains Press in Glendo, WY, Nancy Curtis cites another reason: “We consider that we own only the rights to the book in the form that we published it. We refer anyone who wants to use a short story or a poem or a chapter to the author.”
Linda Carlson (twitter.com/carlsonideas) writes for the Independent from Seattle.
One question small publishers raise about selling pieces of books is the cost of ISBNs. Now priced at $575 for 100 by Bowker, ISBNs can be used up quickly if you assign one to each chapter of a book. Even if you had no other costs for producing an excerpt and could net $3 from each sale, you’d have to sell two before you covered the cost of the ISBN. If you sell these excerpts through Amazon.com or another online retailer with which sales revenue is shared, your sales volume must be several times higher for you to see a profit.
At Avalon, the texts of Spotlights and Snapshots are updated along with the more comprehensive books they are based on, but ISBNs, edition number, and cover image usually stay the same. Back-cover text is revised to reflect that content has been updated.
Publisher Newlin says that “refreshing” content in travel publications without issuing new editions is increasingly common: many popular series of guides are promoted as updated annually, but edition numbers and ISBNs are changed as infrequently as every four or five years. Within Avalon itself, guides such as the Rick Steves series are sometimes updated when reprinted (without any edition change) to reflect important changes in popular destinations.
“Our plan is to change editions of Spotlights/Snapshots at half the rate of the originals, so if the original is on an annual cycle we’ll change the excerpt edition every two years, if the original is on a two-year cycle the excerpt cycle will be four years,” Newlin says.
Retaining the same IBSNs also simplifies distribution within such chain booksellers as Barnes & Noble and Borders, which maintain inventories of books by expected sales per ISBN. As Newlin explains, “If a store models a title at 500 and sells 1,500 per year, they achieve the 3× turn they aim for, but if that title needs to be replaced with a new edition after only one year, they’ll need to return the 500 copies they have on the shelf and replace them with 500 of the new edition, additional labor for them and wasted inventory for the publisher.”