You’re a book publisher, and
you’re thinking about creating an audiobook, CD, DVD, or some other nonbook
product. This could be one of the smartest decisions you’ve ever made, several publishers
Why develop these alternate
formats? Obviously, to generate additional revenue, and to enhance your
customers’ experience— through music designed to accompany a book, for
instance, or electronic products that complement a how-to, business, or
educational title with templates, exercises, demonstrations, and tours that
would be tough to package in even the most elaborate printed piece.
In terms of additional revenue,
creating a book/CD package might be a no-brainer. As Jim Horan of the <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>One Page Business Plan
recently pointed out, the potential margins are appetizing. His first book sold
for $19.95. A few years later, he added a CD, repackaged the duo as <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit,
and raised the price to $34.94. In case you’re not a financial type, that’s a
75 percent increase in retail price for what Horan says is an incremental cost
of less than $1.50. Even with a 50 percent trade discount, that CD adds five
times its cost to the package revenue.
The numbers are more daunting for
audiobooks, according to Erik Sellin, who started Classic CD Books in early
2005 by recording himself reading fiction that is in the public domain. Sellin
stresses the need to budget for readers and editing. Most authors are not the
best readers of their material or cannot commit to two or three hours of studio
time for each hour of the final recording. He estimates studio time costs at
$40 to $60 an hour. Editing—which can take five hours for each finished hour—is
an additional expense. So producing a 10-hour audio book will easily cost
thousands, he says.
Obviously, not every book needs to
be available in an electronic format, and it’s hard to imagine a novel packaged
with a how-to template. But, as Horan points out, most people buy nonfiction
books because of a need or a desire, and “in many cases,” he notes, “you can
help readers meet that need or desire with exercises.” And, he continues, “if
there’s an opportunity for exercises, there’s an opportunity for a CD.”
Advice from Those Who’ve
When you’re considering a product
in an electronic format to complement a book you’re publishing—or a project
that might work better as something other than a bound book—you can take
advantage of what other independent publishers have learned.
“Listen to the market,” says
Horan. “Don’t build anything the market doesn’t ask for.”
Observe how people use your book,
he continues, and then field test your proposed new format extensively. In the
case of his first software, a high-ticket Web-based product sold through consultants,
he spent almost a year asking 150 business contacts to review a static version.
Balance idealism with realism,
adds Pamela Conn Beall, who with Susan Hagen Nipp began publishing the Wee Sing
children’s songbooks in 1977.
“We resisted adding tapes to the
package because we wanted parents to sing with their children. Eventually we
realized that not everyone wanted to sing all the time,” Beall remembers. Beall
and Nipp created Wee Sing audiotapes after Price Stern Sloan began publishing
the series, and eventually the pair also created videotapes.
Like others, Horan also advises
financial restraint: “Keep your costs low. Don’t go into debt. You don’t know
up front whether you’ve got a winner or a dud.” His experience with both his
Web-based product and templates related to his book showed him that creating
software can be expensive. To keep his initial costs within reason, he started
out with what he calls the “must-have features,” the basic product. As the
software sold, he reinvested his sales revenue in enhancing it.
Research formats carefully to keep
your products viable, Beall warns. Price Stern Sloan eventually began
remastering all the Wee Sing audiotapes as CDs, but the cost of repackaging
them for retail display is so significant that they are processing only 4 of
the 20 titles each quarter. In the meantime, the old packages are no longer
available, so the products are losing market visibility. Similarly, when Beall
and Nipp bought back the rights to Wee Sing videotapes, they were faced with
the cost and work of converting the videos to DVDs.
“Transition is expensive, and you
have to recognize it probably won’t happen all at once. Some products don’t
make it through the transitions,” Beall says. “Sometimes it’s cheaper to start
over with something new.”
Evaluate each proposed product in
terms of distribution options, says Lou Camporeale of Parking Pal Company.
Talking about his book on avoiding parking problems in New York City,
Camporeale says it’s hard to imagine big-box retailers carrying his
holiday-themed CD (featuring “Santa’s Sleigh Got Towed Away”), his parking
calendar, or his other sidelines. “The CD has only two songs, and it retails
for $6; a retailer can’t sell it for enough to make it worthwhile,” he explains.
Anticipate extra marketing effort.
When you’re adding a video or audio product, be aware that it may be marketed
differently than books are, Beall cautions. “We’re handling sales for the DVDs,
and we’ve discovered that each kind of product has a different buyer. There’s a
DVD buyer who is different from the CD buyer who is different from the book
If you’re considering a nonbook
item to complement your titles—especially something whimsical like his
CD—Camporeale has more advice: “The new product must be able to ride the
coattails of your originals. Even if it’s a sideline, it must match the
original’s level of quality—otherwise it’ll reflect poorly on your main
Echoing Camporeale, Sellin of
Classic CD Books advocates doing a test run of any audio edition or CD using
the voice of the author to evaluate quality before proceeding to full-scale
production. “Read—even just into a tape recorder—for a couple of hours and see
how you sound on tape,” this former disk jockey advises authors. “See if you
can stand doing it. Then get feedback: see if other people can stand listening
to you for 10 hours when they’re commuting.”
For a high-quality product, he
notes, the narrator must understand the setting of the book and the characters’
accents and pacing and be able to sustain a different voice for each character
throughout dozens of hours of recording. Also, says Sellin, “You must be able
to sound the same every day that you record. It’s hard to record more than two
hours daily, and if you get hay fever or a sore throat in the middle of the
taping, your voice will sound different.”
Linda Carlson, a regular
contributor to PMA
Independent, is a marketing consultant in Seattle. Her most
recent book is Company
Towns of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press).