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Director’s Desk: Getting to Know You

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“Who are the IBPA members?”

When our newest employee—Molly Farragher, project coordinator/member benefits specialist—jumped into her first day last month with both feet, this was one of the first questions she asked. As soon as she did, I was fully convinced we’d made a good hire.

There are two reasons to ask that question.

The first is so IBPA can develop targeted membership programs that speak to your specific needs as independent publishers and self-published authors. We can’t do our jobs well if we don’t confidently understand the members we serve.

The second is so IBPA can accurately define the size and shape of professional independent publishing for the wider book community.

Why is this important?

In 2006, Chris Anderson wrote in The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More:

“More than 99 percent of music albums on the market today are not available in Wal-Mart…. Same for any other leading retailer and practically any other commodity [including] books…. The vast majority of products are not available at a store near you.”

And yet IBPA members continue to report successfully getting their content into the hands of the right readers. How do they do this? And how might we, as a community, use this information to remove the cloak of invisibility that often shrouds the work of independent publishers and self-published authors?

What Our New Survey Shows

Luckily for Molly, the IBPA staff and board of directors began a new round of answering her important question many months ago. In fact, in “Building the Future” (January), I wrote about the three key outward-facing objectives identified by IBPA’s November 2013 Strategic Plan. These objectives broadly described what the IBPA staff and board of directors felt we needed to accomplish in 2014 to be successful as your professional publishing association.

Objective #2 promised a comprehensive survey of members in order to identify our base demographic and revise programs and products where necessary. I’m happy to report this survey was conducted in March 2014. Your collective response surprised and delighted us all.

While a response rate of 3 to 5 percent is typically considered adequate in survey circles, we had an incredible 12 percent response rate to our online membership survey. In addition, we participated in many phone calls exploring new ideas and possible future projects. Our sincere thanks to you, our members, for all you contributed.

A full report of aggregated member survey results will be available late this month or early in July. In the meantime, I have teased out some high-level findings to get the party started.

We now know the following about IBPA members:

  • You’re in charge: 42 percent of you said you are sole proprietors. Another 40 percent identified as CEO/president/publisher/head of house.
  • You have a story to tell: 41 percent of you said you are self-publishers who publish only your own work and never the work of others; 30 percent identified as general trade publishers.
  • You wear many hats: 56 percent of you said your business has only one employee; 38 percent reported having one to five employees.
  • You enjoy an active imagination: 40 percent of you said you primarily publish fiction; 19 percent reported primarily publishing juvenile/children’s titles.
  • You have varying degrees of experience: 30 percent of you said you’ve been in the business for more than 10 years; 25 percent said only one year or less.
  • You put your money where your mouth is: 85 percent of you said your business is personally financed, as opposed to debt financed.
  • Marketing still matters: 62 percent of you said marketing is the most challenging area for your business; 37 percent said a component of marketing—sales.
  • You’re plugged in to audio: Although only 10 percent of you said you published physical and/or digital audiobooks in the last 12 months, 40 percent plan to publish such books in the next 12 months.
  • You like this magazine: 80 percent of you said IBPA’s Independent magazine is either “important” or “very important” in terms of your business.
  • Your future looks bright: 80 percent of you said you believe your publishing business is “growing and fulfilling its mission”; 10 percent said “no longer growing, but still fulfilling its mission.”

Of course, members are the lifeblood of any association. Since I began as executive director of IBPA back in July 2013, I’ve had the pleasure working with some of the savviest independent publishers in the business. You inspire and renew everyone in the IBPA office, and we look forward to taking what we now know about your businesses to build even stronger programs to meet your needs.

Have feedback on IBPA’s member survey results? Email me at angela@ibpa-online.org.

About the Author:

Bole,Angela(HeadShot1)Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Executive Director, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager. Angela also serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

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