by Terry Nathan
Some Upsides of These Tough Times
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.—Friedrich Nietzsche
I hate to say it, but I believe this is the mantra for many of our member publishing companies these days. And the same holds true for our association, and for me as an individual. I will be the first to admit that the past couple of years have been unsettling, and that may just be the understatement of the year. Sure, there have been challenging times before, but we’d have to look back to the 1930s to even come close to what we are experiencing now.
While this is all disheartening, I firmly believe that if we reach deep down, work smarter, work harder, and work leaner, we will all see our way to the other side. And we will be stronger as a result. I know I will.
I wish I had the magic answer to: When will all this be over? Or even the magic formula for getting through to the other side. Well, I don’t. Our economy is showing signs of improvement, and that is reassuring. Our financial systems seem to be stabilizing, and the real estate markets should be just about done correcting themselves (we all have to admit that the incredible increases in value over the past eight to ten years were too good to be true). Maybe this is some higher power’s way of bringing us back down to earth. But, boy, are we coming back down with a bang.
Still, we’re independent. That’s what sets us apart from many others, and that’s what will help us land softly and come out as winners.
When you chose to start your own publishing house or work for an independent publisher, you probably did so because you wanted the freedom to create, the freedom to do your job the way you think it should be done. And that is a special gift and a privilege not everyone can claim.
The corporate publishing world has been hit very hard by this recession, and it is going to take it a lot longer to get back on its feet. So here’s a perfect opportunity for independent publishers to fill the void.
Independent publishers are not saddled with the huge overhead typical of the big houses. Independent publishers are able to adapt to the new publishing landscape at a much quicker rate than the big houses can. And those factors, coupled with the advantages new technology offers independents, mean that the door is now open to an incredible opportunity—an opportunity I hope you will embrace.
If you are anything like most people in the working world, once a system is set up, you probably just let it run. I suggest that you look at each of your systems and see if they are working efficiently and cost-effectively. This may seem like a daunting task, but if you analyze systems one by one, you will be surprised at how quickly you get through it. And how much money you will save when you’re done.
Times like this require us to reach deep down and give 110 percent. All of us. And we should not only ask that of ourselves and of the people around us; we should expect it. Most people in our professional networks, whether on payroll or not, are willing to step up. Encourage them to do so.
In addition, ask your vendors and suppliers to work harder and reduce costs wherever possible. It is important to remember that many suppliers are in the same position we are. They want your business and may well be willing to reduce prices to keep it.
I visit my 92-year-old grandmother regularly. She lives alone (upstairs, mind you) and cares for herself. One of the things I do for her during each visit is take her trash out, and I am always amazed at how little waste she has, maybe because she is the one person I know who has seen hard times like these before.
Our society has become incredibly wasteful, and we can fix that. I encourage you to look around and see what waste can be eliminated. Look at staff time, programs, expenditures, facilities, and supplies. Not only will this save money; it will make your business a lot greener too.
One caveat here: While many people may want to pull back on marketing dollars, I recommend against that, and I am hardly alone.
This a fine time to market your books, and there are some excellent deals to be had out there. Market wisely, but do not stop marketing.
We can no longer keep doing things the way we have always done them. Now is the time to shake things up. If something is not working, cut it. If something is working, keep doing it and explore the ramifications of doing more of it. Look for new opportunities (and believe me, they are out there).
We all need to look at everything we are doing—everything—and to do it better, and more profitably. (For some ideas, see “Back to Basics: Small Changes Add Up” in this issue.)
Along with our accountants and our finance committee, IBPA has just completed the review process for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. The bottom line was not great, but we anticipated that. We invested a lot of money last year to improve our programs and to offer more support for members and for the independent publishing community as a whole. We committed ourselves to more marketing and an extensive membership campaign, and now we will see these efforts through to help solidify and maintain our standing as the preeminent association of independent book publishers.
The seas we’ve been sailing recently have been extremely stormy. But just as with any storm, there will be calm on the other side. And we will be ready for it, and better positioned to move the association forward. For more than 25 years we have offered independent publishers a safe harbor, and I look forward to doing that for another 25 years.