by Terry Nathan
Wisdom from a Wonderful Trio
At the end of this month, Florrie Binford Kichler will step down from the IBPA board after serving for seven years—four as a director and three as your president. Simultaneously, Steve Carlson and Frank Gromling will leave the board after having served productively and with distinction for four years. All three of these individuals volunteered hundreds of hours to help move IBPA forward during some of the most challenging times this industry and our association have ever seen.
Sharing the board table with these people has been a life-changing experience for me, at a time when life-changing experiences were all around. During this time my son was born (he’s now six and a half); my daughter was born (she’s now 20 months); and my mother, Jan Nathan, founder and former executive director, passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer.
I think of Florrie, Steve, and Frank as members of my extended family and think the world of all three. Not only will I miss their camaraderie and support; I will miss the wisdom they have been so willing to share.
So I could spread their wisdom more widely, I asked each of them to respond to a few questions about our industry and our association. This is what they had to say:
What do you think the most significant developments of the past four years have been for independent publishers?
Steve Carlson: There have been more changes in the last four years than in the rest of my 30 years in publishing. The number of book titles published each year has exploded, while the number of book readers has not increased. E-books have become viable in the marketplace, competing with paper books, a trend that is bound to continue and accelerate. The numbers of reviewers in prestigious print media have declined substantially, while opportunities for reviews in Internet-based media are increasing. Small publishers are finding it harder than ever to have their books stocked in stores, but they are finding alternative ways to market their books.
Frank Gromling: I think the technological advancement in digital printing is the single most important development in the past four years for independent publishers—for all the known and unknown reasons. I’d also like to note that over my entire professional career, I have never been associated with a finer group of people than those on the board of directors and the staff of IBPA. It has been my honor to work with each of them, and it is my deepest privilege to call them friends. I may be going off the board, but my heart will always be at the meetings and with each person.
Florrie Binford Kichler: Here are my top three:
1. Social media—specifically blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ll be the first to say that I’m still learning how to use these tools effectively myself, but there’s no denying that the marketing opportunities they provide (at no cost, I might add) are endless. Certainly they should not be the only marketing strategies in the publisher’s arsenal, but they should definitely be included.
2. Amazon—love it or hate it (and I’m betting our members are evenly split on that score), Amazon’s influence on all publishers continues to grow. Not everyone agrees with its methods of doing business, but we can probably all agree that, almost single-handedly, it has not just leveled the playing field for smaller and independent publishers; it has positioned us all to hit one out of the park. Of course, whether we do or not is up to us.
3. Google Book Search and the Settlement—I can’t begin to predict how the current settlement between Google and the Authors Guild et al. will ultimately affect readers, authors, or publishers. However, when you’re talking about (a) digitizing the world’s body of written knowledge whose distribution has historically been the publisher’s province, and (b) the speed of technology development in terms of delivering content to the reader, there are bound to be unforeseen repercussions.
What have you seen and/or worked on at IBPA that provides useful tools and/or pointers for the future?
Steve Carlson: IBPA has been doing a remarkable job of revising its programs to meet changing needs. Marketing programs have been evaluated and brought up to date. New programs are far along in the design stages to take better advantage of the newer media. I’m also very happy about the steps IBPA has taken to increase its advocacy role on behalf of independent publishers.
Frank Gromling: I’m biased, but I think the project I’ve worked on in the last four years that provides useful tools and pointers for independent publishers is IBPA’s Publishing University Online. We are in the infancy of a dramatic forward thrust to place education in the hands of our industry when and where publishers need it, at an affordable price, and to do that better than anyone else can do it.
Florrie Binford Kichler: I joined IBPA (then called PMA) even before I started my publishing company. Had it not been for the education I received (and still receive) at Publishing University, the marketing programs in which I participated (and still participate), and the benefits that saved (and still save) me literally thousands of dollars, I would not have a publishing business today.
But even more important, and what sets IBPA apart from any other organization, are the people—the community of publishers, always generous with advice, always willing to help, and always willing to donate their time. There’s not enough space in this column (or indeed the entire Independent) to list the mistakes I did not make because I had a support group of publishers and IBPA staff watching my back. You can’t ask for any better “tools” than your own colleagues, nor can you meet the future more effectively than with their counsel.
What do you see as today’s most significant challenges and opportunities for independent publishers?
Steve Carlson: In general, the challenges are what they have always been—finding ways to make our books stand out from the crowd and to reach our audiences. Because of the growing number of books, this is harder than ever. But independents have an advantage over our larger competitors. We are, by nature, less bureaucratic and more nimble. It is easier for us to shift our emphasis to new formats, such as e-books, and to shift our promotions from print publications to the Internet.
Frank Gromling: Today’s most significant challenges are clarification of the term self-publisher and the antiquated returns policy. Today’s most significant opportunities are digital printing and the development of IBPA into an even more outstanding advocate and educator for the industry.
Florrie Binford Kichler: To me, our biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity are one and the same—to give readers what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. That used to mean printing a book and selling it in a bookstore. In today’s multiformat, multichannel world, determining what, when, and how and providing accordingly while staying in business is the challenge; stretching our boundaries beyond print is the opportunity.
What advice would you like to offer about them?
Steve Carlson: In our current environment, we’ve got to stay informed about the changes and trends throughout the book industry. We also need to find affordable ways to promote our books. Active membership in publishing organizations—such as IBPA and its local and regional affiliates—has become more important than ever before. These groups exist to keep us informed about the constant changes in the book business and the things we can do to survive and prosper. They also help us compete with the bigger publishers, taking advantage of our numbers to cut costs of various services and to provide affordable promotional opportunities.
Frank Gromling: The advice I offer is to learn everything possible about the industry and about running a book-publishing house before starting one. In other words, attend Publishing University and local and regional seminars, and otherwise gain as much information as you can.
Florrie Binford Kichler: With apologies to those familiar with the one-word career counsel offered by the well-meaning businessman to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, I too have one word of advice:
Never stop learning about your industry; never stop exploring new ways of marketing, promoting, and selling your titles; never stop seeking input from those whom you admire and respect; never stop contributing your own wisdom to the independent publishing community. No matter how much you give, you will always receive more.
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”—Eric Hoffer
I thanked Frank and Steve publicly for their incredible contributions to the board in the February issue of the Independent, and I would now like to thank Florrie publicly (I thank her in person just about every time I speak with her).
Florrie has been much more than just another president. She and I have worked so closely together over these past three years that we often kid about talking with each other more than we talk with our spouses. As we coped with Jan Nathan’s passing, the name change from PMA to IBPA, the evolution of the Internet and its role in the publishing world, an economic downturn, and oh, so much more, Florrie’s leadership was just what we needed to get us through stormy seas.
Florrie continues to amaze me with her poise, her positive energy, her attention to detail, her never-ending determination, and her intelligence, all of which have inspired me and will continue to inspire me.
Thank you, Florrie, for your friendship, your loyalty, your dedication, and your willingness to set aside your own life to make sure PMA and now IBPA keep moving forward.