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Looking Back at “The Future of Publishing”

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Looking Back at “The Future of Publishing”

by Mara Purl

Every year IBPA offers each of its affiliates a scholarship for Publishing University (any member of any affiliate may apply, so think about it for next year!). This year, I had the great privilege of getting one of those scholarships, via the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.

The Publishing University theme for 2009 was “The Future of Publishing: How to Thrive in a Digital World,” and the three-day program is far too extensive to report on in its entirety, but what follows will give you some of the key ideas.

“Making Information Pay”

This opening session, led by Ted Hill, was an ideal way to begin because it offered a clear assessment of where we are. Ted, who runs THA Consulting and serves on the board of the Book Industry Study Group, spoke about this economy in terms of a meltdown involving structural changes. He described survival as success (“Flat is the new up”), and innovation as a now-critical quality in the workforce.

What are industry leaders doing? Holding on to their best people. Working with three different budget scenarios. And seeing the recession as opportunity. What are they investing in? New technologies. What’s happening with formats? Hardcover sales are declining. Trade paperback sales are rising.

Ted said that indie publishers are more optimistic and focused than big publishers, which are spreading their bets across the board, and noted that e-books are growing, but from a very small base.

What actions are required? On his list were: get titles in digital formats, cut back on returns, and use authors to sell their books.

What’s happening in individual genres? Declining categories: leadership (a field that’s suffering disillusionment), personal success, spiritual. Rising categories: personal finance, motivational, mood disorders. Also rising: adult fiction, romance, fantasy.

Lots of good related information is available via the BISG Web site, bisg.org.

Speed Dating Your Distributor

An excellent session, this one included several distributors, each with qualities that make them ideal for some publishers and not others. Big news came from it: IPG and IBPA have formed a brand-new distribution company—Small Press United—to serve independent publishers. See “A New Distribution Option” in this issue for detailed information.

“The Future of Publishing: Two Views”

Two founders of highly successful presses—Rudy Shur of Square One (and formerly of Avery) and Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks—shared their views, as reported by Terry Nathan in “Two Views of Where We’re Going and How to Get There” (July).

One thing Rudy pointed out is that only 5 percent of books are e-books; 95 percent are still in paper form, and this new technology may or may not pan out as a significant factor in publishing. “We have entered the digital age. But these are just tools,” he cautioned. “People say this is the future! But we don’t know this.”

Dominique said unequivocally, “There has never been more opportunity for indie publishers.” In fact, she said this twice. As to the new technologies, she now spends half her time on digital initiatives based on new technologies, so for her e-books and other cutting-edge formats are already major factors.

About indie publishers, she went on to say, “We are an essential part of the culture of this country. We grew at 7.7 percent, outgrowing the traditional.”

My favorite Dominique quotation from this talk is: “It doesn’t have to be the way it has to be.”

“The Unique Role of Independent Publishers”

Sara Nelson, who was the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly until recently, was witty, knowledgeable, and passionate about publishing. She noted that what’s bad for major houses is good for indie houses. Here are some quotes: “The major deals in the last six months from the big houses have been for celebrity books. Very disturbing. HarperCollins closes the Collins division; 200 people lose their jobs, and they make a $5 million offer for Britney Spears.” “Midlist books are not being bought. In other words, real books are not being bought. And this is what most people read.” “The imprimatur—the major brand, like Knopf, Random, etc.—means nothing to the public and means less and less to reviewers, a shrinking group anyway.” And finally, my favorite: “The most worrisome thing is the fear of ideas.”

“Expertizing: Above-and-Beyond Dynamite Publicity Tactics”

Fern Reiss of Expertizing.com offered some of the best handouts at Publishing University, along with information and tips. Her fellow panelist Dave Marx of PassPorter.com, who has helped build some highly recognizable brands, noted that it takes seven impressions to close a sale, during which time we’re building credibility and building a space in a customer’s memory until the customer’s inner voice says, “I’ve been meaning to buy that.”

“Web 2.0 and Social Media Tools and Techniques”

Nettie Hartsock of the Hartsock Agency and Dave Matheson of BeTheMedia demystified social media and explained how some that may seem like games can be effective business tools. [See “Twitter as a Business-building Tool” in this issue.]

One piece of advice: Download the Google toolbar and enable Page Rank to increase Web traffic. They also recommended signing up for Digg.com, a repository of things that are useful (like your book), and clarified the distinction between Facebook (an excellent place to create community and connect with readers) and LinkedIn (a place to connect with peers and create business connections and referrals). And what about Twitter? Potentially a great match with what indie publishers have to offer because of its spirit of reciprocity, generosity, and service.

My suggestion? Find Dave and Nettie on Twitter and follow them. You’ll start getting useful information immediately and join an active, useful larger conversation.

“How to Make More Money in Special Sales”

Andrea Rosen and Nicole Vines, who work on special sales full-time for HarperCollins. were generous with their creative ideas. It’s unlikely that smaller publishers can match their budget, but we might profit by using their theme, “Books complete the story.” For example, why should a waffle maker be sold all by itself at Williams Sonoma? Instead, it should be sold with a terrific book about making waffles.

What to do? Create a pitch about the inherent connection between a book and a product. Then follow up, follow up, follow up. Red Envelope was selling silver bookends in the shape of alphabet cubes. Andrea and Nicole suggested grouping the item with classic children’s books and calling the package “Baby’s First Library.” They’ve sold 18,000 units.

“Content Delivery in a Digital Future”

Leaders from Smashwords, Sony, Lexcycle, and ReadHowYouWant gave details about formatting and delivery systems for various amazing devices. If you create or are planning to create e-books, check out their Web sites.

“The Publisher’s Repair Kit”

Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks believes in working on a book until you get it right. She’s done some major relaunchings of her own company’s books when she thought such a costly move was warranted. So with humility on one hand and fierce wisdom on the other, she presented advice, such as:

* Everything is a marketing decision, including editorial content.

* Positioning is all-important.

* Don’t be afraid of an editorial rethink.

* Identify what’s working; understand the feedback from your customers.

* Know the rules of your genre.

* Reshape your success.

These are just a few of the superb offerings. You can get a full list of the courses at ibpa-online.com, and you can order any or all of them on disk there too.

Mara Purl is immediate past president of CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association), incoming vice-president of marketing for Women Writing the West, book coach with Haven Books Consulting, author of the award-winning Milford-Haven novels, and a speaker and audio producer.



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