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Presidents Letter: Confronting Some New Realities

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I received an e-newsletter–an e-memo, really–the other day from the office of Watts Wacker, the wildly inventive and insightful futurist who’s associated with the Stanford Research Institute. His consulting firm, FirstMatter, was hustling clients who need help strategizing in the post-September 11 world of business.

“How do you make an effective post-bombing marketing campaign?” it asked. “Which advertising messages resonate today? What new product opportunities exist for you? Will distribution need a different mix?” Good god, I thought. How crass. How indefensibly opportunistic. That was my first thought, anyway… a thought that came on top of having read another round of intensely painful victim obituaries in The New York Times. Then my second thought was: Free enterprise and a healthy economy.

Doing good business was important before September 11, if only for self-interest. Doing good business today has become almost a patriotic imperative. One message from Washington has been “Spend, spend, spend,” but a healthier version of that, to my mind, is “Make money and keep it circulating in the economy.” The fundamental principles of doing business successfully haven’t really changed. It’s still about creating a product or service that fills a need (books, in our case), and approaching customers with a resonant message. And what resonates today is different than it might have been three months ago.


Post-Bombing Publishing Goals

The particular kind of niche publishing my company does thrives during economic downturns and threatening political conditions. That’s true of a lot of subject matter categories–how-to craft books such as ours, home improvement books, anything that gives people either actual or vicarious experiences they can have while staying home and feeling safe and thrifty. It’s taken me a while not to feel bad–even guilty–about doing well in hard times. I have to remind myself that the knitting books that have sold out before they even hit our warehouse are making payroll, paying the printer, and leaving a little behind with a string of distributors and retailers. The books do not have profound content; they don’t influence world events. But they do their bit.

So I guess the questions posed by Wacker’s memo are ones we all need to consider. For many of us, the best we can contribute to the common good as independent publishers is staying alive and healthy. That’s not a bad goal even in the best of times.

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