by Florrie Binford Kichler
What Publishers Can Learn from a Beatles Tribute Band
If you closed your eyes, he sounded just like the real thing.
The concert was billed as “The Music of Paul McCartney” and featured Sir Paul “interpreter” Tony Kishman. My hometown of Indianapolis was just one stop on a national tour featuring Kishman accompanied by a three-piece rock band, backed here by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Those who know me as the future Mrs. Paul McCartney (he doesn’t know it yet) also know that to say I’m a Beatles fan is like saying Lady Gaga likes sequins. I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert six times over the years, including on the original Beatles tour in 1964; I own all the original Beatles albums, have a room full of Beatles memorabilia, and have bought every Beatles song at least six times.
Suffice it to say, I know the Beatles.
So of course I was in the audience, expecting a nice evening filled with my favorite music but not much more than that. After all, how good could any imitator be when I’ve heard the real deal?
Then he started to sing.
OK, I knew in my head that it wasn’t really Paul McCartney on stage with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. But my heart said otherwise.
Not only did Tony Kishman sound almost eerily like the erstwhile Beatle, his resemblance to Paul McCartney was uncanny, and his mannerisms were spot on. By the end of the concert, every aging baby boomer in the place (which was most of us) was up and singing lustily along to “Hey Jude.” He wasn’t Paul McCartney, but he was darn close enough to give his most severe critic (me) an entertainment experience that I won’t soon forget.
What does all this have to do with publishing? Generally, when you see comparisons drawn between the music business and the book industry, the tone is doom and gloom for both.
But not this time.
Once the afterglow of the concert experience subsided, it occurred to me that Tony Kishman, despite his obvious talent, might still be singing in his basement for friends and family instead of doing world tours had it not been for his marketing acumen. Following are five lessons both new and experienced publishers can learn from his success:
1. Pick a niche and stick to it. Would Tony Kishman have been as successful if he had billed himself as a Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Justin Bieber, and Johnny Cash impersonator? Possibly, but it’s highly unlikely that he could imitate every one of those very different singers to the same degree of excellence.
He picked one guy on whom to concentrate, devoted himself to being the very best interpreter of that one guy, and focused on his market—baby boomer Beatles and symphony orchestra fans.
Think about applying a similar strategy to your publishing program. If your expertise is gardening, for example, you might find 47,311 books and e-books about gardening with a search on Amazon.com.. How to make yours stand out? Follow Kishman’s lead and narrow your focus—what about “Flower Gardening in Small Containers on Rooftops,” followed by “Vegetable Gardening in Small Containers on Rooftops,” followed by “Small-Container Gardening on Rooftops on a Budget,” and so on?
Not only does this give you a specific and targeted market—urban high-rise apartment dwellers—but that same market is likely to be interested in each book you produce, and you will soon become an expert in reaching it.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Tony Kishman didn’t create the concept of a Beatles/Paul McCartney tribute; he just did it better. He didn’t create a market, because the market was already there—but he did reach it well.
Finding a winner (or at least a moneymaker) in the publishing business is difficult enough without having to start from scratch to figure out what’s going to sell and who’s going to buy. Do a little homework: what book genres and subjects are selling currently or sell perennially, and how can you piggyback on that success with your book(s), incorporating a twist that makes each title uniquely your own while still appealing to a market that already exists (and that you can grow)?
3. Partner.“The Music of Paul McCartney” presented a series of classical arrangements of McCartney compositions performed by the symphony orchestra alone, followed by Mr. Kishman performing with his band and the orchestra. By working in tandem with the orchestra, he was able to (a) take advantage of the built-in symphony subscription audience, (b) benefit from the symphony’s marketing clout in the local community, and (c) concentrate his own marketing efforts on reaching fans who may not normally buy tickets to the symphony but will do so to hear Beatles tunes.
Sharing the stage with an orchestra was his USP (unique selling point) that set him apart from other tribute bands. Consider your publishing program and think about how you can partner—with associations, with corporations, with other publishers—to add value and expand your market reach.
4. Seek opportunity (but see #1). In any business, there’s a fine line between expansion and overreach. Knowing when and how to grow is one of the bigger challenges. Tony Kishman parlayed his Paul McCartney interpretation from a Broadway show to a touring Beatles tribute band to headlining his own program in cooperation with symphony orchestras.
But he never strayed from his niche, constantly refreshing and refining it in order to offer something new to his market. As you grow your company, you will likely develop more than one niche. But the Tony Kishman approach still applies—look for ways to continually reinterpret your niches both vertically (apps, e-books) and horizontally (for example, from gardening to cooking to house-and-home.)
Finally, and most important:
5. Do what you love. Paul McCartney and his partner John Lennon wrote “All You Need Is Love,” which is a delightful sentiment, but you need a lot more than love to make a go of it in publishing. Still, when a vocation becomes an avocation, those fortunate enough to be on the receiving end know they are experiencing something special. Clearly Tony Kishman, as consummate a marketer as he is, loves his work, which is what brought a symphony orchestra audience to their feet shouting and cheering.
Can you do any less for your readers?
Follow Florrie and IBPA on Twitter at twitter.com/ibpa, and on IBPA’s blog at ibpablog.wordpress.com. Join Independent Book Publishers Association–IBPA group on Linked In (linkedin.com).