by Florrie Binford Kichler
“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”—“Don’t Stop” by Christine McVie, sung by Fleetwood Mac
“You have to be a ‘glass is half full’ person to devote your life to publishing.”—Allan Kornblum, Coffee House Press, interview by Scott Esposito, “How to Publish in a Recession” (conversationalreading.com/2009/02/how-to-publis-1.html)
Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac’s optimistic anthem to the future as his campaign song for the 1992 presidential race. At that time, the United States was still struggling with the aftermath of a recession characterized by a credit crunch and housing market decline.
As 2009 begins, euphemistic talk of “tough times” and “cutting back” has changed to talk of recession and layoffs. In the publishing industry alone, thousands have lost jobs and the “Big Six” have become the “Smaller Six” as they slash overhead while searching for routes to profitability.
Back in November, in my column “Ten Tips for Tough Times,” I proposed some strategies for weathering the “slowdown.” Now the slowdown has morphed into the most challenging economic climate since the 1930s. In the face of eroding retirement plans, reduced consumer spending, and overall bad economic news delivered constantly (and instantly) to our desktops, what’s a publisher to do?
Don’t Stop Selling
When the recovery begins, the way you treat your customers right now will determine whether you are poised to seize market share from your competitors or are running frantically behind, trying to catch up. Set aside 15 minutes a day (more if possible), pick up the phone (a low- or no-cost, old-fashioned but surprisingly effective technique), and talk to your customers. A five-minute phone call will reveal much more than 10 email exchanges. Find out what their concerns are—you may be surprised at new solutions that will emerge.
Don’t Stop Spending
Of course we’re all leery of making any investment right now. Still, those customers you’re reaching out to by phone want to know what you’ve done for them lately. Perhaps you’ve decided to cut back on your new titles for 2009–2010. New-title introduction requires significant upfront cash, and that’s the obvious and easy place to save money in the face of slumping sales—I’ve done it myself.
But what about repurposing that backlist? Whether you’re a one-book or a 500-book publisher, the principle is the same—your backlist costs are sunk. So looking at your “old” books with an eye toward slicing and dicing the content for new market segments is the perfect way to issue “new” books without paying significant upfront editorial and design costs. And if you issue that “new” content electronically or using short-run printing, you can save even more, while still investing in the long-term growth of your business.
Don’t Stop Studying
Late sleepers will shudder at this next bit of advice, but I get up an hour earlier than I normally would every day and reserve that hour for business and industry reading. The following free online publications are a must for every publisher, regardless of size—PW Daily Publishers Lunch (the basic version), ForeWord This Week, and Shelf Awareness. Two of my favorite industry blogs—also free—are Galley Cat at Mediabistro.com and Book Square at Booksquare.com. If budget permits, the print editions of Publishers Weekly and ForeWord Magazine are an invaluable resource, not just in terms of general industry news but to scope out what your competition is doing.
Learning is reading, but it’s also education. And there is no better education than that provided by your association’s own Publishing University, upcoming at the end of May in New York. I realize that travel budgets are slim to none for many of you, but keep in mind that the travel industry is cutting prices to encourage sales, and there are deals to be had. Two-and-a-half days at Publishing University benefiting from the knowledge of more than 100 industry professionals is far less expensive than the thousands you would spend on consulting fees from those same experts.
If Publishing University in person is not doable for you this year, try one of our low-cost Publishing University Online Webinars. And don’t forget the best educational resource of all—the Independent, which comes to you as a benefit of your IBPA membership.
Don’t Stop Sharing
Losing confidence and feeling that everyone but you has hit upon the key to economic survival are common reactions to a stressful and uncertain business climate. If you already belong to an IBPA affiliate—and there are more than 20—then you have a built-in, in-person publisher support group. And if you don’t belong to one yet—join!
Attend the monthly meetings, participate in forums, and don’t be afraid to ask for—or offer—advice. We publishers are some of the most giving and caring folks you will ever meet, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get.
If there’s no affiliate group in your area, why not start one? Finally, don’t forget the IBPA staff (also the most giving and caring folks you will ever meet), who are always available to help you with questions or concerns you may have. Share with them, and they will gladly share with you.
Don’t Stop Publishing
My outlook on business has always been closer to Pollyanna’s optimism (sans the naïveté) than to The Wasteland’s universal despair. Like all of you, I began my publishing company with the passion and conviction that the cultural universe needed the books I was going to supply. Like Allan Kornblum, I’ve found that, with cash flow varying between a stream and a trickle, the same passion and conviction always keep my glass at least half full.
When I was a child and I found myself in an unpleasant situation, my mother would say “This, too, shall pass.” It always did. So will the current recession. Don’t stop thinking and planning for tomorrow; don’t stop searching for solutions to run your business better and smarter today; and above all, never lose the passion for publishing.
My virtual door is always open. Please share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.