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Changing Your Tune

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“Do the thing that you fear
every day,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. But I bet Eleanor never performed a
ballroom dance-routine solo in front of more than 100 other dancers.


As someone who has spent most of
her life trying to avoid audiences, I definitely feared dancing the cha-cha to
Santana’s “Oye Como Va” dressed in jeans, T-shirt, red bandanna, and a peace
medallion. My dance instructor had assured me the performance would be the
culmination of my year-long lesson program, and in a weak moment, I agreed.


All eyes were upon me as I waited
for the music to begin. The wait lengthened, and it quickly became apparent
that the music I had practiced to three times a week for the past six months
had disappeared. No Santana. No plan B.


I saw two choices. Either I left
the dance floor relieved at having an excuse not to perform, or I stayed to
dance to an unfamiliar song, risking missteps and humiliation with 100
strangers watching.


My guess is that most of you have
faced a dilemma that feels similar in the course of running your publishing
company. Do you play it safe, and get what you’ve always gotten? Or do you leap
out of the comfort zone with, at best, the potential for reward and, at worst,
humiliation, missteps, loss of revenue, or even bankruptcy?


Our industry is changing at warp
speed, and the choices we publishers face are multiplying nearly as fast. Who
would have thought 10 years ago we would be able to produce one book at a time,
or read that book in its entirety on a screen, or extend our paperless
marketing message to millions of customers with one mouse click? Trying to
predict the changes to come in the next 10 years and, more important, how we
can not only embrace but stay ahead of them is a daunting task.


But the luxury of doing what we’ve
always done and publishing what we’ve always published may be disappearing.


How can we position our companies
to meet the future? If leaping out of the comfort zone seems a little radical,
take a more gradual approach toward reinventing your business by considering
the following:


your editorial strategy consider future trends?


If you’re publishing for
elementary-school children, are the demographics trending up or down? If down,
what can you do to repurpose or extend the reach of your content to a different
age group?


Start working now on
editions for preschool or middle school.


Regardless of your area of
expertise, now might be the time to bear in mind that the U.S. population aged
65 years and older is expected to double in size within the next 25 years.


Focus on the societal and
personal issues this group is likely to be facing and how your publishing
program can meet those needs. And learn more about demographic trends from the
U.S. Census Bureau via www.census.gov.


new markets can you reach?


The more success you have and the
more familiarity you gain in a given market, the less likely you are to want to
find a new one. However, markets are not bottomless pits of opportunity. Are
you always on the lookout for new segments where you can sell your books? For
ways to adapt your books to fit new segments? Or, even more critical, can you
anticipate new markets that might develop in the next 2, 5, or 10 years that
you can begin positioning yourself now to meet?


Take 10 minutes and
brainstorm at least three specific markets you are not currently in but could
be entering two years from now.


your technology support current and future needs?


An office building in downtown
Indianapolis recently suffered heavy wind damage—hundreds of windows were
blown out. One company’s records, which were not computerized and therefore not
backed up, disappeared into the stratosphere. Granted, that was an extreme case,
but do you have a disaster plan for your company? Or are you willing to gamble
that catastrophe will never happen to you?


Buy an external hard drive
or subscribe to a backup service and back up your data.


you dragging your feet on updating technology/software/hardware because “It’s
too much work” or “Things are fine the way they are”?


I did, until I finally realized
the time I’d save by simply switching from dial-up to high-speed far exceeded
the money I saved by retaining my slow connection. That’s just one small
example out of hundreds. Keeping up with the latest bells and whistles is
neither cost-effective nor necessary. But the same is true of running a
seven-year-old operating system on a four-year-old computer (which is why I just
replaced both).


Make a list of, and schedule
for, current and future technology needs and begin today with one upgrade.


are you going to fund your company in the future?


Many of us used our own savings or
money from family and friends to begin our companies. That’s fine as long as we
remain small by choice. If you want to grow, but have outgrown asking your
loved ones for loans, don’t be afraid to investigate other sources, such as
banks. All loan officers require financial statements, and preparing yours may
be the longest leap out of your comfort zone you’ve yet to experience.


Make plan to bring your
financial statements up-to-date—now.


The keys to effective change are
envisioning, planning, and implementing. Like you, your association is facing
those very challenges right now as a board of directors’ committee moves
forward with creating a strategic plan for the next five years—a plan to
position PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, as your partner and
support as we all greet the future. Going forward, the ability to adjust the
plan as external and internal conditions vary will be as critical as the
planning process.


Change can be scary and
exhilarating—or both. Terrified, I made the choice to dance to a song I’d
never heard before. Sure I made some mistakes—OK, a lot of mistakes. But
I got through it.


And became a better dancer.


My virtual door is always
open—I encourage you to share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by
emailing me at fkichler@patriapress.com.



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