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Publishers:Do You Know Your MQ?

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In last month’s PMA Newsletter, I introduced you to a new concept, your “FQ” or Financial Quotient. I proposed that many publishers may have an excellent IQ and still fail miserably at the business of publishing due to poor planning, undercapitalization, narrow vision, and naive optimism. I called these reasons, “The four tires that will flatten you on the road to success.” Book publishers are among the smartest people I know, but unfortunately they can possess some of the lowest FQs on the planet.

Your Financial Quotient is all about your record keeping, organization, cost controls, business planning, and a dozen other activities that make the difference between just surviving and flourishing. Now I would like to introduce you to a new and equally important determiner of your business acumen, your “MQ” or Marketing Quotient.

Read along and gauge for yourself if you have a high MQ or a low MQ.
You have a high MQ if you:

  • Have a marketing plan down on paper, and update it on a regular basis. That is, any kind of marketing plan — for your business and for individual titles.
  • Track your sales and marketing data closely.
  • Rely mostly on your own hard work, self-marketing, and publicity to sell your books.
  • View every book as a profit center and work to maximize the reach and penetration of each title.
  • Make your authors into stars. That means pushing them into every book signing, radio interview, speaking gig, and public appearance that will benefit awareness and sales.
  • Use the whole wide world to sell books. That means aggressively selling subsidiary rights to European, Asian, and Latin American publishers, when appropriate.
  • Exploit the audio, video, Internet, or movie potential within all titles.
  • Use the “Star Power” of brand recognition to move titles by allying your books with a company, like Nabisco, or a person, like Martha Stewart, that trigger immediate consumer awareness. This increases sales and propels your books over the competition. (See my article, “Star Power: Building Value into Your Titles and Company,” in the August 1997 issue of this newsletter or on the PMA Web site at http://www.pma-online.org.)
  • Focus, focus, focus. It’s sort of like location, location, location in real estate. It means that you find a vein of unsatisfied consumer want and you mine it until the ore runs out. You build your company into a strong niche marketer and then defend your niche with the best possible books on that subject.
  • Remain flexible and opportunistic when selecting titles to publish — and don’t become so rigid in your business model that you cannot change with the times.

You have a low MQ if you:

  • Don’t have any kind of marketing plan … except one that’s vaguely circulating around in your head.
  • Don’t really know where the books you published are selling or how fast.
  • Rely on distributors, wholesalers, and reps to get the word out on your titles.
  • Reply, “What publicity?” when asked about your plans in that area.
  • Are onto the next titles before the last batch has even hit the stores. I call it “orphaning” and it means that you find more pleasure in editing and producing books than you do selling them.
  • Don’t push your authors to do anything on their own behalf.
  • Never try to turn a book into an audio program, videotape, or Internet Web site.
  • Never attend international book shows and don’t build awareness for your publishing company.
  • Stick to a rigid business model, even if it’s not working.
  • Get so caught up in your “mission” that you ignore the warning signs that the market does not share your enthusiasm. (We see this a lot in religious, spiritual, and self-help publishers.)
  • Publish what you like, not what the public demands. And what you like keeps changing. (A little fiction, a little cooking, a little spirituality makes a little publishing company that will never get any bigger.)

Repeat after me, it’s not acceptable to blame wholesalers, distributors, reps, the school system, or any other channel or institution for your company’s distribution problems. A publisher with a high MQ recognizes that every intellectual property must have four or five pathways to the end user. Despite what you may have heard, it’s not the rep’s or distributor’s job to get your products on the retail racks, library shelves, or in the hands of end users. Retailers, reps, and distributors are merely the extension of your own distribution system. In short, they are the fingers but you are the arms and hands.

How to Improve

If you find that you have a both a low MQ and a low FQ, you’re in trouble. But there is something that you can do right away. Begin to bolster your publishing company with people who possess the talents that you lack. I hope that you have the money and the skill at picking good people who can do what you don’t do well. You will need such apostles if you are going to carry out your mission. Look for alliances everywhere. An Italian publisher, a corporate brand name, a talk show host, or a toy maker are all potential allies in your battle in the marketplace.

Every book must be viewed as a profit center, a timber in your publishing house. And what happens if even one timber is weak? That’s right, the whole house can come down around your ears. Publicity, promotion, subsidiary rights sales, and propelling your authors to do their part is how you shore up those timbers and make sure your house is reinforced and strong.

Again, focus, focus, focus. You can’t do everything. Thousands of great books of literary merit will never be seen by the public, just as there are thousands of brilliant screenplays that will never be made into movies. That’s how the marketplace works. The hardest question you may need to answer is not, “Is this a good book, but should I be publishing it?”

Don’t be afraid of changing your business model if the one you have embarked upon is not working. For example: If you cannot make a profit with a line of books or videos on square dancing, change your model. What’s hot, what’s selling? Don’t just keep putting out better square dancing stuff in hopes that one will make it. Maybe you should be doing videos on Cajun country dancing, if that’s what’s selling. But, darn it, stick to dancing. Don’t start producing books that serve a market that you don’t know.


Hundreds of publishers have proven that you can be an English major and still posses a high MQ. It all starts with the marketplace. The books you publish should simply be the satisfaction of a crying need in the marketplace. When you understand that, you have just elevated your Marketing Quotient.

Stephen J. Kerr is President of Business Marketing Consultants, a firm engaged in mergers and acquisitions in the communicating arts industry. He may be reached at 2588-F El Camino Real, Ste. 287, Carlsbad, CA 92008, 888/615-9727, fax 760/967-6806, or e-mail: bmckerr@home.com. He will be speaking on Thursday, April 29th, at 10:00 am at the 1999 PMA Publishing University, Session 6G, on mergers and acquisitions.




This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor April, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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