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Spotlight: Tom Doherty, IBPA Board Member

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January 2014

by Linda Carlson

Closeup: Tom Doherty


Born into publishing is how we could describe IBPA board member Tom Doherty. He absorbed book publishing as a child through his father’s career as a book salesman and publisher, and his mother’s work in management of a college bookstore, and he began delivering newspapers in a suburb of Queens, NY, when he was 10.

The Dohertys—Tom and Adriane

By the time Doherty was in high school, his parents had founded Tor Books as a publisher of science fiction and fantasy, and he worked there part-time and in the summer until he got his business degree at SUNY Binghamton.

“When I got out of college, going into the book business was natural,” says Doherty. His first jobs were with Warner Publishers Services, where he sold mass market and trade paperback lines to the wholesalers and jobbers who handle supermarkets and other mass merchandisers. After a decade in sales and marketing management, with such accomplishments as the launch of Hyperion and Disney Press into toy and mass market retailers, Doherty moved to the Indianapolis area.

“Leaving New York was a hard decision for a publishing executive,” he recalls, explaining that he and his wife chose quality of life over the epicenter of U.S. publishing. “I have never looked back. It was the right decision for us.”

After holding a couple of executive positions in sales and marketing for other publishers in Indianapolis, Doherty assessed his background and his location: “The part of the business I knew best was distribution, and it turns out that Indiana is an ideal place to have a distribution company.”

As he points out, “It’s centrally located for customers and unlike some other distributors, I don’t have to maintain expensive offices in New York City or Chicago.”

Doherty’s Cardinal Publishers Group, launched in 2000, distributes nonfiction print and e-books for independent publishers. Today it handles both trade and specialty retail and wholesale markets with in-house and commissioned sales reps. Like Tor, where Doherty’s father and two sisters are still in management, Cardinal is something of a family business. His wife, Adriane, is the company’s chief financial officer, and the two older Doherty children have had part-time jobs there.

Thanks to decades of observing publishing, Doherty has perspective on changes in the retail landscape and technology. How have they and the recent recession changed the way Cardinal does business? “Because so much has been happening simultaneously, it can be difficult to tell what is affecting buying patterns,” he says.

“Looking over 20 years, you can certainly see that independent retailers have a smaller share of the market, but the industry has also lost many other channels,” he points out; these include mall stores, chain superstores, and outlets serviced by IDs, the wholesalers that primarily handled magazines and mass market paperbacks.

To adapt to these changes, “We look for publishers publishing good books that sell in the trade and in other channels,” says this industry veteran. “We also seek new customers in new channels—but when you think about it, that’s really what distributors have been doing all along.”

The publishers who prosper aren’t doing too much that’s different either, Doherty believes. “The most successful publishers have always been the people who understand where the consumer is going. Studying and learning through trial and error what motivates consumers to buy is the most important element for success in the book business.”

As he points out, “Today it’s easier than ever to acquire content, create product, make it available to the public, and find customers. Certainly failure in any of these aspects can ruin a publisher’s profitability, but even if you do all of these well, if you don’t have something that people want, you’re in trouble.”

So like many of the others who have shared their advice for this column, Doherty says: Focus. “Once you can publish well and profitably on one subject, then, and only then, should you look to new genres.”

This, he concludes, is nothing new: “This is a publishing basic, even more critical today because consumers are more sophisticated and have more information available than ever before.”


● Sourcebooks has made a deal with Sanrio, the lifestyle brand best known for pop icon Hello Kitty, involving eight original Hello Kitty stories designed and written specifically for the Sourcebooks Put Me In the Story personalized children’s book app and Website. The first Hello Kitty and Me book will be released in July 2014.

● A Poisoned Pen title, Covenant with Hell: A Medieval Mystery by Priscilla Royal, got a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which cited its “sympathetic characters and a suspenseful plot.”

● A starred review appeared in Library Journal for a Chicago Review Press title, Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood, by Greg Merritt. “This great read makes its subject easy to understand, while also providing a peek at Hollywood in its early years,” LJ said. A starred review in Kirkus Reviews called the book “the definitive account of one of Hollywood’s most notorious scandals.” Room 1219 was also reviewed recently in the Columbus Dispatch, and it was previously reviewed in the San Francisco ChronicleSan Francisco Bay GuardianBoston Globe, and Boston Herald, and on BBC News. Within two months of publication, it was already in 150 libraries.

● Bobbi Wolverton, author of Behind the Smile: Sex, Humor and Terror During the Glamour Years of Aviation, a Village Concepts publication, was interviewed recently on KMVT-TV, the Twin Falls, ID, affiliate of the Fox network.

Linda Carlson (linda@ibpa-online.org) writes for the Independent from Seattle.

Spotlight is compiled by Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com), who welcomes members’ news of notable special sales and licensing deals, significant recent media coups, movie and television options, and other achievements at linda@ibpa-online.org.

Please report on how you accomplished something as well as on what you accomplished so others can benefit from your experience as they applaud your achievements.

Note: We must have URLs for accessing any media coverage you’d like us to mention.

Please submit your news for Spotlight in the text of your email (no attachments) and remember to include:

● your name and title

● the name of your publishing company as it appears in the IBPA membership directory

● your email address

● URLs for the archived editions of any media stories you’re telling us about

Since information for this column is needed about eight weeks in advance of an issue’s publication date, news you submit by January 14 can be considered for the March 2014 and later issues. News that is time-sensitive should be directed to lisa@ibpa-online.org for consideration for the IBPA e-newsletter, Independent Publishing Now.

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