All independent publishers begin with a good idea, something that needs to be said, a viewpoint able to draw an audience. The initial idea is a pure and simple concept, not a business. Publishers who survive the initial burst of enthusiasm become entrepreneurs, learning to concentrate resources and effort so the delivery of ideas and information becomes a process. Dissemination of any publishable idea eventually becomes dependent on the mundane: invoices, labels, statements, mailing lists, credit card authorizations. What a perversion! Unfortunately mastering this routine distinguishes real publishers from dilettantes in the publishing industry.
If your company hasn’t mastered the publishing order entry function yet, rejoice. These are good times for the inept. Your computer can become as good at organizing this business function as it already is with graphics and layout. All it takes is software.
Players in the publisher’s order entry software game include Datasystem Solutions, CSSC, Inc., Cat’s Pajamas, LLC and BookMaster. For publishers under about $3 million annually, nearly all of these are overkill. Below $100,000 annually, you probably don’t need order entry software. Where does that leave the rest of us? PMA membership includes over a thousand publishers between $100,000 and $3 million. What choices do we have?
The obvious question is: “Why not QuickBooks?” It is world-class accounting on a peanuts budget. It handles invoices, receivables, statements, and inventory. What else does a publisher need?
Nearly everyone agrees that QuickBooks is good, forgiving, flexible, and generates great reports. But here’s the problem. QuickBooks is just as good for hair salons, ice cream parlors, and undertakers as for book publishers. One size is supposed to fit all. And it does, but at the cost of omitting key functions unique to publishing. For publishers using a Windows program to track royalties, commissions, or sales by account manager or promotion, there’s been another choice since February of this year. It’s called PiiGS, an acronym for Publisher’s Invoice & Information Generating System.
Only the Windows version of PiiGS is new. PiiGS for DOS has been available since 1989. Both DOS and Windows versions are the brainchild of Steve Carlson, publisher at Upper Access, Inc. in Hinesburg, Vermont.
Some Program Capabilities
Committing to any order entry software involves risk, the chance that a feature you absolutely must have isn’t included and may not be available at any reasonable price. A prime example: Do your statements show detailed charges for the current month and only a balance due from prior months? That’s called balance forward accounting. Your bookkeeper applies payments on account rather than against a specific invoice. For some publishers, that’s perfect. Others require open item statements listing every invoice still outstanding. Every payment or credit is applied against a specific invoice. PiiGS has the flexibility to let a publisher play it either way, open item or balance forward. The sidebar offers more on options built into PiiGS.
Another source of risk: that you’ll outgrow practical limits built into the program. PiiGS is written in MS FoxPro and stacks up well under stress. According to Steve Carlson, the publisher, the only real limit may be disk size. The program has been tested to 100,000 contacts, 2,000 titles, 70,000 invoices, and 430 back orders. The difference in speed between large files and small files is insignificant. Some maintenance procedures take longer on a large database. Examples include data integrity tests, packing files, resetting beginning balances, and recalculating royalties. Of course, reports take longer to print when files are large.
PiiGS handles magazine and newsletter subscriptions well enough for a book publisher with a little subscription revenue on the side. But real magazine and newsletter publishers should look elsewhere. Likewise, the standing order function will be adequate for most book publishers who need a convenient way to dispatch annual publications or review copies to a few hundred readers and reviewers. But PiiGS isn’t a good choice for a negative option book club operator.
PiiGS Is Unique
Vendors of industry-specific software usually make more money charging for support than selling code. In this respect and more, PiiGS is unconventional. PiiGS comes with 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week free phone support. Training is $80 per hour. Consultation with Ron Lawrence, the FoxPro creator of PiiGS, is $90 per hour.
Another idiosyncrasy: The 96-page PiiGS manual reads more like a letter home than a user’s guide, and doesn’t have a single illustration. That may be perfect for book publishers who, presumably, love the printed word. But the manual lacks a tutorial-step-by-step instructions for getting set up and productive with PiiGS. It’s better at explaining what and why than showing how.
The module that creates invoices is the heart of PiiGS. Type the customer’s last name or zip and PiiGS suggests the best match. Every title invoiced adjusts inventory, accumulates royalties and commissions, updates the mailing list, credits some promotion code for the sale, computes state and county tax, tallies the parcel weight, and, if necessary, adds to the backorder file. Bill-to and ship-to addresses are stored separately. Invoices can include custom memo lines and comments. You see existing account balances before processing the order and can insert a note in the customer record for future reference.
Gems & Gripes
PiiGS includes lots of little gems that will endear the program to new users. My favorite is the F2 key. Throughout PiiGS, press F2 to search the contents of a dialog box, like a contact name or a book ID or a customer code. F2 makes training easier for new employees. But version 3.0, the first in Windows, has some quirks too. Inexperienced users experimenting with the program can stray into trouble, resulting in a lockup or program abort, as happened to this reviewer several times. Learning the sequence required to get the intended result takes time. For example, the steps required to print an inventory report aren’t obvious. The program seems to work more reliably when used from the keyboard than with a mouse. Another gripe: PiiGS provides lots of shipping options (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.) but calculates the shipping charge for none.
Unlike some higher end publishing programs, PiiGS doesn’t prepare payroll, income statements, or a balance sheet. But then, that’s what makes PiiGS a good complement to QuickBooks in a publishing office. Maybe most important, PiiGS isn’t multi-user, at least not yet. Imagine the problem. You’ve got 100,000 customers, 70,000 invoices and 2,000 titles locked up inside a computer and only one person at a time can use all that information. Upper Access is working on a multi-user (network) version, and it is expected out soon. The PiiGS single-user version for Windows lists at $1,495. A working demonstration program good for 25 uses is $25. You can reach Upper Access, Inc. at 800/310-8716.
This review was supplied by Gary Moselle, publisher of Craftsman Book Company of Carlsbad, California. Moselle is a former PMA President.
What PiiGS Can Do
Is any of this absolutely essential to your business? PiiGS handles all of the following:
- Tracks both royalties and commissions on each sale.
- Records books shipped on consignment.
- Handles distribution of books published by others.
- Sends follow-up letters to recipients of review copies.
- Calculates shipping weight of the parcel.
- Processes backorders automatically.
- Handles periodical subscriptions.
- Maintains a standing order file.
- Duns delinquent accounts.
- Every item on an invoice can have a different discount.
- Invoices can include both state and county sales tax.
- Invoices can include a lump sum discount.
- Prints packing slips, shipping labels, and pick lists.
- Royalties based on either net receipts or cover price.
- Royalty payments can be based on a sliding scale.
- Every sale can be credited to some account manager.
- Prints customer lists by title ordered or by genre.
- Issues purchase orders when it’s time to restock inventory.
- Stores addresses for customers, reviewers, and contacts.
- Tracks sales by promotion.