Never Stop Learning

By Brian Jud

Thirty-seven percent of people never read another book after being graduated from high school. And many more cease to continue their education either formally or informally after college. But those people who keep up to date with current events to understand and exploit the metamorphosis occurring in the publishing industry are more likely to see change as an opportunity for personal and business growth.

Yet business and personal fulfillment are only two of the reasons why you should perpetuate your education. In addition, knowledge gives you a long-term perspective, keeping your attention focused on growth. It gives you the flexibility to adapt to newer techniques, the balance necessary for optimal growth and the edge you need to compete successfully.

Study and embrace change by educating yourself in several key areas. The first is to learn about people, including your customers and employees. Next, you must become expert on the publishing industry and its changing technology. And finally, you should understand your business and the ways in which you can make it more profitable.

People. As an independent publisher, you might think you are in the book business. But this is a misunderstanding because you are in the people business. Without people to help you produce, distribute, promote and buy your books you have no business. Seek to learn as much as you can at all the people involved in helping to make you successful.

Customers. Marketing is a customer-oriented philosophy that should be implemented throughout your organization. It is a set of company beliefs, focused on and communicated to groups of people sharing similar needs. And it is the process of finding out where your customers are, what they need and how you can help them obtain it.

Your customers exist at every level of the distribution network and you must uncover their different buying patterns and hot buttons if you are to serve them properly. For example, people at distributors, wholesalers and retail outlets each have different reasons for purchasing your books. You might think the profit motive is common to all of them, but this is not so. Librarians are not looking to make a profit off their patrons, nor are they seeking to expand their market share. Librarians want to help their patrons meet their needs for information, and you will succeed in the library market to the extent that you can demonstrate your ability to assist the librarians.

It is less expensive and more profitable to increase the amount of a sales transaction with an existing customer than it is to find and develop new customers. A customer-based philosophy toward your distribution partners will help you increase your business with them, so build relationships with your distributors and retailers. Learn how to make them feel unique, make their buying experience with you as pleasant as possible and your revenues will increase.

Additionally, your ultimate readers are your customers. But if you think about them only in terms of demographic and geographic descriptions you might find your marketing efforts directed to segments of college-educated males and females, ages 34 - 59 living in the northeast. However, this thinking denies the fact that you are dealing with human beings, people with individual motives, emotions, needs and wants. Learn about your readers and what leads them to seek the information offered in your product line. Find out what they feel is important and convince them that your titles offer this satisfaction.

Employees. Successful marketing is not a simply a slogan that is repeated in your promotional campaigns. It is a concept that permeates your organization. Your customer-based philosophy is communicated in the way your employees answer the telephone, treat your customers or conduct themselves at trade shows. This means you have to find and train people to implement your business doctrine. Ask them why they work for you and what you can do to make them more productive and happy. Research ways to motivate them and learn how you can make optimal use of their skills.

People are not your most important assets -- the right people are your most important asset. Find out what makes a good employee for your company and hire only the best people. Find, motivate and keep people who share your company∆s core values.

Technology

The publishing industry has witnessed significant change and all signs indicate that it will continue. Most significantly, the advent of the Internet and online bookstores has changed the book-buying habits of millions of people. Testimony to this is the fact that the Internet first opened to commercial activity in 1991 and by 1996 more than one-third of publishers had Web sites. Today, Mary Westheimer (President of BookZone) tells us that 78.7% of all publishers have Web sites. They are using their sites for promotion, book sales, international exposure and for selling products and services.

However, merely creating a web site does not guarantee its success. The Internet's short history has demonstrated four indicators of successful web sites: content, speed, change and the ability to personalize information. Make your web site people-friendly -- interactive and devoid of graphics that require several minutes to download. Use it to respond to the needs of people in your target markets by hosting forums and chat rooms. Publish pertinent articles and show links to other relevant sites. Maintain it regularly, changing the information as necessary.

Publishers' brief experience of using web sites to market books has demonstrated the validity of the Rule of Thirds. This tells us that successful online marketers spend one third of their Internet budget on site development, one third on promoting the site with the remaining third spent on site maintenance.

There is much more to find out about technology and how it can help your business grow. Learn ways to utilize the benefits of search engines, mail lists, newsgroups, ezines, ebooks and linking campaigns. Discover how you can use strategic alliances and web-site advertising to maximize your sales. Are you familiar with DSLs, cable modems and bots? If not, master these and other ways you can use changing technology to increase your revenue, reduce your development cycles, lower your costs, build your audiences and streamline your business operations.

Your business.

Whether you think you are in the bookselling business, the marketing business, the service business or the people business, you are still in business. That requires you to understand the mechanics of what you are doing and where you are going. Continue your education in these area and you will be able to deal more effectively run your publishing firm:

Planning. Many independent publishers believe that the rapid pace of change has outdated the need for planning, but this thinking can be devastating to the success of their businesses. A good business plan defines your objective which sets your direction, focuses your energy and resources and establishes the foundation for future growth. Planning provides the benchmark for you to understand how your business is changing and the compass to determine the direction in which it is going.

Learn to plan your work and work your plan. Then, as you see your opportunities changing, be flexible enough to develop new strategies that will optimize your response to them.

Direction. Determine what is best for your business. When asked what their fair market share should be, many independent publishers respond, "100%." However, maximum share may not be your best objective because the cost of achieving and maintaining market dominance may be prohibitive. Seeking 100% of a market can be costly in terms of time, money and attitude.

Instead, seek the optimum share for your business, considering your circumstances and resources. This strategy weighs the incremental cost of obtaining new business against the incremental value of that business. Once you reach your optimum share, every sale above that point will cost you more than it is worth to obtain. By pursuing your optimum share, you need only enough exposure to reach a critical mass, the point at which your titles "get legs," or take on lives of their own.

Competition. Learn as much as you can about your competition, but not for the sake of obliterating them. Instead, look for ways in which you can work with them. Think about how you can create a strategic alliance with one or more of them, each taking advantage of the others' strengths to stimulate more business for all.

Functions. As the president of your firm you should have a working knowledge of the business functions that keep your business operating. These include administration, marketing, accounting, finance, law and production. It is not necessary to be an expert in each, but you should have a working knowledge of them. If you know about operations, pricing, distribution, copyrights, accounting ratios and how to read financial statements you can create new strategies more effectively and see warning signals more quickly.

Future. Will your growth come from new technologies? If so, which ones? Will you expand through product diversity, business acquisitions, partnering, joint ventures or something else? Constantly be on the lookout for ways to effectively direct your future.

Sources of information

Much of your quest for new information can be accomplished while you are performing the day-to-day activities of your business. For example, you can continue your education by attending seminars and trade shows. Use these opportunities for networking among your colleagues and for researching information on the latest trends.You can perform primary research through focus groups or surveys. Or, improve your understanding of people by joining associations and online list. Groups such as PMA and SPAN have excellent newsletters with which you can educate yourself about all aspects of independent publishing. Learn more about the publishing industry by subscribing to magazines such as Publishers Weekly, Independent Publisher and Book Marketing Update.

There is an adage that has meaning for independent publishers: If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got. If you are content with what you have accomplished and feel that the changing publishing industry will have no impact on your future, than it is not necessary to continue your education. But if you want your business to thrive you must continue seeking new information and ways to make change work for you.