June 2008

New Society publishers logoNew Society Publishers is committed to facilitating social change and its mandate embraces a broad social transformation toward sustainability.  But New Society Publishers goes beyond simply publishing books on topics such as globalization, green building, renewable energy, conscientious commerce and sustinable living.  As a business, it walks the talk.  In 2005, New Society became the first North American publishing company to become carbon neutral.  The company has also received the Ethics in Action award in 1997 for ongoing social responsibility, and again in 2002 for environmental excellence.

Christopher and Judith PlantAll of this is not surprising, given the activist roots of its principals, Christopher and Judith Plant.  Chris Plant started his publishing career in the South Pacific as an organizer with the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement and as an editor with the Institute of Pacific Studies in Fiji.  Judith Plant is a former adult educator who became an author with the release in 1990 of her highly successful book, Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism published by New Society.  We recently interviewed Chris and Judith Plant about the focus and direction of New Society Publishers.

FPP: How did you come to choose publishing as a way to express your activism?

Chris & Judith:  Getting the word out is a large part of activism of any kind; you need informed people to make a difference. We originally started publishing a magazine to enable communities scattered over a large geography to know what their issues were and how they were dealing with them. Oftentimes, they were facing similar struggles – forestry, watershed issues, toxic wastes, etc – and having to reinvent the wheel over and over again instead of being able to learn from each other. Sharing issues and solutions became the meat-and-potatoes of what we published.

FPP:  You have described yourselves as bioregionalists. Can you explain what that means and how that has affected your day-to-day operations and publishing decisions?

Chris & Judith:  The bioregional view sees the local as the focal point, the locus, of all action. We all live in a place, and caring for that place is the most immediate thing one can do. Understanding your place used to be the key to obtaining your water, your food, and your security. But in a globalized world, that all changed. However, as the global system crumbles through the pressures of Peak Oil and other long emergencies, the ‘local’ promises once again to become the most important aspect of most peoples’ lives. The Relocalization movement is all about this trend.

FPP:  New Society Publishers is on Gabriola Island in the province of British Columbia. Does that present challenges for you?

Chris & Judith:  Only if you miss the city! No, it’s an ideal life here. We’re on a beautiful Gulf Island in a quiet piece of forest, a short walk away from the seashore, connected to some of the best and most interesting people in the world through our work. My husband and I have a 30 foot commute, our staff often bicycle to work, and we give ourselves lots of time off. How challenging is that?! Seriously, though, publishing is the ultimate ‘electronic village’ occupation: it can be done from anywhere. And, to keep a balance, we do in fact venture out into the ‘real world’ every now and then, to rub shoulders with activists and authors and make sure we aren’t too cut off from most peoples’ day to day realities.

FPP:  Your company has a focus on publishing books that help to build an ecologically sustainable and just society. How has this focus developed over the life of New Society Publishers?

Chris & Judith:  In the beginning, in Philadelphia, the publishing operation was the propaganda arm of the Movement for a New Society whose aim was nonviolent revolution and opposition to the war in Vietnam, to nuclear weapons, etc. As times changed, the publishing element became autonomous, and we evolved the mandate of the publishing company around what we considered to be the key overarching issues of the day. Ecological sustainability and social justice remain the deep fabric of human habitation on this planet.

FPP:  What is the typical profile of a New Society Publishers author – or is there such a thing?

Chris & Judith:  Active, committed, eloquent, upbeat, capable, compassionate – and among the best human beings in the world!

FPP:  New Society Publishers has gone carbon neutral. This is a pretty major step for a book publisher. What were the hurdles you had to overcome as a print publisher to get there?

Chris & Judith:  When we took the step to committing to print all of our books on 100% Post Consumer Waste paper in 2001, it was a major commitment. No-one had done such a thing before. Every other publisher thought we were crazy because it added a significant cost to the production of a book – and who cared anyway? We had three tremendous allies in taking this step. First, New Leaf Paper from San Francisco who could provide the 100% PCW paper stock and who pulled out all the stops to help us do it. Second, our printer in Manitoba who had faith enough in us to order two truckloads of paper, not knowing if we would be able to actually pull off our commitment and use it all up. And third, the Markets Initiative group who were so totally convinced that change in paper use had to happen that they inspired us to take the risk of helping to change the publishing industry. After our paper commitment, going carbon neutral was a breeze!

FPP:  Do you see more publishers opting for this direction in the future?

green-press-initiative-logoChris & Judith:  Yes. The Green Press Initiative – publishers who have taken similar vows – is growing all the time.

FPP:  Given the concerns about global climate change and all of its effects, are you seeing more demand for your titles than in previous years and changes in the readership for your titles?

Chris & Judith:  Absolutely! Our topics of concern have all of a sudden become mainstream. That’s what we were struggling to achieve all along and now that it’s a reality, it’s very exciting to be at the forefront of the trend. A part of our list was always designed to ‘mainstream’ the movement; now we’re seeing way more so-called ordinary people take on the key issues of our time.

FPP:  What role, if any, do you see technology playing in the way you will produce and market books in the future?

Chris & Judith:  As Peak Oil works its way through the system, shipping a heavy commodity like books around the universe is going to have to become a thing of the past. Physical books will occupy a special and sentimental slot in our lives. Electronic books’ time will come!

FPP:  What do you see as the biggest challenges for book publishers in the next few years?

Chris & Judith:  Coming to terms with Peak Oil and the restructuring of an entire industry. Publishing has to move from: books to e-books, from bricks and mortar bookstores to cyberstores, from shelves and warehouses filled with books to point of sale machines that print books on demand – if you really need to have a physical copy at all.

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bruce batchelorBruce Batchelor has long been a publishing pioneer, innovator and leading advocate for independent (“indie”) publishing.  He recently shared his experiences as a publisher, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing the book publishing industry today.  Bruce is the founder of Trafford Publishing, where he publisher more than 10,000 authors from over 100 countries during 11 years as the company’s publisher and CEO.  In 1995, while at Trafford, he invented print-on-demand (POD) based publishing. 

Book Marketing DeMystified CoverHe is the author of numerous books, including his latest, Book Marketing DeMystified.  Always an entrepreneur, Bruce has been the recipient of an Award of Excellence from The Financial Post and recognized by Profit Magazine as CEO of one of Canada’s top ten fastest growing companies in 2004) and 2005.  Today he heads up Agio Publishing, his latest book publishing venture.  

FPP – Publishing has always been a tough business. How did you get started and what motivated you to enter the business?

Bruce – My first publishing was simple and profitable: our high school yearbook was a money-maker, then I published a monthly high school newspaper (also profitable). After university, I self-published a book of stories and maps of the Yukon River and that was a lovely income source for many years — and regional bestseller. Then, with a group of friends, we published The Lost Whole Moose Catalogue: a Yukon Way of Knowledge” in 1979 — that sold over 20,000 copies and stayed in print for 25 years and inspired two sequels and the creation of a northern publishing company. So I didn’t realize publishing was supposed to be a tough business — it was a fall-back source of money for me when I wasn’t doing other work-adventures.

FPP– At Trafford Publishing, you pioneered the idea of print on demand. What inspired this innovation and what hurdles did you have to overcome to put it into action?

In 1994 I was consulting to a number of provincial and federal (Canadian) ministries to help them cut costs on publishing technical and policy manuals. These documents need changing periodically, so are ill-suited to offset printing. That’s when I discovered print-on-demand technology existed and could be used to print a single copy “on-demand”. Up to this point, the technology was being marketed as suitable for short runs of 300 to 500 copies. The challenge was to be able to show a catalogue of documents, take orders (with payment) and submit up-to-date print files to the DocuTech device — all in an automated fashion so the clerical-accounting overhead wouldn’t be too onerous. Fortunately the world-wide web was just beginning, so we created one of the first on-line stores (in 1995) to display our wares, collect orders and credit card payment, and relay the printing instructions and shipping papers to our contracted print shop.

The next hurdle was getting books/manuals/whatever to sell. We began with a few government manuals but soon began to solicit new books from authors and publishers. From that point, the business grew exponentially until Trafford Publishing had over 140 employees, offices in 4 countries, and sales of about $1 million per month. By the time I left in 2006, we’d published about 10,000 titles for authors living in over 100 countries.

FPP– After leaving Trafford, you formed a new company called Agio. Could you describe Agio’s basic business model and what do you think is most unique about Agio’s service offerings for authors?

Bruce – “Conventional” publishers incur all the expenses and have all the control over the content, appearance and marketing.

Agio and similar “collaborative” publishers share the costs and share the control.

Self-publishing on one’s own or using a service such as Trafford or AuthorHouse or Lulu means the author pays all the costs and has all the control.

At Agio, we only work with authors and books that intrigue and inspire us. The approach is collaborative. We insist on top-quality writing, editing and design. We contribute about half of the costs, and share the royalties with the author (Agio gets 20%; author gets 80%). We create customized marketing campaigns, and expect the author to be active in promotions. We don’t sell books to retailers on a returnable basis and we use short discounts to maximize royalties.

FPP– On Agio’s website it states that “Our company is committed to corporate social responsibility . . ” Could you explain how that affects your daily operation and management of the firm?

Bruce – Here are some of the things we do.

  •  We print on-demand so there is minimal waste
  • The paper stock is not from virgin old growth
  • We generously support social and environmental charities
  • We only work on books that are positive (or benign) about social and environmental change
  • We don’t support ‘returnable’ book sales because this causes overprinting and wasted resources
  • Zero commuting costs (we work from a home-office!)
  • We share our ideas through presentations and my blog
    – we consult to other publishing companies to help them adapt to the changing business environment.

FPP – How do you see technology impacting book publishing over the next 5

Bruce– The industry is being transformed — in much the same way the music industry is, only the book publishing industry is a few years behind. Rising resource costs and better technologies will accelerate the adoption of eBooks — regardless of what booksellers and old-school publishers might hope. Bookstores will fail, following the pattern of music shops and video stores. The books that are bought in printed editions will be produced using print-on-demand, with POD factories located in every major city and all countries.

Because the cost to “publish” is heading toward zero, the number of new titles will balloon from 2007’s count of 411,000 annually in the USA to 1 million.

The major publishing companies will lose their oligopoly advantages and will dwindle in scale and importance.

FPP– What Internet marketing tools have proven the most effective in your experience?

Bruce – Know your audience and target your publicity to them. Certainly selling on a short discount is a great help since you are gaining way more royalty per sale.

FPP– You are both a publisher and an author. Does being an author yourself help when you are working with Agio’s clients?

Bruce – Yes. I can relate well to their emotional and financial situations, and that helps both comfort and inspire them to push for clarity and quality in their books and marketing.

FPP – What is the profile of your ideal author client in today’s publishing environment?

Bruce – Someone with joy in their heart and a message to communicate.

FPP – What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing the publishing industry today?

Bruce – Inertia in processes and thinking. The US book publishing industry is wasting between $1 billion and $2 billion each year because of widespread paranoia about ending the practice of overprinting and selling books on consignment (“returnable”). That practice could be changed in months if a handful of publishers showed leadership and attention to the environment and their own financial situation!

The blockbuster top selling authors will soon begin leaving the big houses (as Madonna, The Eagles and Nine Inch Nails, for example, have left their music labels) to become “independents”. Cue the bankruptcy folks at the 6 biggest publishing companies. Those big companies have massive infrastructure to pay for — most of it will be without use soon. Smaller publishing houses might be more nimble.

A looming challenge will be too much control in the hands of a few retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart) who will drag us all through a time of their greed to grab outrageous margins and exclusivity — before they are toppled by the next wave of online retailing.

(FPP Note:  In addition to the text interview above, you my also listen to the extended audio interview with BruceBatchelor – 20 MB MP3 file.)


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book vid lit iconSheila Clover-EnglishBook Vid Lit

by Sheila Clover-English

Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, has been a pioneer in book video production, marketing and distribution for authors and publishers.

Wall Street Journal mastheadIf you read The Wall Street Journal then you may have seen the article that came out over this past weekend called Watch this Book. It discusses how authors are using book videos to gain the attention of the YouTube crowd.  Since my company, Circle of Seven Productions, is mentioned in the article and I was interviewed for it, I wanted to expand on that article with my own point of view.

First, let’s look at what was not said.

Book trailers and other types of book video are not solely created to sell books. There are other reasons to have a book video that were not addressed in the article.  Of course, if the author of the article addressed all the aspects of book trailer utilization the article would take up an entire page.  She focused on what she felt was the hook of her story and I certainly don’t begrudge her that.

Here are examples of how book trailers can be used:

  • Generate momentum for the first week of sales in order to make bestseller lists. This is something that’s been done successfully on several occasions. 
  • Establish branding. 
  • Appeal to new target audiences by highlighting cross genre aspects of the book.
  • Reach out to young people who are making them in school for an English class.
  • Gain the attention of those young adults who spend so much time online.  In this respect, book trailers help the publishing industry compete with movies, television, music and video games.

Book video is a tool that the entire industry can use to reach out in a way that is cool to young people. Reach out and show them how fun reading is. Reach out and remind them how wonderful stories are when you apply your own imagination. Reach out and create new readers. Thinking of the book video only as a sales tool is limiting and short-sighted.

Next, let’s talk about the dignity issue.

videographerThe article indicates that many authors feel they must compromise their dignity to have a video made. That simply isn’t true.  The type and style of book video you choose to do is governed by the message you want to convey.  If you feel that your brand is a high-brow literary piece then you should do an author interview or reading and target those people you think will be interested in your book. If you write fiction that you feel would be of interest to people who love action, entertainment or a visual medium then have a trailer made.  I might sacrifice some things for my art, but not my dignity. Nor my self respect. I have a trailer, I’m proud of my trailer and I will certainly do it again.  In summary, if you have a book that you feel will be compromised by doing a video then don’t do it.

Finally, there were other excellent book video producers that were not mentioned in the article.  These producers have been around much longer and have created many more videos with publishers than TurnHere.  Circle of Seven Productions has been producing book trailers since 2002. We did not spring up in response to the trend as the article would lead you to believe. We helped to create the trend; and YouTube and MySpace can take credit for the huge jump in book video popularity as well. In 2002 when we Googled the term “book trailer” we got nothing back. Google it today and see what you get.  This is not a new trend or a new idea. VidLit has been doing book video with a very unique style since 2004. ExpandedBooks does top quality author interviews and has also been around for that long. There have been many more producers that have come and gone over the years.

romance-novel-tv logoOther organizations such produce book videos.  Reader’s Entertainment TV has author interviews, book trailers, original shows and behind the scenesreporting at conventions.  In addition, there are several online book tv platforms including C-SPAN’s booktv.org and Romance Novel TV, both of which enjoy a huge following.

Book video has found a place in the book publishing industry. And if the industry embraces it, like HarperCollins with over 500 author interviews, book video has the potential to help grow readership. Move over Star Wars movie, for that same price I can read the book and get double the entertainment hours out of it!

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Blog networkshave been around for awhile and represent a new form of online publishing – functioning as online magazines or newspapers.  In earlier posts, I have talked in general terms about how blog networks might serve as the foundation for a more open model of book publishing.  Now it’s time to talk specifics.

slush pileFirst, the rationale.  Publishing is risky business.  The biggest risk, and the progenitor of most other risks in publishing, is title selection.  Publishers have experiemented with different modelsin an effort to address this risk.  In the past, publishers have relied on the judgment and experience of editors or agents to act as gatekeepers to the publishing kingdom.  Sometimes celebrity status or previous publishing success serve as good rpoxies for judgment and experience.  And sometimes the title acquisition process is more subjective and opaque.  More often that not the results are less than satisfactory.

vote symbolAnother approach is to substitute voting for gate keeping.  How would this work?  Enter the blook network.  It starts with the premise that anyone might be a successful author; we just don’t know which ones.  So provide anyone who has a story, an idea or a manuscript the opportunity to try and find an audience big enough to be book-worthy.  The tool for this is a blog.  The publisher rents the writer space in a blog network with a style guide for blogging in a manner that makes it relatively easy to go from blog to book.  The rental also includes an appropriate set of metrics to track how the writer’s audience building efforts are doing.

Blogs on related topics are linked.  In this way, stronger established blogs help direct traffic to newer blogs.  Blog statistics are tracked by the publisher to determine which blooks are developing an audience.  When pre-established audience targets are met, the publisher is alerted and may decide to publish the writer’s work.  The publisher correlates audience statistics with sales data for books in the category (e.g. from Book Scan) to make the final publishing determination.  In this way, analytics guide the decision to make the publishing investment.  Since the blog has been structured to be easily converted to a book, time to market is faster.  Editors use metrics to identify the best content in the final manuscript, thus helping to ensure a more marketable product.

royalty checkThe blook network helps the publisher find authors who can build an audience sufficient to warrant publication.  And the discovery engine pays for itself (or even earns a profit).  Even writers who are not successful in terms of getting published will have useful information (in the form of metrics, reader comments, etc.) that they can use to refine or retarget their efforts.

The process can be summarized as:

  • Replace manuscripts with blogs
  • Replace the slush pile with a publisher’s blog network
  • Structure network blogs so their content can be readily converted into books
  • Combine blog metrics and book sales data to determine when and who to publish
  • Reinforce traffic to new writer blogs with links from high traffic network blogs

The benefits to publishers of using this approach are that it:

  • Creates added capacity for publishers to take on new writers without expense
  • Generates service revenue while the writer is developing an audience
  • Provides detailed knowledge of the market before the book is published
  • Provides a speedier path to market

The blook network is a potentially powerful tool for helping publishers better manage the risk of title acquisition and provide a firmer rationalization of their investments in editing, production and marketing.

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