PubWest returned to its roots earlier this month for its annual convention, holding the November 4–6 meeting in Santa Fe, N.Mex., where in 1978 a small group of Rocky Mountain publishers formed plans to create what is the country's largest regional publishing association. Attendance of 210 was up by 10% over 2009, and the show had a healthy vibe. "I sense a more positive attitude toward the future than we had at the show a year ago," noted executive director Kent Watson.
In her opening keynote, Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, spoke on "Running Two Companies at Once: A Book Publisher in Digital Transformation." "We're facing the hardest upcoming 10 years we've ever seen," Raccah began. "We need to talk to each other and reach out to each other, but even with that, we're going to lose some publishers." In describing the traditional model of book publishing, Raccah said that there have been eight to 15 layers between the author and the reader, including "unreasonable retailer terms and friction in the supply chain" that create an unsustainable, unprofitable situation that calls for a new model. "Book publishing isn't book printing," she continued. "It's taking content and putting it into print, apps, e-books, and Web-based content."
According to Raccah, the new publishing models have created "an explosion in the amount of work we have to do," noting, for example, that e-books have added lots more steps to the publishing process for what can be an uncertain return. The top 10 titles from Sourcebooks are selling 500 copies a month, Raccah reported. "It costs an average of $111 to convert a title," said Raccah, "so do your big books first and wait on the slower-selling ones." As for creating apps, that involves the author, the publisher, and a developer and can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $50,000. "Choose the authors you want to go on the journey with you. You have to pick your battles these days as we take on the job of retooling and expanding on what publishing is," Raccah advised.
Media consultant and CPA Daniel R. Siburg presented the financial/administrative track, focusing on the Huenefeld-PubWest survey of financial operations. Siburg took a tough, practical approach to the realities of the business of publishing today, urging those in the audience to cut costs at every available turn. When he made the point that royalties should now be paid on net rather than list price, panel member Gibbs Smith responded, "With e-books thrown into the mix, I'm not even sure what makes up net these days. That has to be defined."
Siburg was adamant that the price of e-books should be going up rather than down. "If you think that cutting your price will result in more sales in this area, you're heading toward bankruptcy," Siburg continued. "Believe me, your sales won't go up." Addressing the issue of inventory turn, he noted that publishers should be monitoring this issue very closely. "If you're only turning your inventory once a year, then something's wrong. Be aggressive about remaindering titles that aren't moving. Don't fall in love with your inventory; it's just cash, and you should sell it."