While large publishers work to build brand authors whose names are recognized by consumers, smaller presses have found that a key to their success is to create a name for themselves that is trusted by retailers, authors and agents.
The Disinformation Company began publishing books in 2001, but it wasn't until the last couple of years that the company has been able to generate meaningful sales. "Five years ago, buyers were reluctant to place orders with us," cofounder Gary Baddeley says. "But we have enough of a track record now that buyers are willing to take a significant position on our titles."
Matt McKay, publisher of New Harbinger, says that while his company is still largely backlist driven, New Harbinger has established a solid reputation in the psychology segment that encourages buyers to make more significant frontlist buys. As a result, frontlist sales have risen to 40% of total revenue, up from 20% three years ago. After enjoying success in the Southwest since 1958, Northland Publishing's sales began accelerating in the 2000s after the company was able to penetrate Borders and Barnes & Noble, largely on the strength of its children's imprint Rising Moon. Eric Howard, Northland marketing director, recalls that Rising Moon's national sales rose "twofold" between 2003 and 2005, led by Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots and Do Princesses Really Kiss Frogs? Northland's national success helped convince Dances with Wolves author Michael Blake to sign with the house for his forthcoming Indian Yell (PW, Feb. 20). "We think [Blake] will bring more attention to our Northland imprint from national chains," Howard said.
A couple of years ago, Entrepreneur Press also had difficulty breaking into B&N and Borders; now, helped by a change in distributors, to McGraw-Hill, it places 30 to 40 titles into those chains annually, says marketing director Leanne Harvey. "The buyers are more comfortable with our titles," she adds. And in a twist of the strategy used by large publishers—signing authors who already have their own media platforms—Entrepreneur Press uses its magazine and Web sites to give relatively unknown authors their own national platforms, explains publisher Jere Calmes. In addition, Calmes notes, "the magazine gives our authors lots of credibility." And like other magazine/book publishers (e.g., Rodale, Meredith), Entrepreneur uses its publications to promote its titles, running excerpts and placing books on the cover of the magazine.
Independent presses are also using success in one area to build momentum for the entire company. With sales on the rise, the Disinformation Company has received more book submissions. "We weren't on agents' radar before," Baddeley admits. Ronnie Sellers, founder of Ronnie Sellers Productions, was able to leverage his company's strong sales in gift stores to break into bookstores, and is looking to broaden his reach even further in 2006. "Our emphasis in 2006 is opening new accounts," Sellers says. Effective February 1, Sellers added Anderson News to its sales mix. New Harbinger's McKay is also aggressively looking to leverage success in traditional outlets into new markets. "We're pushing into new channels like gift stores and the professional market," McKay says.
Rich and Famous
After several false starts in various media formats since its inception in 1991, The Disinformation Company began publishing its own titles in 2001 with the release of You Are Being Lied To, which has sold more than 100,000 copies. Disinformation followed up Lied with Everything You Know Is Wrongin 2002, and when that title also met with a positive reception, says president Gary Baddeley, "we realized there was demand for our type of books"—titles that have a decidedly left-wing point of view. Why Do People Hate America was another big seller, in 2003, while 2004 saw Disinformation break into the DVD market with a couple of hits: Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism and Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War. Disinformation received a second boost in 2004 when it sold the rights to Barnes & Noble for the retailer to publish a hardcover edition of Wrong, which has sold about 50,000 copies.
In 2005, total sales at Disinformation rose 87%, book sales were up 70% and DVD sales were ahead 130%. In addition to steady backlist sales, Disinformation got a boost last year from the November release of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price in both book and DVD formats. Other '05 releases included Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong,which now has 20,000 copies in print, while Beyond the Bleep is up to 30,000 copies. Baddeley attributes Disinformation's recent success in part to the loyalty of its readers, many of whom buy everything the company releases. To encourage that devotion, Disinformation hosts a number of live authors' events across the country, and updates the information on its Web site, which draws about 500,000 monthly readers. Baddeley is very optimistic about the future of Disinformation. At the start of the year, a U.K. distribution agreement with Virgin Books kicked in, and the company has just signed two authors—Graham Hancock and Jim Marrs—who could give Disinformation its biggest books to date.
Chelsea Green publisher Margo Baldwin admits she didn't expect sales to increase in 2005 after revenue jumped 76% in 2004 on the strength of Don't Think of an Elephant, but the company posted a 7% sales gain last year as Elephant sold another 100,000 units. "It reached a tipping point and sustained its own sales momentum," Baldwin says of Elephant's continued success. With midterm elections later this year, Baldwin is hopeful Elephant will have another strong year.
Baldwin also noted that the concept of sustainable living has become more accepted by mainstream America, and Chelsea Green has a solid backlist of titles in this area, another factor in 2005's improved sales. Sales through new outlets also helped. Amazon.com was Chelsea Green's largest customer last year and the company sold "lots of books to the Whole Foods crowd," Baldwin says. To boost sales in 2006, Baldwin has hired former Context Books publisher Beau Friedlander to help with marketing "and to give us a voice in New York." Among the publisher's big titles for this year are the just out Crashing the Gates and the almost-out Through the Eye of the Storm: A Book Dedicated to Rebuilding What Katrina Washed Away.
Entrepreneur Press has set itself an ambitious goal—upping the number of new books it publishes from 32 in 2005 to 56 this year, to 100 in 2007—all with a staff of about four. "We outsource a lot," Jere Calmes said. After nearly doubling in 2004, sales were relatively flat in 2005 as Entrepreneur cuts its new title output and focused on improving backlist sales. More branding initiatives were launched last year, with an eye toward preparing the market for the big increase in titles planned over the next two years. In 2005, Entrepreneur Press entered two new categories, real estate and personal finance. "We're broadening the spectrum of Entrepreneur to go beyond a mom-and-pop occupation to embrace a lifestyle," Calmes says. Top titles for 2006 include The Entrepreneur Next Door and The Weekend Entrepreneur.
After topping PW's list of fast-growing small publishers last year, Square One Publishers' sales increased 19% in 2005. "That's a reasonable growth level we hope to maintain," says founder and publisher Rudy Shur. The most significant sales boost in 2005 came from online booksellers, where revenue more than doubled as sales through Amazon were augmented with sales through more specialized sites. Growth also came through increased sales to health food stores and greengrocers.
Shur remains committed to building a backlist-oriented company that is centered on health and writing guides and, in 2006, treasure hunting. "Betting on a big hit can bankrupt you," Shur declares. "I look for books that have reasonable initial sales but will backlist." He keeps interest in his backlist high by attending conventions in the segments he publishes for, getting as much off-the—book page coverage as possible and through catalogues. He created a separate catalogue for his Writer Guides series, which will have two new additions this year, How to Publish a Magazine and How to Produce a Movie. Your Best Medicine, a book that straddles conventional and alternative medicine for baby boomers, will be out in October; with a 10,000-copy first printing, this could be Square One's big fall book. Shur is also hoping to find gold with a six-book series on treasure hunting that will launch this fall. The books expands on Urban Treasure Hunters, which has done reasonably well.
Despite cutting its frontlist by 10 titles in 2005, book sales at Ronnie Sellers Productions soared 87% last year, led by price increases. Calendar sales rose a more modest 16%. Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty and 1001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die led sales last year. Fifty Things, published in September, has 45,000 copies in print and was the subject of a two-page spread in the January 2006 AARP Bulletin, which has a circulation of 20 million. RSP founder Ronnie Sellers expects Fifty Things to continue to sell throughout 2006, and plans to jointly promote the book with Sixty Things to Do When You Turn Sixty later this year. RSP's backlist was headed by Bride's Year Ahead, now in its sixth printing, and Cat Naps and Pooped Puppies, each with about 100,000 copies in print.
RSP expects its big book for 2006 to be The Songbirds Bible, a visual directory of 100 of the most popular North American songbirds. The four-color wire-bound book will come with a CD of birdsongs and be priced at $19.95. Sellers also expects a sales bump from a deal signed in December with City Dog Publishing—which publishes city-specific guides for dog owners—making RSP the publisher of all existing and future City Dog titles.
An improvement in the climate for business books plus the blockbuster Confessions of an Economic Hitman have been two key factors in boosting sales at Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Confessions, released in late fall 2004, generated revenue of $702,000 for B-K that year, with sales continuing "at a steady clip last year," publicity director Ken Lupoff says. The Secret, which sold 50,000 copies in 2005, was another top seller, as was Love 'Em or Lose 'Em, a guide to retaining good employees. B-K stepped up its efforts to broaden its reputation as solely a business book publisher by creating Berrett-Koehler Current last year to house its public affairs—related titles. The house will launch the imprint Berrett-Koehler Lifestyle later this year.
Lupoff says B-K is being prudent about spending the proceeds from Confessions (which included the rights sale to Plume). Title count will rise to 37 this year, a number that had been set before the Confessions windfall. But the company is planning a $150,000 marketing campaign to support this year's big book, The Anatomy of Peace, and has high hopes for The Great Turning and All Together Now. Confessions authors John Perkins is teaming up with Stephen Hiatt for an anthology of economic stories and confessions that will be released in January 2007.
New Harbinger's Matt McKay is quick to point to the company's 2003 move to handle its own book sales as the key factor in boosting revenue 47% between 2003 and 2005. McKay says that while PGW did a good job for NH, the switch put the house more in touch with what the buyers at the major outlets are looking for. As a result, sales through B&N "have increased tremendously. We're pushing more books through and keeping returns around 11%," McKay says. Sales through Amazon have also risen sharply, and the e-tailer is now New Harbinger's second largest customer. Establishing its own sales force has also enabled NH to improve its supply chain. The company now holds quarterly meetings with buyers to review its backlist in an effort to improve turns and ensure it keeps books in stock. In addition, having its own reps also contributed to NH's decision to overhaul its acquisition process, to enable it to sign books "that are easier to sell," McKay said.
Watercooler Wisdom, a book aimed at the business market due out this month, is an example of the new tack NH is taking with its program. The company is adding a second title to its Five Good Minutes series (the original Five Good Minutes in the Morning sold 40,000 copies last year), Five Good Minutes in the Evening, to sell into the gift market, which includes spas. McKay says NH will also up its direct-marketing efforts, tied in part to more Web marketing. NH plans to use the Web to test promotions before committing to a direct-mail effort.
Although Northland Publishing had been publishing bilingual books for about 10 years, sales in the segment took a significant leap after the launch of the Luna Rising bilingual children's imprint in fall 2004. The creation of the imprint "gives us a better identity in the market," says Northland's Eric Howard. The imprint's first title, My Name Is Celia/Me llama Celia, won a 2006 ALA Pura Belpre Honor award for illustration and sold out its first printing. The strength of Luna Rising combined with improved sales from the company's traditional children's imprint, Rising Moon, helped boost sales to schools and libraries by 50% over the last two years, Howard said. In fact, total sales of Luna Rising and Rising Moon equaled that of the Northland adult imprint last year, Howard notes.
Not that sales of the adult imprint have done badly. With the steady improvement in tourism to the Southwest after the slump that followed September 11, sales of Northland titles have increased. The adult list features Southwest-flavored cookbooks—Real Women Eat Chiles, Seasonal Southwest Cooking—as well as guidebooks. An important part of Northland's sales have always come from the Southwest gift trade, centered around the region's national parks and with the revival of tourism came a revival in sales through those outlets. The company's Three Little Javelinas, with 500,000 copies in print, is a must buy for tourists, Howard notes. And with approximately five million people visiting the Grand Canyon annually, that traffic "does wonders for your backlist," Howard says.
The majority of Fox Chapel Publishing's book sales come from accounts in its woodworking/crafts channel, though sales to bookstores, handled through Independent Publishers Group, are growing at a fast pace, says marketing director Paul McGahren. The goal now for Fox Chapel, McGahren says, is to develop enough titles to keep growing the trade side. One approach has been to repackage some titles to make them more appealing to general consumers. A second approach is to develop titles expressly for a wider audience; the first book in this line, Winning the Pinewood Derby, is slated for publication later this year.
Another growth area for Fox Chapel has been in distribution and copublishing, where the company has used its ties to the woodworking market to sell titles from other houses. Fox Chapel is also the publisher of two woodworking magazines, which has given the company the opportunity to develop a steady direct-mail business.
While Quirk Books is not leaving its Worst Case Scenario roots behind, the company is looking to expand beyond its core in irreverent reference books. That process saw the release last year of Yoga for Regular Guys, Art of Justiceand Colorstrology. The Batman Handbook, which Quirk published under a licensing deal with DC Comics, sold 50,000 copies last year, making it the company's top seller. The Baby Owner's Manual, the company's steadiest backlist title, sold close to 50,000 copies in 2005 and should pass the 200,000 mark in 2006.
The Superman Handbook, with a first printing of 35,000, is set to come out with the release of the movie this summer. And although the next Spiderman movie is set for a summer release, Quirk is waiting until the fall to publish The Spiderman Handbook. "We think the movie will have legs," says marketing director Jack Lamplough. The company's biggest book for 2006, however, could be Graceland, a $35 pop-up book depicting the King's estate. "We see it as a high-end holiday gift book," Lamplough says.
North Atlantic Books/Frog Ltd. was able to offset a decline in sales of the children's book Walter the Farting Dog (one million copies in print) by increasing sales of its backlist. Associate publisher Mark Ouimet says the solid backlist sales are not so much the result of extra attention to those titles, but are due more to what were once fringe titles moving into the mainstream. Healing with Whole Foods, originally released in 1993, "sells more units each year," Ouimet says; it has sold more than 500,000 copies. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, first released in 1997, has sold more than 300,000 copies. The next big area for North Atlantic is martial arts. The company formed the Blue Snake Books imprint late last year and plans to publish 20 to 25 titles per year, on all martial arts forms for all skill levels. Strong titles out of the gate are Capoeira Conditioning and Muay Thai Basics.
PW'S SMALL PUBLISHER STANDOUTS
|Publisher||Sales Growth 2003—2005||Titles 2003—2005||Employees 2003—2005|
|Disinformation Company New York, N.Y.||169%||8||14||3||8|
|Chelsea Green Publishing White River Junction, Vt.||89||5||25||7||15|
|Entrepreneur Press Irvine, Calif.||77||62||32||2||4|
|Square One Publishers Garden City, N.Y.||71||24||35||7||9|
|Ronnie Sellers Productions Portland, Maine||58||40||20||22||28|
|Berrett-Koehler Publishers San Francisco||48||29||29||20||21|
|New Harbinger Oakland, Calif.||47||34||37||33||33|
|Northland Publishing Flagstaff, Ariz.||32||14||10||12||12|
|Fox Chapel Publishing East Petersburg, Pa.||25||19||25||17||22|
|Quirk Books Philadelphia||14||17||25||17||19|
|North Atlantic Books/Frog Ltd. Berkeley, Calif.||8||61||58||17||18|