The Corner Office: Change, Distribution Top List of Challenges for Indie Houses
• How is the IBPA responding to the various pressures that have resulted from today’s economic climate, and specifically, how is the association assisting its members in these troubled times?
Binford Kichler: The challenge for any association when times are tough is proving that the value of membership far exceeds the dues.
In the past year, we have completed a major overhaul and upgrade of our more than 30 benefits, which include discounts on services including marketing, promotion, distribution and more. Our marketing programs are also undergoing major changes in order to better meet our members’ needs as well as the requirements of an industry that is changing at the speed of light.
We are … in the process of a member outreach unprecedented in our association’s history. We know there are many more publishers we can serve, and we want to offer IBPA’s benefits, support, education and advocacy at all times—but especially when times are tough.
• Economic issues aside, what are the biggest challenges independent publishers face in 2009?
Binford Kichler: The biggest challenge all publishers face in 2009 (and beyond) is change. … “That’s the way we’ve always done it” just doesn’t cut it anymore in the brave new world of social media, content delivery—and even independent publisher trade associations!
As publishers, both large and small, I believe our struggle is less with the concept of change than with trying to figure out exactly how and what to change in order to be effectively positioned for the future. Is the best strategy really to throw it all against the wall and see what sticks? The jury’s still out.
• How has the distribution landscape for indie publishers changed in the last few years, and what should publishers be looking for most in a distribution partner today?
Binford Kichler: Last year, 400,000 books were published in the U.S. alone. When you consider that at the same time, the number of distributors willing to take on a smaller publisher is shrinking, you can understand why the No. 1 concern of the majority of our members is distribution—getting it, keeping it and figuring out how to make it work cost effectively.
As you can imagine, one of IBPA’s most popular marketing programs for our members is our trade distribution arrangement with IPG. … Our members have the opportunity they may not otherwise have for professional evaluation of the sales potential of their titles to the book trade.
As book sales migrate online and bookstores close, the implications for the current distribution model are anything but clear. In choosing a distribution partner, I would advise any publisher to look for financial stability, longevity, industry clout and experience, and most importantly, the ability to both recognize when change is needed and the willingness to adjust and adapt to that change.