How to Plan for the Future of Publishing
As publishers, we make decisions every day that impact the future of our business. And as small-business people we tend to rely on our experience and gut feelings rather than upon external objective data. But by relying too much on intuition we reinforce the assumed precision of our decision, and possibly inhibit innovative thinking.
There are three things you can do to check the accuracy of your automatic decision-making process. First, have a long-term perspective. Second strategically choose objectives, and third, consider multiple options for reaching your goals.
Plan Beyond the Near Term
Creating plans for the next year or two is relatively easy. The process is based upon historical information or on the results of similar titles. You know the new titles you have in the pipeline and your distribution channels are in place. While these facts can guide the decision-making process they should not be the sole criteria.
So why plan through the "fog of the future" where the business circumstances are less clear? It is because the distant future is murky that you should plan for it. Provisional plans help you respond to changing conditions rather than reacting to them. Here are some things you can do to help clear the fog.
Play the Devil's Advocate to identify potential problems and then devise actions that will avoid those results. Then play the Angel's Advocate and prepare alternative plans and exit strategies.
Another way to create your future is to formulate three potential futures: the good, better and, best forecasts of revenue three to five years from now. The middle ground could simply be the average of the two plausible, perhaps unlikely extremes. But this process forces you to at least consider different scenarios.
You can perform either of these techniques with your employees. Or, participate in a mastermind group for an outside perspective. People unassociated with the outcome of your decisions may be in a better position to see and vocalize potential obstacles and opportunities.
Create Strategic Objectives
Creating your long-term plan is like laying tracks for a train. It keeps you heading in the right direction, but it does not create the power behind your progress. Clear, measurable and time-destined goals clarify your destination and generate the energy to keep you moving toward them.
Many publishers limit themselves by defining a major target such as unit sales or gross revenue simply as a percentage increase over last year's performance. However, there is a better path to greater results, and that is to build objectives for sales, revenue, and profit for each title, one market at a time.
Create three matrices -- one for unit sales, a second for gross revenue, and the third for profits. You want to list your titles on one axis of the matrix and markets on the other. Then fill in the intersecting areas with the unit or dollar figures you predict. This forces you to consider how you will generate profitable sales by title, within each market.
Increase Your Tactical Options
You cannot control sales and revenue, but you can influence them. Place your attention on the actions you can take to realize your objectives. Decide which of those you can implement to improve your product development, pricing, distribution, and promotional practices.
These decisions can be no better than the best options under consideration. Therefore, a key to better decisions is to have more options from which to choose. The exercise above facilitates decision making by forcing you to think about how you are going to reach your targets for each title and market. It requires that you think about where and how you will generate profitable sales.
People tend to pay attention to what they can easily evaluate by framing decisions with answers to yes-no questions, such as, "Should we sell Title B in Market C?" A technique to broaden the discussion is to follow a yes-or-no answer with, "Why?" or "Why not?" Another factor that limits options is asking questions like, "Should we sell through chain stores (bricks and clicks) or sell through independent stores, too?" This forces a choice between two familiar options. Instead ask, "In how many other places can we sell our books?" Or, "What if there were no bookstores? Where and how would we sell?" Questions like these force you to expand your thinking to non-traditional outlets, both retail and non-retail. Adapt this technique to help plan for the long term by asking, "What if this (pertinent) current trend continues. Where and how will we generate revenue?"
Anticipate good, better and best futures, establish stretch objectives, and generate multiple actionable options. Your decisions can directly and positively impact your sales, revenue, and profits for many years to come.
Brian Jud is an author, book-marketing consultant, seminar leader, television host and president of Premium Book Company, which sells books to non-bookstore buyers on a non-returnable, commission-only basis and conducts on-site training for publishers' sales forces.
Brian is the author of "How to Make Real Money Selling Books (Without Worrying About Returns)," a do-it-yourself guide to selling books to non-bookstore buyers in large quantities, with no returns. He has written many articles about book publishing and marketing, is the author of the eight e-booklets with "Proven Tips for Publishing Success," and creator of the series of "Book Marketing Wizards." He is also the editor of the bi-weekly newsletter, "Book Marketing Matters."
Brian is the host of the television series "The Book Authority" and has aired over 650 shows. In addition, he is the author, narrator and producer of the media-training video program "You're On The Air."