11 Best Business Decisions of 2011
In a time of significant flux in the industry, publishing executives are faced with more pressure than ever to examine their businesses and make decisions that will lead them to a profitable future. Book Business checked in with the leaders of publishing companies of various sizes and scopes to find out what their best business decisions of the year have been. Here's what they said:
Chairman, President and CEO
Scholastic is the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, and a leader in educational technology and children's media.
"The big strategic decision for Scholastic in 2011 was to drive forward with the transition to technology-enabled reading in our children's consumer book business, estimating that one-third of Scholastic revenue will be digital by 2015. Scholastic's online ordering system, NEW COOL (Clubs Ordering Online); an evolving e-bookstore of exciting digital products; and Scholastic's new, exclusive e-reading app are pillars of the strategy. We are building Scholastic's e-commerce experience, digital reading app and e-bookstore based on the trusted relationships we have with our customers, who have told us that they expect and need Scholastic to deliver an excellent e‑commerce and e‑reading experience, alongside traditional print books.
Our product strategy for digital reading is founded on the same principles we use in print: offering the very best books from all publishers and developing original content, which will empower children, and their parents and teachers, to choose books that children will love to read and which will make them successful readers."
President and Publisher
Kaplan is an international education leader with 31,000-plus employ–ees worldwide and reaching more than 1 million students annually. Kaplan Publishing is one of the nation's top publishers of academic and professional development resources, and is the leading provider of test prep materials for most standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, SAT, PSAT, MCAT, TOEFL and more. Its titles focus on test preparation, college and graduate school admissions, and academic and career development with emphasis on the legal, medical, education and general business fields.
"One of Kaplan Publishing's best business decisions in 2011 was to launch KaplanLabs, an initiative that allows us to pilot innovative, new digital features and capabilities in order to understand their potential value to our students and explore ways to enhance the efficacy of Kaplan's programs. Each month we release a new digital product—ACT prep via text messaging, a Web-based SAT flashcard app or an interactive e-book that automatically scores a student's GMAT quiz results, for example. We make these pilot products available to students at no cost, and collect data about educational efficacy, as well as feedback about the user experience. One outcome of this program is a new Web-based flashcard app that will be provided to students in several Kaplan courses in 2012."
Greenleaf Book Group LLC
Greenleaf Book Group is a publisher and distributor that specializes in the development of independent authors and small presses. In addition to publishing books, it distributes select titles from small and independent publishers to major trade outlets. It also offers small and independent publishers industry guidance, business development, and production, distribution and marketing services.
"Without a doubt, our best business idea of 2011 was the launch of our platform-development program. It's a unique and innovative program that combines content creation with audience strategy and outreach to help experts spread their ideas, build their brands, and, in turn, grow their income.
The shrinking brick-and-mortar landscape has spooked some authors and publishers, but the readers are still out there. A solid platform helps authors hedge against an overreliance on bookstores to provide the author-reader connection. We help our platform-development clients develop a clear brand strategy and multiple tools (such as ancillary product development, presentation writing/design, speaker press kit development, website design, etc.) to build and engage their audience.
Some of our platform-related content initiatives are integrated into the editorial process, saving the author countless additional expenses later in the process and deepening the editorial experience. For example, during the content-chunking process, our editorial team identifies approximately 10 to 15 standalone, audience-appropriate blog articles and 50-plus tweets in a typical nonfiction manuscript. This efficiency saves time and money down the road, and ensures the author arrives at publication with an arsenal of content to use in support of the book's promotion.
Platform development is a natural evolution for our company and our clients. We've built our company by putting our authors' needs first, and platform is a critical need for every author. This is an obvious extension of our talents and knowledge base, and a service we're excited to deliver to our authors."
Open Road Integrated Media
Open Road Integrated Media is a digital publisher and multimedia content company. It creates connections between authors and their audiences by marketing its e-books through a proprietary online platform, which uses premium video content and social media.
"My best decision in 2011 was to launch Open Road's Iconic Ebooks imprint, as this designation speaks to our overall mission—to bring to the forefront many of the great works of yesteryear. Open Road Iconic Ebooks are titles that, like Erica Jong's 'Fear of Flying,' have universal name recognition whether as memoir, popular fiction, literary fiction or nonfiction. For too long, many of these legendary books have not received the attention they deserve from booksellers and from readers.
By digitally publishing and marketing books like 'Fear of Flying,' 'Sophie's Choice' and 'Prince of Tides,' we are bringing these titles to the attention of a new generation of readers. This is what Open Road is all about."
Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press Inc. (OUP USA) is linked to Oxford University Press in Oxford, England (OUP UK), which is a department of Oxford University, and is the oldest and largest continuously operating university press in the world. The OUP group publishes more than 6,000 new titles a year and employs approximately 5,000 people across 50 countries.
"I'd say the two most important decisions we've made are: One, experimenting aggressively with e-books, [and] two, continuing to invest in our higher education (HE) and reference publishing.
E-books provide us with an excellent opportunity to gain a better understanding of the different price points for different kinds of nonfiction content. In so doing, we're confident we can reach more readers than ever before, a key consideration for a mission-based institution such as OUP.
As for our investment in HE, at a time when the cost of textbooks is much debated, we believe that the time is right for a strong higher-education publisher such as Oxford to provide affordably priced alternatives that rise to Oxford's quality standards while also being supported by all the ancillary materials that are increasingly key to pedagogy."
[For] reference, we aspire to be nothing less than a full-spectrum publisher to the academy, ranging from dictionaries to Oxford Handbooks and major reference works that set the standard in a given discipline. At a time when there is more high-quality reference content freely available than ever before, it has been incumbent on us to rethink what our constituents want from OUP as a reference publisher. Accordingly, we have reoriented our program to focus on scholarly services such as Oxford Bibliographies Online which draw on OUP's broad experience as a reference publisher to help scholars and students orient themselves in a world of seemingly infinite information."
Marcus E. Leaver
Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.
For 60 years, Sterling has been one of the world's leading publishers of books that aim to educate, entertain and enrich the lives of its readers. Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble Inc.
"[Our best business decision has been to] continually [focus] on the quality of the content, whatever the delivery platform."
Lerner Publishing Group Inc.
Lerner Publishing Group is one of the nation's largest independently owned children's publishers, with more than 5,000 books in print. For more than 50 years, the company has created nonfiction and fiction books for pre-school to young adult readers, and for libraries, classrooms and homes nationwide.
"I would say that my best decision (so far) has been to continue to invest in our digital workflow and products. Even though these are challenging times, clearly the market is shifting toward a print/digital hybrid model. While continued investment is risky, not preparing our company for this shift is riskier. I feel vindicated because we are now starting to earn significant digital revenue."
President and Publisher
Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
For 26 years, Chelsea Green has been a leading publisher of books on the politics and practice of sustainable living. It has more than 400 titles in print, including the national best-seller "Don't Think of an Elephant."
"Maybe the best business decision was not to make any big decisions this year in the midst of all the flux in the industry, and instead to just concentrate on publishing the very best content and not getting distracted by the technology and the proliferation of devices."
President and Publisher
For more than 150 years, Merriam-Webster has been a leading provider of language information, in print and now online. Its websites draw more than 40 million visitors monthly, and its print publications include "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary" (among the best-selling books in American history) and newly published dictionaries for English-language learners.
"I would say that continuing the push to get free apps into distribution was one of the best things I/we did. The decision to move ahead to do that was made last year, but keeping the pressure up, especially for iPads and Android, extended into this year, and we are very pleased with the results." BB
Triple Crown Publications
Triple Crown Publications Inc. is an international leader in publishing urban fiction/"hip-hop lit" with novels distributed around the globe, including Japanese translations sold in Tokyo. It has sold more than 1 million books "and counting."
"My best strategy that I used for 2011 that allowed me to navigate through the ever-changing publishing industry was: One, utilizing my resources. I turned to non-compensated labor (in other words, free workers) by using more summer interns, seniors from a local church that assisted with marketing mailers, filing, database. In exchange I offered daily lunch, free books, credit for various accomplishments, and letters of recommendation and references. This was a great way to bring energy and passion back into my office that was about the love of publishing [and] reading, and not just [being] surrounded by employees or persons in desperate need of 'work.'"
Springer Science + Business Media
Springer Science + Business Media is a leading, global scientific publisher/producer of books, journals, newsletters, CD-ROMs, online platforms, protocols, databases and conferences. It publishes some 2,000 journals and more than 7,000 new book titles annually in the scientific, technical and medical, and business-to-business sectors. Its primary publishing fields are science, technology, medicine, business, transport and architecture. It encompasses approximately 55 publishing houses in nearly 20 countries, and employs more than 5,500 worldwide.
"The best business decision of 2011 was to complete our transformation from 'p' to 'e' publisher in the near future. Springer's base product will be digital, with customers able to order printed copies as an additional service."