Chelsea Green's Challenge
• How is the economy affecting your plans for this year?
Baldwin: We’ll budget for zero growth [in 2009]. … I think we’re feeling fairly optimistic. We have our own sales force, [and] they have been increasingly reaching out to speciality retailers and mail-order companies—retailers outside [the] regular book trades. We’re more diversified now than ever.
• How have you prepared your staff for a challenging economy?
Baldwin: The focus is mainly to keep employees’ eyes on the important product focus that we have and not have people get worried or anxious. ...
We’re going to be focused on the how-to side of things, as opposed to grabbing the next political title. I’ve said, “Let’s focus on what we’ve been doing for the past 25 years.” … Even if people are struggling, they buy how-tos. … Our backlist is selling two to three times more than it was. … We’re definitely not laying off anybody. …
In terms of budgeting for [this] year, I’ve been ratcheting down expectations. We’ve been tightening up credit, in terms of accounts, [and] getting everyone to focus on being conservative ….
• Chelsea Green is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned in that time?
Baldwin: My husband and I started the company 25 years ago, and the main thing we’ve learned about success and staying alive is that you remain focused—niched—and that you remain true to your mission. … There are lots of other publishers that are niched. They’re all doing relatively better than others who are more general interest.
Another thing I’ve learned … is [how] to publish books really quickly …. We’ve had these three national best-sellers because we brought them out very quickly. I think that we should continue to exploit those opportunities. The slowness of the traditional book industry for a book publisher that’s doing nonfiction, current-events books, by the time you get around to it, it’s out of date. The industry as a whole, if they’re going to survive, has to rethink the traditional lead times. We try to do that. … There’s no magic here. It’s just getting something through production quickly. I think that in this world of bloggers and the death of newspapers, book publishers are going to have to become more publishers for the moment.