Winning Teams = Winning Titles
Champaign, Ill.-based Sports Publishing LLC got its start in 1998 as a spin-off from Sagamore Publishing—publisher of parks, recreation and leisure textbooks—when the company published a biography of University of Illinois men’s basketball coach Lou Henson, a legend among basketball fans throughout the Midwest. The book was an instant hit, and a new company was born. Today, Sports Publishing puts out 80 titles annually, spanning college and professional teams and star athletes in almost a dozen sports.
As vice president of sales and marketing, Dave Hulsey has been in sales and marketing since graduating from the University of Missouri in 1981. His career in the book publishing industry spans the past 12 years, including stints with Macmillan Publishing, Chronicle Books and Prima Publishing. He joined Sports Publishing two years ago and says he’s been very impressed with the publisher’s ability to develop programs to reach its target consumers and to develop, print and sell what he calls “instant books”—books chronicling a championship team’s season that are available in bookstores just seven days after the championship game. Book Business spoke with Hulsey about the sports book market and his own experiences in the book publishing industry.
Can you give us a sense of your responsibilities on both a day-to-day and “big-picture” basis?
Dave Hulsey: … My job starts even before our books are acquired. I continually meet with the acquisitions department to review potential new titles and authors. As the books are acquired, we work with the editors and graphic designers to develop the cover that will properly reflect the contents of the book and draw customer attention.
Prior to release, we work with the authors to develop a program that includes events, media coverage and promotions for the retailers. Each book’s marketing budget is based on its anticipated sales and revenue. … On a daily basis, we work on maximizing exposure to the book. That includes contacting potential retailers for events, following up on prior events, scheduling interviews and following up on book reviews. Since we are a smaller press, the marketing managers also track shipments to events and design promotional materials. …
As for as the big picture, we constantly monitor the market looking for new trends in the industry (in both sports and books), trying to be one step ahead of our competition, and continuing to review our success and challenges to improve our books’ performance.
It’s extremely important that marketing managers communicate with sales reps and accounts to monitor the success of a book, understand current market demands and anticipate other future needs.
If you could go back in time to meet a younger version of yourself and had 30 seconds to give some advice that would help you with your career in the future, what would it be?
Hulsey: It’s important to become an expert in marketing your genre, but don’t forget to analyze how your marketing programs affect overall the revenue, cash flow and profitability of your company. Understanding the effect of these aspects of the business and being able to communicate [them] are extremely important to management. Depending on the situation, your book may not be as profitable as others, but it may have provided additional cash flow during a slow sales period. Being able to provide this information will give you a competitive edge in the market and in your company.
What would you point to as the most difficult challenges presented by the sports book market today?
Hulsey: Today’s challenges are probably not that much different [than] those of several years ago. Historically, sales on a book covering a team will increase as that team has a good year. If a team has a poor year, the sales of the book can do the same. Balancing your list is essential. … We have a feel for which markets are strong. There are certain markets where … the teams’ books will sell come rain or shine. For example, [Chicago] Cubs fans will buy a Cubs book no matter how good or how bad they are. Usually once a season starts, everyone’s excited about it. But if a team starts to slow down in mid-season, book sales will slow down. So we manage our print runs based on that, and we watch the market. We use Nielsen’s BookScan a lot, just to see how book sales are fluctuating. We also talk to our accounts a lot and ask them what they think, so that we don’t overprint a particular title. If it’s a winning season, that book will sell all season long and even after the season.
Can you explain what goes into publishing an “instant book”?
Hulsey: We actually write two books at a time. So once we know who the final two teams are in the World Series, for example, we will actually start writing the books on the final two teams’ seasons. The night of the game, our writers and designers will come into the offices, write the final chapter on the championship game and we design the cover the next morning before the book is sent off to the printer. So it’s very intense, but our printer is very used to doing this, and we can actually get the book to market usually by the following weekend. We want the book to hit when the hype around the team is high.
How optimistic are you about the future of book publishing?
Hulsey: I’m very optimistic for our industry. Like all industries, publishing has been through a lot of changes in the last few years. Communication flow has increased, companies have been acquired and consolidated while others have gone out of business. Retailers have become publishers, and publishers have started using the Internet to sell their books.
For the companies and individuals that can adapt and change with the times, there will also be opportunities to succeed. New ideas and new challenges bring opportunities for new companies to start and existing companies to grow. Learn from every situation you face.
When I started in this industry, several people told me that brick-and-mortar [stores] would be replaced by the Internet, and ink on paper would be replaced by digital books. Neither has happened—we’ve just used this new technology to help build our businesses and reach new markets. The individuals who change with the times will always succeed. BB