Power to the [Publishing] People!
“The revolution is here!”
Florrie Kichler laughs a bit after she tells me this, and adds that her comment “sounds like something from 1968.” And yet here we are in the twenty-first century, talking about a book publishing world that’s technologically evolved in a way few could have anticipated in the 60s, radical as the decade may have been. What Kichler sees today is a “sea change in the industry.”
Kichler will retire on June 30th from the position she has held for five years as president of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). The organization was founded thirty years ago by what Kichler calls a “group of small publishers who couldn’t get their books out anywhere into the trade.”
These publishers were unable to get the attention of important book buyers, and therefore “banded together because they were considered to be second-class citizens.” As Kichler explains, “we’ve built our program on cooperative marketing for small and independent publishers who didn’t have the wherewithal or resources to be looked at by the book trade, and the book trade was all there was back then.”
Now the 2,900 members of IBPA are benefitting from the industry’s new retail environment. “We have had such a gigantic switch to online selling and direct-to-consumer sales,” says Kichler. With easier access to the retail chain, size plays less of a role. Self-publishers, in her view, can be just plain publishers. “That’s what they are; that’s what they do! Self-publishing sounds like yesterday’s news. It can be a very lucrative way of getting a book out into the world.” The child of the 60s resurfaces as she exclaims: “The business of publishing has been turned on its ear and taken back by the people!”
In just a few weeks, on April 26th and 27th, the IBPA will hold its annual Publishing University in Chicago. One keynote speaker will be Guy Kawasaki, whose newest book about his experience publishing his own work mentions IBPA (the book is entitled APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book). Another speaker, Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks, was an early member of the organization (then called the Publishers Marketing Association, or PMA). Says Kichler: “Dominique brought her first book to Jan Nathan, then executive director, for critique. Dominique has never forgotten that!” (PMA founder Jan Nathan passed away in 2007 at age 68 after battle with cancer.)
Breakout sessions at the show—“where the real nuts and bolts carry on”—will cover a range of topics including: design, social media, marketing, inventory management and distribution of both e- and print products. Kichler promised that attendees will “go away armed with the tools they can take right back to their computer and put into practice every day. We don’t do theory. We do hands-on practice.”
As for new authors who are contemplating becoming publishers, Kichler says: “We hope they visit our resources and talk with our experts to help them make that decision. We want to get them before they make expensive mistakes and before they find out how much they don’t know.” This attitude reflects the educational mission of this non-profit organization.
And as for self-publishing: “Eventually the term self-publishing will go away. Rather than being pejorative it’s almost gotten a sort of caché. How quickly things change!”
Power to the people!