Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, to B-E-A We Go!

Note: For many years Al Canton has penned a publishing industry 'column' called "A Saturday Rant." While it has been dormant for the past year due to his wife's health problems and the death of his father, things have improved and he has decided to bring "A Saturday Rant" back to life and hopes that people will find it fun and informative. Many of the names mentioned are well-known personalities in the small press industry as well as on the Pub-Forum listserv. To join that list (free) go to To contact Al, go to either of his websites listed at the end of the piece.]

A Saturday Rant 5-13-06


I'm looking forward to seeing many of you next week at the PMA/BEA.

I have a long-standing tradition of going to the BFD (no, that stands for Ben Franklin Dinner and NOT what YOU think it stands for.... but now that I think about it....) and sitting with the very wealthy Peter Goodman of Stonebridge Press (who sold to a large Japanese house,) the lovely, talented book designer, and extremely cheap Mayapriya Long, the funny, witty, and even cheaper (like in KING of cheap) Shel (who will be living in his car under the Key bridge), maybe one of the Foreplay (oops, ForeWord) book-babes and perhaps Our Mother of Aggravation, mother of all list-moms, the mean and terrible dominatrix of this list Marion (whom I hit on every year and and every year I strike out. She has this fidelity thing going on or something! She's obviously an accountant and not a publisher (right Jerry?)).

And of course my trip won't be complete unless I get to meet (or is that meat?) and greet our own Harry. (Sharon and Fern are selling tix to this, and the Harrah's sport's book has me as a 3 to 1 favorite!)

Of course, I'll miss Grandma Bell, but Pa Kettle-Poyter is almost as old so there will be some adult supervision in the room.

And, of course I look forward to getting a picture of of Jerry Jenkins with his hand on some babe's thigh (or higher!) at his annual book-bash with the book-babes.

Most of all BEA is a reaffirmation of faith that somehow we all made it through another year in this difficult business and that perhaps what we don't make in money, we make up in friendship, camaraderie, and the knowledge that we are keepers of a culture that is under constant assault by the electronic media as well as governments at all levels as well as parties of red and blue, green.... and pink (i.e. the CA bill requiring publishers to include gay/lesbian annotations in public school textbooks.)

As for books, here is some advice.

Forget about selling your books.

First of all, everyone and their dog are trying to sell their books, either to the retail/distribution channel or the media. And when it comes to selling, it is pretty difficult to out-muscle the bigger houses that have hoards of well-trained, well-contacted sales people (booth-babes!) as well as tons of heavy-duty, high-skilled, in-house publicity talent (media-chicks!).

Second of all, there is no one to sell to. There are no ("we don't need no stinkin'') blue badges anymore. There are damn few bookstores who send "buying" representatives to the floor. Hell, there are damn few independent bookstores in the first place. Any publisher looking to sell their books or even to make good contacts to sell later on is probably going to be disappointed.

Oh, yes, you are going to make lots of contacts and meet lots of people who are going to tell you all sorts of things about what they will do for you. But when you call them a week later, they won't know you from the last guy who they just got off the phone with.

So what is BEA good for? Two things.

First, it is a celebration of ego. We put the fruits of our long hard labors on the table and say "Look at me, aren't I great?" And we say "Wow, your books are great too." We both say, "Gee, we're lucky to be able to be in this industry where we can do great work."

BEA, unlike many trade shows where the emphasis is on sales, is really an old-time "tent revival," , a chance to escape the confines of the spin-doctors, and get some feedback from colleagues and peers on your products. And it is a great excuse to let down you hair (and skirt/pants?) and have a party. And all of the above is good. I'd worry big-time about our industry if there weren't a well attended BEA. It's a chance to spend some of those profits (or forget about the ones you didn't make) and have a good time. (Except for Marion... who is an accountant and not allowed any fun.)

Second, BEA is a chance to learn. If you exhibit you will find out in short order if your wares are "interesting" or if they are just "run of the mill." You will have the opportunity to hob-nob with publishers and vendors of all stripes. And you will get an opportunity to attend seminars (PMA-U, AAP, etc.) and learn the elements of the business that you might be weak on. And this is all good.

But BEA is not for "selling". It is for "buying". I don't expect to sell one book from BEA and if you go with the idea that you are going to come home with either a stack of orders or a ton of business cards from potential buyers, you are going to be heartbroken.

You need to find reasons other than sales for the BEA to be a meaningful event for you. Whether it's the parties, the seminars, or the chance to see what others are doing, you should come up with one or two things you want to accomplish and pursue them.

I don't mean something like "I'm going to get a distributor." You'd be better advised to set you sights to "I'm going to learn about and make contact with three or four distributors I can approach later." Or "Each day of the show I'm going to make two media contacts in my genre whom I can approach later on a first name basis." Or "I'm going to have a three day party, drink Dan under the table, and swim naked in the Potomac with Hilary Clinton (although you have a better shot with Bill if history serves me correctly! ) Plan your "go" and go with your plan.

So you ask, what is MY plan?

I like to publish books that I can sell for obscene margins to those who are not using their own coin to buy. For example, for many years I've published "MoveIT: The Complete Guide to Moving a Corporate Data Center."

I print in low quantities from Alexander's Digital and sell the tome for $99. OK, I only sell about 200 a year, but it only cost me $10 to print and $10 in royalty. If you have 10 of the math. (I used to sell 1,000 of these before the Internet made ALL information (accurate or not) "free.") I'm going to look for an author or a publisher who has the next "MoveIT" and see if I can buy rights from them.

Thus, I'm going to BEA in order to "buy" not to sell.

Of course, if you are also a vendor to the industry like me, Dan Poynter, Shel Horowitz, Mayapriya Long, Marion Gropen, Fern Reiss (some of whom are both publishers AND vendors), it might not hurt to pass out a flyer or a business card at selected booths. I always get new Jaya123 victims (I mean clients) from BEA.

Indeed, I think that the only people who can really "sell" are the vendors. Publishers, I believe, have to be content to "buy." It is kind of ironic isn't it? Here is this huge trade show with 1000 publishers and yet they are now all selling to basically 10 or 20 customers: B&N, Borders, Amazon, Wall-Mart, Costco, a few distributors, and the last small group of indie bookstores stores left who send buyers (Cody's, Tattered Cover, Powells, etc).

So here are my parting words to those of you going to DC. Read the next TWO paragraphs three times until you understand it! They are two of the best I have ever written. Print them and paste them on your mirror and read them every day until you arrive in DC.

When you go to BEA ask not what you can sell TO it, but ask what you can take FROM it. Approach the show from the 20,000 foot level, looking to get a broad overview of where the industry is going, what others are making money at, how others have found niches to sell into. Go to learn what the technology will do to change things... and try to find out if there is a way you can use all this knowledge to better your competitive position.

Don't go to sell books. What did I just say? Again, don't go to sell books! Go there to buy ideas. Don't go to make something happen. Go there to understand what will happen. Don't go there to sell your products or ideas, but go there to buy the ideas of others. You have this wonderful chance to see, touch, ask, learn, question, and network. And while you may seek one or two specific goals, don't be surprised if the compendium of information you glean from BEA coalesces into a terrific business idea that you can pursue in the near future. If you go to BEA with a buyers attitude, you will more than make up the money you spent being there.

And while we're talking about buying, it is true that buying a drink or a lunch or a cab ride for someone who works hard writing gems of wisdom that he shares with you via his Rants, is always a worthwhile investment :-)

By the way, I have it from a very, very well placed source you all know and admire (think parachutes) that it would NOT be a good idea, when Fern and Sharon are introduced at the list dinner, to start a chant of "Take it off, Take it off" unless you want to see a cabernet bottle hurled at you faster than a Barry Bonds triple to left. And I wouldn't make any references to mud wrestling either.

And make sure you walk up to me and say hello. I don't bite. But you guys better be careful of Mayapriya Long of Bookwrights. The woman is a black belt in Aikido and can turn you from a rooster into a hen before you can figure out how to say her name. However, if you mention "How about I buy you lunch," she becomes a pussycat.

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you and I hope that the above will serve as food for thought.

Al Canton Adams-Blake Company, Inc. http://www.adams-blake com

Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.