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Starting a Book Division

Posted on Friday, March 31, 2017 at 1:10 AM

You already have the content you need to segue into book publishing. So how can you put that content to work in book format?

By William Dunkerley

One magazine publisher I've worked with consultatively has book sales that seriously rival the company's advertising revenues. Another finds its ancillary book division revenue to be a valuable hedge against the ups and downs of ad sales.

If you're not already in the book publishing business, this is a good time to take a serious look at it. The existence of convenient e-book platforms and print-on-demand publishing has opened new vistas that deserve your attention.

Since you're already in the business of producing a publication product -- i.e., your magazine -- you have a significant head start. For instance:

--You own editorial material (articles) that can be repackaged into books.

--You have management systems in place for handling editorial material.

--You know how to transform a manuscript into a finished editorial product.

--You are in contact with good writers in your field (i.e., potential book writers).

--You have the insight into your market that comes from publishing a magazine.

--You have in your magazine's pages and mailing list a relatively inexpensive advertising resource for promoting the sale of books.

Valuable Content

What is the best way to present the subject matter of your book? Luckily, you have certain built-in advantages for source material.

There are certain types of books that lend themselves naturally. They can make your jump into book publishing painless and profitable. Here are a few examples:

Anthologies are an obvious type of book for you to consider. They can be a collection of articles that appeared originally in your own magazine. These articles can also be augmented by new material to bring subject matter up-to-date and to fill in subject gaps.

An anthology appeals to your regular readers in that it provides a handy compendium of information on a popular subject. To non-subscribers, it's just like new information -- and might even serve to promote subscriptions.

Directories can be another avenue for exploiting your position in magazine publishing. Accurately compiled and well-organized lists can make very successful publications. Consider information that might be extracted from your subscriber data or solicited via the pages of your magazine. "Who's who" lists, resource people or services, lists with statistical data -- the list goes on!

Executive reports are an interesting alternative to traditional books. When you have information aimed at a select audience (a profession, workers in an industry, or some other particular interest group), you might well have the makings of an executive or special report. These publications provide timely, well-targeted information. They also can often command a high retail price.

Handbooks containing reference or how-to information are usually popular and, if revised periodically, can enjoy a long lifetime of sales. One-shot books, such as annuals containing year-in-review and introductory information about a field, lend well to opening new avenues of distribution.

Try to get double or triple duty from a topic. Your subject may lend itself to presentation in more than a single type of book: e-book, paperback, hardcover, audiobook, or a shortened digest version.

Production Alternatives

The range of options for how to produce a book is quite wide. But let me recommend two approaches as possible starting points.

The first is to work with an existing publishing platform such as CreateSpace, KDP, or Lulu. With this variant your active responsibility is to produce a formatted digital file (PDF, docx, etc.) Once you upload that file, the platform provider takes over. The end product will be a book that is on sale on Amazon as well as the provider's own online storefront.

The downside of this is that the provider takes a big bite of the revenue. Here's an example using data just given to me by KDP. The case in point is a consumer book on a medical topic. KDP produced a 120-page 7x10 paperback version that sells for $24.99 and an e-book edition priced at $2.99. The publisher's net from all this is $9.87 for the paperback and $2.06 for the e-book. I haven't verified the KDP agent's figures, so actual numbers may vary.

An open question here is the marketing job. Don't expect a lot of sales just because your book is listed on Amazon. Lots of books are on Amazon, and the chances of a customer randomly finding yours will be low. Realistically there must be an accompanying promotional effort. Your own magazine and subscriber list can fulfill this role well. But if you're looking to reach outside that universe, a serious promotional campaign is in order.

The second option is to partner with an existing book publisher. There is a big marketing advantage here. Not only will you have exposure to your own audience, but you'll get to take advantage of the book publisher's audience too. In my experience I've seen that when a book publisher produces a new title, it will relatively automatically fill an existing pipeline to established reseller connections. Of course, the book's topic and author's reputation will play a big role. But having established sales channels is a great advantage.

Recently, a couple of magazine publishers have notably created partnerships in the book industry: New York magazine with Simon & Schuster, and Outside magazine with Globe Pequot. Backpacker also has a relationship with Globe Pequot. The beauty of a magazine-book publisher partnership is that the magazine publisher gets exposure to the book publisher's clientele, and the book publisher gets exposure to the magazine publisher's readers, not to mention acquiring another book to sell. Both partners profit from each other's brand reputation.

Keep your options open to all these things: the kinds of books you might publish, and whether to work with a vendor such as KDP or to establish a cooperative arrangement with an established book publisher. There's quite a range of lucrative possibilities from which you can choose.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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