Monthly Archives: December 2012

Who Needs Good Customer Service? Famous Last Words…

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Since I have been working in publishing, or just working for that matter, I have found that there are two specific things that can really put the damper on your profit margin.  The first, and most recognizable, would be a lack of cash-flow.  If the money dries up, so does your ability to operate and get products out the door.  When vendors, banks, and taxes (State and Federal) cannot get paid, your corporate entity ceases to exist.  The second specific item is Customer Service.

The recent Chic-fil-a support was all driven by some media outlets but mostly by social media outlets.  Agree with them or not, they do provide a tasty product and the ability to generate a backlash level of support gave them the biggest day of sales in the history of the franchise.  Who you are, what you are, and how you operate as a company are all reflected by the actions and statements of your customer service representatives in total. Other than the CEO, and CFO, these individuals are the most important people in your organization because they deliver your corporate message to customers in the outside world.

The Social Media age is a double-edged sword.  People can now reach out to hundreds if not thousands of potential customers and destroy an image in an instant.  As with everything in life, there will be real customer service gaffes, and instances where a company was not completely at fault but the customer had the Social Media “Bully Pulpit” to raise the flag of discontent.  For these reasons, companies must go above and beyond the base level to make a customer happy when there is a problem, or face continuous diminished sales due to a poor reputation with the purchasing public.

Now more than ever, good customer service is essential.  No longer can a company deliver sub-par experiences to people who buy the products and expect to stay in business.  The age of Twitter, Facebook, Glassdoor, Yelp, LinkedIn and Angie’s List all conspire to immediately put companies in bad places if they do not deliver high-quality products and services.  Never before has the consuming public had such a huge array of canvas to air grievances against companies that do not live up to a sterling reputation.

To survive and thrive, companies must continually get input from their customers.  It is only in this way that a product will move and ensure profitability.  The time to get back to the old adage, “The Customer is Always Right” is now.  Treat your customers with respect and always remember that a bad experience suffered by one may mean thousands of sales do not occur in the future.  The level of good will engendered should always be higher than the actual problem confronted.  If a book is missing pages, give the customer a corrected copy and send another title that is in the same subject area that may be useful and interesting to them.  Give them a future credit or a discount on any books in the same area that may be publishing shortly.

The main goal should be to turn a bad experience for a customer into a friendly interaction where a future purchase is assured.  A certainty of a future purchase is the hallmark of Good Customer Service!


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A Publishing Model: How does the Playing Field Get Leveled?

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If you could start a publishing empire, where would you begin and what model would you choose?  First, there would be some areas that would need to be fleshed out.  Are you already a company established in a field trying to venture into a new field?  Are you an individual who wants to start a publishing venture and already has a reserve of capital to fall back on?  Are you a self-publisher that wants to build and brand your content from the basis of a skill or passion in which you excel or are expert at?

For arguments sake, we’ll say we are a large company that is an online consumer retailer.  Since the business of selling items to home-based consumers is a win/win for anyone who can get into the business, we already have a market that we can channel into any of our new ventures.  We are expert at customer service and always leave the consumer with a smile after they have made a purchase.  This guarantees us a return purchase sometime in the future.   Our cash-flow has left us in the enviable position of being debt free and in command of a huge cash reserve for future investments, acquisitions or capital expenditures.  Our model is to build a sales infrastructure that may take an initial loss on our content sales, but will eventually have the same consumer buying continuously in other sections of our inventory of products.

For all intents and purposes, you can guess the company I have just described, but this post is more about how publishers can stay competitive and on the field while keeping one of their major distribution centers from extinguishing them as viable corporate entities.  Merging to become larger will only take you so far in this battle where one side needs to make money from the product they produce, while the other side is content with losing money initially while market-share increases geometrically.  What will keep Publishers in the Game?

  1.  Direct sales:  Look closely about upgrading internal online channels to keep a steady flow of products streaming to consumers directly from your company website.  This will not alleviate the competition, but if you take the message back to the competition’s backyard, there may be repercussions that will help you increase your online sales.  This would encompass your initial print books, Print on Demand backlist, and e-books of all varieties.  Discount titles sold through your web sales portal to keep consumers returning.
  2. Better Research on Published Content:  Keep an ear on the ground to know what your consumer market is craving.  It only takes one Best Seller to offset every other problem you have encountered for the year.  Shoot for a 50 Shades of Grey” each year.  You may not get close, but the research you do will be helpful to your company down the road.  Being in touch with your audience is crucial for sustained success within the publishing field.
  3. Look for a Partnership:  Since publishing is going through many different levels of upheaval at this time, the sidelines are loaded with companies and individuals who may be interested in making a deal and helping keep content a revenue producing enterprise.  Partnerships with bookstores, libraries, and other distributors in competition with the prime competition may yield fruitful results.  Remember:  The enemy of my enemy is my friend!
  4. Changing the Return Policy:  Bookstores are allowed to return titles that they have over-purchased.  Since we do not want to see bookstores going out of business due to a lack of cash flow, a better sales solution would be for the publisher to run analytic algorithms on the bookstore to foretell the number of books the bookstore should buy before a stipulated penalty fee might be included in any future purchase.  Publishers need bookstores, and bookstores need publishers.  A fair and equitable balance for books that do not sell would help both continue to harmoniously keep content producing mutual profits.
  5. Abandon the “Spaghetti” Model:  The content you sell must be of the highest quality.  The days of putting content out to make a specified number of products per year are long gone.  I refer to this as the spaghetti model after the long mentioned practice of throwing a strand of boiled spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks.  Content cannot be produced to stick.  The research needs to make sure that a product will have a market before it hits the sales distributors.  Even if a produced product is not a best-seller, a steady sale level and “Long Tail” will essentially guarantee a large return on the investment.  This is easier said than done, but with better research and market analysis, a book can make money now and in the future.  As Dick Vitale might say, “Profits Baby, Profits” are where it’s at.
  6. GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE:  This is a key.  Whatever avenue you use to get your products to the marketplace, the experience must be a good one for the customer.  If there is a problem, make it right immediately and give the affected consumer a discount or credit for another purchase.  Build a reputation as a publisher whose customer service is second to none.  It’s working for Amazon!


Publishing like it Oughta Be!  (Homage to the ’86 Mets!)


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Follow me on Twitter at:  Donald Schmidt@thebookkahuna

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Nostradamus Predicts: E-book Sales Remain Strong in 2013

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Century 11,   Quatrain 12

Man will run in circles

The hand will contain the Oracle

Fire, Smoke, Serpents, Knowledge will rise from the hand

The Rise of the Amazonian will foretell a diminution of the Apple

Digital Book World has done what many other entities will be doing in the next few weeks as year 2012 winds down:  playing Nostradamus and predicting what will happen in the future (year 2013) with e-books.  I always think it is a good idea to pay attention to these predictions, if only to be on the sideline jeering when the final reality is nothing like the prediction.

First, let’s put aside any illusions we have that print books will make a huge comeback to 2003 levels by some sheer act of magic.  This pipe dream is never going to happen.  E-books serve a purpose and give the instant gratification crowd exactly what they want: content purchases at any time or place in the book consuming continuum.  Now, as I have said in previous posts, The Book Kahuna is all about giving people what they want in the format that they want any way they want to read it.  That being said, I do believe that there is an innate symbiosis between print books and e-books.  E-books help to market the print books, and print books help to market the e-books.  Sometimes a good e-book will give consumers food for thought on what would be a great book to have physically sitting around the house.

Click here for more information  ——->

One thing that is not mentioned much here in the US is that there are 5 cell phones for every person on planet Earth at this place in time.  Most of those cell phones reside somewhere other than the United States.  These cell phones outside the US are using Apps to read books.  When I first heard this in class last year, my immediate reaction was one of astonishment.  Who would actually want to read a book on a device that has a screen area that is 2″ x 2″?  Apparently there are a multitude of people in the world who are clamoring for downloads to their i-phones.

Will dedicated e-readers be a mode of transmission for e-book downloads in the future?  Probably not as publishers put research dollars into creating Apps that will fill the niche for them in the international marketplace.  Also, the continued rise in the sale of tablets will also preclude the current crop of companies making e-readers to readjust their thinking and have a dual pronged approach to future e-book sales.  One prong would be based on those consumers still using dedicated e-readers, while the other prong would be App development and implementation.

I do think the trends are pointing to a saturated marketplace though.  As more US consumers have an e-reader at home, studies have shown that e-book purchases occur immediately in the first six months after the reader has been purchased.  After that time frame, there is a precipitous drop off on continued purchases.  If the consumer upgrades to a tablet or an Ipad as a possible next reading device, there is no guarantee that e-book purchases will have an up-tick because of the multiplicity of functions these devices provide.  The sad reality is that “Angry Birds” will trump Dickens in the marketplace on a tablet.

What is the answer to the e-book riddle?  Only Nostradamus holds the clue, and the quatrains are not giving up the answers easily.  Please forgive my attempt at Nostradamus to start this post off, I cannot tell what happened 15 minutes ago, much less what will happen to e-books in 2013.  The one thing I can say is that it will be entertaining to watch what unfolds, so have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Happy Holiday whatever you celebrate.  Make a pledge to read more next year in whatever format you choose.  You will thank yourself later…

Click here for more information  ——->

The Book Kahuna

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Avalon: A Friend Indeed



Today was a tough day.

There are friends you have in life who will be there for you forever.  There are some friends you will lose track of and possibly never cross paths with again.  There are work friends and acquaintance friends, and college friends and all different iterations of friends.  Then on a completely different level, are the four-legged friends that you have in your life.

They don’t yell at you or hurt your feelings.  They don’t spend your money or wreck the car.  They don’t get angry at you when you feel bad.  They are there and give you unconditional love.  No matter how you feel, they are there and happy to see you.  Of course, we are talking about dogs here.  Cats have an entirely different set of criteria for giving love, but if you feed them, you will be loved.

Today was a tough day.

Avalon was a dog that was amazing.  When I first met Sue, Avalon was about 6-7 years old.  She was a black lab that Sue always said was the runt of her litter.  She wasn’t the brightest dog, but that was part of the charm of Avalon.  Sometimes when I got to Sue’s, Avalon would be outside.  Sue would say, “Now wait and listen.”  Then we would hear the signature, “Woof,” and then five to eight seconds later, “Woof”.  The pattern was always one woof with a long interval in between the next.  The translation was, “I’ve been outside long enough and I feel that it is time for you to let me back into the house.”  This always brought a smile to both of our faces.  Who says dogs can’t talk?

There is a dog park in Cherry Creek, CO, a Denver suburb.  When she was younger, we would load Avalon into Sue’s Prius and head over to this huge acreage for an interaction with other like-minded dog owners.  Avalon would walk with us into the park, then head directly for the stream and go into the water.  Black Labs love the water, and with that otter-like tail they are amazing swimmers.  They are well-suited for their primary role in hunting of retrieval, especially ducks that might land in marshy or water-laden areas.  Whether at the dog-park or in the kiddy pool we would fill up in the backyard, Avalon lived up to the breed’s reputation of “Water Dog”.

Today was a tough day.

As time went by, her eyesight failed her, her hearing failed her, and her hind legs became wobbly and unsteady.  We watched our friend try so hard to make us happy, but the years had taken their toll on her.   Her breathing became labored, and she developed an inherent fear of going up and down stairs.  We always knew this day would come, but the reality only hits you square when the decision is between continued suffering with no hope of abatement, or a parting of ways that will leave an incredible void in heart and home.

We gave her treats, we took her for a last walk around the neighborhood, then Sue and I and Sue’s dad, Dave, took Avalon to the Vets office.  We petted her, we talked to her, and we kissed her good-bye.  Then we laid our hands on her as she was put to sleep.  Our beloved friend is now out of pain and resting.

Today was a tough day.

Book suggestions:

  1.  John Grogan:  Marley and Me

  1. Willie Morris:  My Dog Skip

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The Battle of the Bulge: Seventy Years From Cold

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The Book Kahuna

Looking back now, all I can remember is the cold, and it was so cold.  It was the kind of cold that numbs the fingers instantly and keeps the brain screaming for warmth.

Other things come to mind, the dark of the night.  A night made eerie by the swirling clouds of overcast that kept our planes grounded for days.  The quiet and stillness of the landscape, was only broken by the intermittent crunch of boots in snow.  The light snowfall that never seemed to abate also gave a Christmas-like feel to the entire landscape that surrounded us.

From the advanced observation point, we could see the enemy doing much as we were, just trying to stay warm.  Sure, we would send a patrol across every now and then to grab some prisoners, but for the most part, this was a quiet sector that the war had pretty much forgotten about.  In some respects the pine trees and birch trees reminded me of Upstate New York in the Adirondacks.  Slow rolling hills that eventually swelled to higher peaks, with gently sloping valleys in between.

After tough battles in the Hurtgen Forest around the cities of Aachen, Monshau, and Duren we were sent here to rest, refit, and get ready for the next phase of battle to breach the Siegfried Line.  This was a place in the Schnee Eifel region of the Ardennes Forest.  Divisional HQ was sending some preliminary information that seemed to indicate the Germans were done and although we would not be home for Christmas, there would not be too much of an interval before the war in the European Theater of Operations was over with a resounding victory.  One other thing though, divisional HQ was also sending messages to stay on a heightened alert.  Apparently the German radio communications had dwindled to a very slight minimum, and though the German Army was a defeated foe, there was no explanation as to why the level of military chatter on the radio would diminish to a light trickle.

Over the previous few days we thought we could hear the sounds of motors and tank tracks late at night, but since we were aware that recent battles had decimated the vaunted Panzer formations from what they were prior to D-Day, we assumed that these noises were engineers building redoubts for their troops to bivouac for the winter months.  More important thoughts filled our minds, like whether the Marines fighting in the Pacific tropical heat ever thought about the cold here in the ETO to keep cool.  We here sometimes thought about the heat of the fighting in New Guinea, the Philippines, The Marshalls and the Marianas.  These thoughts kept the cold at bay for a few minutes.

This was our world on December 15, 1944.

In the early morning hours of December 16, 1944, the idyllic quiet was broken by the thunderous bombardment of German artillery.  The Battle of the Bulge, the largest land-based military engagement in the history of the United States Army, had begun.

In remembrance of this event that began seventy years ago this coming Tuesday, December 16, 2014.

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I work in Publishing: How can I get ahead? (Phase II)

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Gee Don, I’m not a real big sports guy/gal, any other ways I can get ahead in the publishing business?

You know, I’m glad you asked because I have just the thing that might help you out.  They are called “Publishing Associations” and they dot this great country of ours from north to south, east to west.

I have been involved with two of these associations; Bookbinders Guild of NY (now Book Industry Guild of NY) and Publishers Association of the West (or PubWest for short).  Both of these organizations are highly recommended by The Book Kahuna as great places to meet aspiring professionals and network in all areas of the publishing vista.

Book Industry Guild of New York

The Book Industry Guild holds dinner meetings once a month in NY and has speakers on various publishing hot topics.  They have a “President’s Night” that is just that:  A president from one of the local publishers is the featured speaker for the night.   They promote and participate in the Book Design Awards for the NY Book show, and also have a charity softball game in the summer.  One of the first 2 Wednesdays in June is “Barge Bash” time.  The Barge Bash is normally at the Sequoia Restaurant in the South Street Seaport.  This is a party for all of the publishing professionals to meet and mingle with printers, vendors, marketing, production, and editorial people throughout the book publishing community.  The Bash got its name from the fact that it was held on a boat for years that was anchored in the Hudson River.


Content Management: 9/12/12

Hitting the Books: Publishing Education: 10/9/12

50 Shades of Fan Fiction: Managing a Best Seller: 11/13/12

President’s Night: 1/8/13

Trending e-Topics: 2/12/13

New York Book Show March 2013, date TBD

New York Book Show Designer Winners Circle: 4/9/13

3rd Annual Production Round Table: 5/14/13

Schedule and programs subject to change. Unless otherwise indicated, all events (except for The New York Book Show and the Barge Bash) will be held at the New York offices of Random House, 1745 Broadway. Cocktails begin at 5:30 P.M. The program will follow at ~ 6:15 P.M. Admission charges include beer, wine and soft drinks; and passed hors d’oeuvres.


PubWest started out in the 1970s as the Rocky Mountain Book Publishers Association.  The underlying reasons for forming PubWest were the same as Bookbinders in the 1920s:  professionals in the industry needed a place to meet, exchange ideas and keep their business relationships fresh in an ever-changing industry.  Since PubWest has geographic challenges that BIGNY does not face, the organization developed the “Conference” mentality instead of the monthly meeting.  (Although there are bi-annual meetings called “Booklores” that are held from time to time on a range of publishing topics.)

At a PubWest conference you can expect to hear industry leaders speak about timely and pressing topics of interest to all in the field.  The conference this year was held in Keystone, CO in late October, and the conference in November, 2013 will be held in Santa Fe, NM.  Seminars and workshops are scheduled with each area of publishing expertise in mind.  The meetings, networking and interactions with peers and colleagues over the course of 2-3 days are priceless and can only advance you in your career objectives.

I can speak as a member of the PubWest Board of Directors, that there is not a finer group of professionals working in the publishing industry than my fellow board members.  They are publishers, marketing professionals, sales executives, and leaders in all fields of the industry.  It is a humbling experience to be asked to be among them, and I do not carry this responsibility lightly in my day-to-day efforts on behalf of the board.

Other associations to check out:

  1.  Bookbuilders of Boston
  2. Chicago Book Clinic     
  3. Bookbuilders West       
  4. Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA)

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I Work in Publishing: How Do I Get Ahead?

New Photo w Logos

OK, so you landed that big gig at Random House, St. Martin’s Press, Simon & Schuster, or McGraw-Hill.  The career is moving, but you are just starting up the rungs of this “Glamour Field” ladder.   You may be asking yourself, “So Don, how do I light this candle?”  One of the answers is as easy as balls and strikes (or Sets and Spikes).  SOFTBALL and or VOLLEYBALL, networking at its best, are ways to get Face Time with disparate people within your organization.

The first thing to remember:  Skill is important, but not necessary.  The main driving force about these after-hour sports is that they incorporate all business lessons into a 2-3 hour game.  The teamwork, camaraderie, strategy and tactics that help to make a game a life-lesson, are all central themes that will come in handy in the boardroom as well as on the ball fields.  The ability to depend on your teammates, and more important, teammates being able to depend on you, will serve you well in your future endeavors within your organization.001

Another great aspect of playing on a company-sponsored sporting team is networking.  Sport is a universal language, and all staff from the President’s office (Terry McGraw would often ask teammates how we were doing and who was playing on the team!) to the Mailroom staff will be involved in playing as a team.  The basic overriding consequence of playing is getting to know people within your company that you would not normally get to know during the course of your average work day.  These interactions may seem small and immaterial at this point in time, but when your Shortstop becomes a Vice-President of a large division of your company, you may be in a much greater position to make a move into a better career slot.

Believe me; basing personnel decisions on friendships built on sports such as these are not out of the question.  It’s been said for years that some of the biggest deals in business are cut on the Golf course, it is also true that some of the best personnel connections are made on the fields of Central Park playing in the Publisher’s League, or on the Volleyball hardwood floors of High Schools on the West Side of Manhattan.

I started out playing for the Macmillan Men’s team and Co-ed Team.  This picture was taken in summer of 1986, when the Macmillan Human Resources Department (at that time called “Personnel”) chartered a bus and sent the New York contingent to Hightstown, NJ to play a rivalry game against our warehouse.  The New York team lost 16-14, but it was a fantastic game with the lead going back and forth every inning we played.  I played right field in this game.

Macmillan Softball team

From Macmillan I was traded to Springer-Verlag where I played for a year before contract issues forced me to opt for Free Agency.  After a year hiatus, I ended up at McGraw-Hill where I played on the softball team for the next 6 summers.  The Publisher’s League also has an All-Star game in the middle of the summer.  There is no better feeling than being voted to an All-Star Team by your teammates.  I was lucky enough to go to 4 All-Star games while I was playing for McGraw-Hill.  Certainly the number of appearances were not Jeter-like, but it was fun to be recognized just the same.

The Volleyball leagues are Co-ed, as is the Softball League.  Go out there, have fun, and get ahead in this business we love:  Publishing.

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Twitter:  @thebookkahuna


The Book Kahuna

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