Publishing Negotiations: The Art of Being Frugal

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When I first broke into the publishing industry, icons like Jeremiah Kaplan at Macmillan were running the publishing corporate structures. These were people who started the companies, in Jeremiah’s case the Free Press, and knew the book business inside and out. The one underlying factor in all business negotiations with vendors and suppliers is: Get a deal that has high-yield revenue to cost ratio to ensure each product maximizes the income potential from each and every sale.

 Professionals do it Best
Over the past 25 years a shift has occurred in book publishing as in all business endeavors: Finance people have become the arbiters of what constitutes a great deal. When a publishing establishment begins to look at Finance input over Publishing experience, the results can be disastrous. Getting a great deal on a POD vendor that routinely supplies your content to customers with pages missing, upside down, or covers printed incorrectly is a nightmare. When a publishing pro can work the deal, these types of problems become few and far between. Publishing experience gets you to a point where you know the players in the field, and you have personal knowledge of who can carry your water and who will drop the ball before the goal line. Also, Finance people speak the language of finance, while Publishing (Production and Manufacturing) people speak the language of publishing. When a Finance person talks to a printer, it’s as if one was speaking Japanese and the other was speaking Swahili. Let the Finance people work directly with the publishing people to craft the deals. Doing otherwise may yield a great result on paper, but a nightmare in practice. I’ve seen this first hand and I know whereof I speak.

Some Basic Rules
1. Know the vendor. Get some insights from other professionals through Associations and Trade organizations to find out the ins and outs of how a particular vendor works. Look for past successes that the vendor has had, but more importantly, dig for information on any problems that the vendor may have had in past experiences with content delivery. Although problems are not always a great indicator, a sequence of goofs that encompasses information you receive from more than one source may indicate a lackadaisical internal approach. If you get negative feedback, look for more information on how the problems were rectified. Sometimes the end result is an excellent story even though the problem was a short-term headache.
2. Know what you have as collateral. I have worked for small publishing companies and I have worked for very large companies in the past. The negotiations when working for a smaller organization are always much more difficult and challenging since there is a limit on what you can offer. Batching always seems to be a great negotiating tactic (“We have this series of books going 5-6 years into the future, if you can do this one at X amount, we can shoot you the rest of the series and that will be guaranteed work going forward…”)
3. Shoot High, Aim for the Middle. Always start off with an other-worldly offer. The first part of the negotiation process is always a dance of exorbitant expectations. This is the “courtship” phase. If your counterpart does not walk away with hands in the air disgustedly, you are dealing with someone who sees you and your company as a viable revenue source and business associate. After this phase the real negotiations can begin.
4. Do your homework. Know the number you are aiming for and shoot to get 10-20% below that number. If you can get this return of savings, then you are doing a great service to your organization or yourself if you are self-publishing.
These are the basics of good publishing negotiations. There are many more angles in the negotiation phase of publishing, but this is a framework that can suffice with additional rules added as you progress.
Make Your Deal
The best advice I can give to anyone in the publishing industry or someone self-publishing is to seek out the information on your own, do not leave it to Publishing Leaders and So-Called Experts to take your products across the goal line. The best publishing mind is an “informed” publishing mind. Get out there and Make a Deal!


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