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Don Schmidt graduated from Pace University’s MS in Publishing program in 2012 and currently works as the Publishing Industry Pundit and Blogger at The Book Kahuna, where he writes about various facets of publishing, from electronic and digital developments to the traditional, print format. Schmidt was previously the Manager of Production and Manufacturing at ABC-CLIO for over 8 years, a history reference publisher that specializes in school educational materials. Other companies he has worked for include Skootersdad Publishing Services, Interweave Press, Perseus Books Group, Random House, Thieme Medical, McGraw-Hill, Van Nostrand-Reinhold, Springer-Verlag, Gordon & Breach, Inc., and Macmillan Publishing, Inc. Schmidt has also guest lectured on the topic of publishing at the Denver Publishing Institute at University of Denver, PubWest Conferences in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.
Prof. Denning: Hi Don and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been a year since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since then?
Don: Hi Professor Denning. Thank you for asking me to be part of the Alumni in a Spotlight series. I haven’t been an alumnus very long, but let me see if I can fill you in on what has been happening since May of 2012.
I started the blog while I was still working on my degree at Pace. First, I thought about using my own name, but that seemed to be something that would not make a great brand. I just happened to see something while I was surfing the web on a book called “Kahuna”. Lightning struck, and I thought The Book Kahuna! A great play on words, and something that sticks with you after you have had a time to reflect. In November, I started to blog on a regular basis. I also started to expand my LinkedIn connections and joined a multitude of publishing related groups. I knew this would be a great way to start discussions and get traffic flowing to my blog-site.
In February, 2013, I was laid off from my position at ABC-CLIO after almost 9 years as Production Manager. I thought about sugar-coating this part for the write-up, but this is publishing, and I don’t want to give any of my MS in Publishing classmates and fellow alums a false sense of security.
Also, it could not have come at a better time. I was ready for a change, and my degree work at Pace had prepared me for the demands of working with all types of Social Media to get my word out. I’m blogging, networking, and building the next phase of my career which will be something that I structure on my terms. I would also love to teach now that I have my degree in my career field. My lecture at Denver University whetted my appetite for that aspect of career change as well. Consulting gigs would be welcomed enthusiastically though…
Prof. Denning: What does your job as the Publishing Industry Pundit and Blogger at The Book Kahuna entail? What made you want to create this blog?
Don: I am a fervent devotee of Brendon Burchard (http://www.brendonburchard.com/ ) and Robert Skrob (http://robertskrob.com/) . The way to enhance publishing is by marketing information to all of the people who need to be in the know. The blog is a sales portal to the next phase of The Book Kahuna as a corporate structure. I have the rights to the domain www.thebookkahuna.com, and I am launching products that will help to fill information voids that currently exist in the mainstream publishing environment. The WordPress blog will eventually cease, and all updates and future blog-posts will go through the .com site.
There will be subscription levels to be part of the information network, and the information will be disseminated as webinars, podcasts, videos, workbooks and DVD sets. There will be coaching and consulting in groups and one-on-one sessions as well. We’ve used Camtasia software and combined the MP3 recording that I made of my lecture at the Denver Publishing Institute, with the animated Powerpoint presentation that was the basis for the entire lecture. This is one of the first products that will be available through the sales portal. I’ve recently re-edited and self-published my Pace Master’s Thesis as an e-book available for Kindle download and this will be another product on the portal sometime in the future.
As part of this process I have rejoined CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association) because many of the ideas in the products are potentially relevant for self-publishers as well. I was elected to the Board of Directors of CIPA in early May, 2013, and this position along with my Board of Directors position with PubWest will give me ample opportunities to craft products that will fill information niches within the industry as a whole.
Prof Denning: What are some of your favorite parts of being the “blog world,” as this area has become increasingly important in publishing?
Don: I use my blogging as a way to get visibility. I took a good many creative writing courses when I was an undergrad at SUNY Potsdam, and I have never forgotten my love for writing. There is always an edge and humor in my blogging. I try to integrate YouTube music videos and commercials for entertainment, but also because they connect with the story I have told or written about in the previous paragraphs. Also, the camaraderie in the blog world is great. I have been asked to guest blog for one of my fellow CIPA members, and I have a request for Michael Weinstein, the Production Director for Teachers College Press and a Pace MS in Publishing Advisory Board member, to do a guest blog post on my blog at some time in the future. Graciously, Michael has agreed and I am looking forward to working out the details with him!
Writing and blogging are forms of artwork. Instead of brush and canvas, the blogger is painting pictures to drive emotions with words, sentences and paragraphs. All of my posts have a connection to books, but not all of my posts are about the book industry. Two of the posts I am most proud of have to do with a book that I worked on when I was at Perseus Books Group (Darnton: Divided We Stand), and the other is a Memorial Day tribute to my father that I wrote last week:
Prof Denning: Tell us a bit about your position as Manager of Production and Manufacturing at ABC-CLIO? Did you notice that this reference publisher was taking any steps into the digital area of publishing?
Don: I joined ABC-CLIO in 2004 as Production Manager. Over the course of the next 8 + years, I took a Production/Manufacturing department that would regularly slip pub dates by 120 days and turned it into a department that met publication goals on time and at or under budget, with the quality being a major consideration at all times. In 2008, ABC-CLIO purchased the licensing rights to publish Greenwood/Praeger/Libraries Unlimited and with a further acquisition, Linworth Press books. We went from a publisher that produced sixty to seventy titles a year in 2008, to one that produced 542 titles in 2009.
I was tasked with making this integration work successfully. We had to switch from a domestic-based freelance model for our production functions, to an offshore “Total Concept” model. We did this with very aggressive negotiations for our prepress and printing costs. Over the course of the next 3 years, my department continually met or surpassed the goals that were set in terms of on-time publication, simultaneous print and e-book publication, and continued negotiations to keep costs within a framework that was beneficial to the corporate structure and fair to our vendors overall.
From 2005-2011, I spearheaded a team that produced the largest single project in the history of ABC-CLIO, The World History Encyclopedia. This title had been in development for 8 years and travelled through the production process in waves. This set comprised 21 volumes, 4000 articles, and four million words. It published in March, 2011 as a print title and simultaneously as an e-product. We pulled this set together without the aid of a database to structure all the articles through the process as they were finalized, only Excel spreadsheets were used (a database would have been oh so nice for this project!). As the old commercial said, “We did things the “Old Fashion” way, we earned it.”
In terms of e-books and digital, even before the Greenwood integration, ABC-CLIO was producing an e-book of every print book published. Once we integrated and went with the offshore model, we were having our vendors layout the books using HTML based design programs and this made the conversion process much more streamlined. At the end of 2010 our e-books became simultaneous publications with our print titles. By 2011, the e-books were hitting our sales portal weeks before the print publications would hit the warehouse. Also, in 2010-11, we were one of 5% of publishers that had close to 50% of titles, backlist and frontlist, in the Amazon portal for Kindle download.
We also had 20-40K titles set up for POD, and we were continually getting backlist titles into the program at many of the different POD distributors we were using.
The Production/Manufacturing team accomplished all of this under my tutelage, but unfortunately, I had no input on the content we produced or how that content was to be sold or distributed. Thus the change in work venues… it’s a story told many times in this industry, and will be told many times in the future as well. To quote the phrase, “it’s not personal; it’s just the publishing business.”
Prof. Denning: How does new technology and social media impact your view of the publishing industry and what do you think will develop from its growing presence?
Don: In terms of what I see in the industry today, publishers need to adapt or die. If you are not pushing the envelope of Social Media to get the word out about your products (blogging, Tweeting, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube) you are not utilizing the tools that could be putting dollars into the company coffers. I also see Social Media as a two-way street. If you are not getting feedback from your customers and utilizing that feedback into workable process and content changes, then you are also heading in the same direction that the Brontosaurus trekked many millennia ago. I have always been someone who thinks that technology is our friend. It can also come back to bite you if you do not infuse enough capital expenditures to maintain a viable presence on the playing field.
Self-publishing is going to be big, since now anyone can write a book and have it published as an e-book for very little out-of-pocket costs. Also, a self-publisher can get a print version into the marketplace by working with a Lightning Source or any POD company that can deliver product overnight. Where the rubber meets the road is the ability to Market the book into the mainstream, and that is where traditional publishing houses have the inside track.
Prof. Denning: Were you always interested in publishing or did you initially see yourself working in a different industry?
Don: Sorry to disappoint on this question, but I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I still don’t! I love publishing, and cannot see myself in any other industry. I followed in the footsteps of many people who “fell into” publishing as the accidental career. My cousin once told me, “hey, isn’t it great that you followed in your dad’s footsteps and went into the media?” Now, my dad was a film editor for NBC in Rockefeller Center for 30 years, but this question was posed to me six years into my publishing career. I never gave it a thought until that time, but maybe my DNA was programmed to be in publishing, and I just never had a conscious knowledge of it.
Prof Denning: Many students are unsure of which area of publishing they would like to begin careers in. What made you choose the production side of publishing when you first began working in this industry?
Don: In a word, LUNCHES. While working at the Macmillan College Division in the mid-1980s, I was the editorial assistant who prepared reprint corrections for our manufacturing team, and also handled paying the permissions fees for copyrighted material used in the works we were producing. One day I noticed that one of the print salesmen was in the office. Later that day I noticed that all the people in manufacturing were nowhere to be found. It was at this time that Vendor Lunches held a strange fascination f or this entry-level newbie to the publishing industry.
Now, I know lunches are no way to plan and structure your career, but in this case, it put me on the path that I was extremely successful following. I switched over to Production/Manufacturing, and after many, many lunches, I know this was the correct way for me to go. All kidding aside, once I made the transition I was able to utilize many talents that production/manufacturing people must have to be successful. Strong organizational skills, negotiation skills, ability to prioritize, affinity for new technology, troubleshooting, the ability to keep one’s head while all around you are losing theirs and flexibility in thoughts and actions are paramount requirements in the production/manufacturing role. My advice to my Pace brethren, choose your path, no matter how you get to it, but do it with everything you have. Pour your heart and soul into it, because as Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% Inspiration, and 99% Perspiration!” Success can be substituted for genius in the preceding quote.
Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about how your educational experience at Pace—in particular, why did you go back to get your degree after working in the industry? What did you see as the benefits of getting an advanced degree in publishing?
Don: I started taking courses back in the early 1990s. I took a few courses at NYU, but never followed through to get my publishing certificate. In looking at the book publishing industry in 2008 and 2009, I noticed that the contraction of companies and mergers were diminishing the number of possible avenues for career opportunity and advancement. After working close to 30 years in the publishing industry, I speculated that even a veteran needs to take actions to set themselves apart. Also, I wanted to challenge myself and see how I would do academically in this environment, while handling a full-time workload that was a handful on its own. At this point, I would like to say that my classmates and my professors were top-notch and pushed me to the limit at all times. Professors David Hetherington, Dave Delano, Melissa Rosati, Kathy Sandler, Manuela Soares, Jodylynn Bachiman, Veronica Wilson, and Elena Mauer were all experts who tested and challenged me throughout the process and I thank them all. I would recommend this experience for anyone who wants to get a first look at publishing, or a grizzled veteran like myself who needed an upgrade of skills to stay competitive in this ever-changing business.
Prof. Denning: You completed your degree completely online. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
Don: Using technology to learn about new technology, that’s how I like to view my online experience. There was one project that completely encapsulates this viewpoint. In “Modern Tech” with Professor Jodylynn Bachiman, the complete class was tasked with working together as a team to put together our final project. We had to build an archive for the fictitious French Institute of Technology that incorporated sharing of content materials between three separate campus complexes (Denver, Montreal and Washington, D.C.). I was co-project manager with classmate Daye Brake being the other project manager. Now Daye lives in Florida, and I live in Colorado, and the rest of the team lived in all geographic regions of the US. We scheduled Skype meetings, taking into account various time zone differences, with the various functionaries of the team, and had weekly updates and teleconference meetings to make sure that the project stayed on schedule to final completion. This is all relative to how a modern publishing operation works. Our completed project was a self-narrated PowerPoint presentation that resides in the cloud to this day:
I hope all my classmates will forgive me for plugging this project, but what we accomplished in six weeks is still amazing to me (my voice is the first voice you hear in the presentation). Madame Dubois (Professor Bachiman) liked our approach to finalizing this project, and our grades reflected a successful team effort.
One drawback, I have never met any of my professors, except Dave Delano who was my print rep for RR Donnelley when I was working for Random House in NY. It would be great if there could be a reception before graduation day for online students in the MS in Publishing Program and professors to meet and introduce themselves.
Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to students who still have to write their graduate thesis papers? What were the most important points you learned from your own thesis, titled “ “Print Books: Surviving and Thriving During the Electronic Revolution?”
Don: Choose a topic that interests you and research, research, research. Did I mention you need to do research? I wanted to take the e-book revolution and see avenues that would lead to what we are currently seeing. The sale of e-books is slowing down. At the PubWest Conference in Keystone last October, Len Vlahos of BISG (Book Industry Study Group) showed that e-book sales industry-wide had hit a plateau and had leveled out from their meteoric rise in previous years. He could not explain exactly whether this was a blip in the history of e-books and they would begin to climb steadily from this point, whether this was a seasonal drop off, or if this was a trend that would continue into the immediate future and possibly beyond.
My paper dealt with format deliverables being dictated by the consumer. All formats should be available for purchase, so that the consumer will decide the final outcome. With the advent of new technologies in printing, short-run, high-quality, cost-effective books can now be quickly printed, bound and shipped faster than ever before. I think the sale of tablets outpacing the sale of dedicated e-readers is a further harbinger that e-books will be another format that produces sales, but is not going to be replacing print as the dominant format for consumers to the massive degrees that were projected 1 and 2 years ago.
Prof. Denning: Guest lecturers are an important part of many of our courses in the Publishing program. Can you share with us some of the topics of your lectures at the Denver Publishing Institute at University of Denver and PubWest Conferences?
Don: I did some homework and noticed that the DPI (Denver Publishing Institute) did not have a dedicated Production/Manufacturing professional giving the overview on this very important area of product delivery. I am all about giving back, so I pitched myself to Joyce Meskis, Jill Smith and Amy Hall, the executives running the DPI Summer Session. I must have done a great job convincing them as I ended up giving a one hour and fifteen minute Powerpoint presentation on DAM and CMS systems to get manuscript through the process to bound book. I mapped the process from start to finish. I had schematics showing that the format delivery at the end was only dependent on the conversion process, and since we started with an HTML layout program, we could funnel the project into any format we wanted in a relatively easy and time-effective process. I then did a comparison of a domestic based freelance system, in comparison to a “Total Concept” offshore process that we morphed into under my supervision at CLIO.
Prof: Denning: What do you think are the biggest trends in book and eBook publishing today? What are the biggest challenges that publishers face?
Don: I just wrote a blog piece on a subject that is controversial in nature, but seems to be occurring as publishers try to save dollars and cut costs. The experienced elder statesmen, who previously were the mentors for the new generations of publishing professionals, are being weeded out since their salary levels (and healthcare costs) are much higher than someone 25-35 years old. I think this brain-drain will have repercussions throughout the publishing industry if the trend does not abate. Companies need to balance future cost considerations based on not having the experience levels necessary to drive a publishing program to higher profits. Many sales people at printers and prepress houses have confided that they are spending more and more time teaching aspects of the publishing process to their client’s staffs. This does not bode well for a healthy handoff of responsibilities going forward.
As the Nook fades into an App that Microsoft updates, I see Barnes & Noble staying around as the national bookstore that most of us use for print reading, but as Oren Teicher confided to me when I interviewed the CEO of the American Booksellers Association in 2011, independent book stores are filling a niche within their communities and will not give ground to any national company or entity. Stores like The Tattered Cover here in Denver and The King’s English in Salt Lake City will be the beacons for community centered bookstores going forward into the future. Independent bookstores saw an increase in sales of 12% in 2012.
Tablets will continue their assault on the dedicated e-readers, with the latter falling farther and farther behind in sales. This increase in tablets in the marketplace will have consumers splitting their attention from e-books to everything else you can do with a tablet (I have the MLB package on my iPad and watched the Yankee/Red Sox game tonight!) The trend in declining e-book sales will continue, but since print books are a format that is more of an impulse purchase while browsing at a Barnes & Noble or an independent bookstore, print book sales will remain at a plateau of sales for the foreseeable future. Print on demand will be a viable alternative to e-books, and inkjet printing will begin to reduce the cost of larger printruns once companies have paid off the capital expenditures to install these new, high-quality printers. As long as the warehousing costs can be kept at a very low-level, the savings incorporated into a publishing program by using POD, inkjet, and web-press technology may well mean a modest resurgence in revenue streams from print products. E-books will be part of the overall symbiotic marketing strategy that draws revenue from all format types.
Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students and to those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?
Don: The first thing I would tell my Pace brethren:
- Be prepared for the unexpected. Technology and the industry itself are changing what we do and how we do it, but embrace the change and go along for the ride.
And then these come to mind as well:
- It’s part of the process, but getting laid-off happens in this industry. Don’t be afraid when and if it happens. Being in this program puts you in an entirely different realm and gives you a leg up on those who are in this business without the academic credentials.
- Seek out mentors. The experience that they can impart will supplement everything you have learned from your professors at Pace.
- Have Fun. Sometimes this business gets very close and stifling, but it is a fun endeavor and there are many incredible people out there in publishing-land.
- Do not be afraid to raise a dissenting voice at times. As I always say, people who follow the herd only end up cleaning their shoes.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail. It isn’t called WD-40 because it worked the first time! We learn from our mistakes, and they leave lasting and indelible stories for the future. Use your stories to teach the next generations coming into this industry.
Thank you Don for your insightful and informative interview!
Follow me on Twitter at: Donald Schmidt@thebookkahuna