From Forbes blogs:
Publishing isn’t an easy industry to break into and smaller, independent houses tend to get swallowed up by the bigger fishes. Barefoot Books bucks that trend. Barefoot was launched in 1993 by Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland, who wanted a business that would be flexible enough to combine with bringing up their children (they have seven between them) – and Barefoot has not only stayed the course but gone from strength to strength. The company, offers beautifully crafted books for children, although many readers keep them into adulthood. Barefoot is now thriving in both Oxford in the UK and in Concord, Massachusetts, US – but don’t expect to find Barefoot Books piled high in your supermarket or available at a knock-down price online. Traversy and Strickland first took the bold decision to step back from selling in major chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble – and last year they cut all ties with Amazon, the biggest of them all.
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Co-founder Nancy Traversy explains the Barefoot model
Be different – and once you’ve decided how to be different, stick with it
“I think probably our biggest point of difference is how we define ourselves. We have an unwavering commitment to creating beautiful, high-quality amazing books for children and never compromising on standards, despite what distribution channels might ask for. Over the past 22 years we’ve created around 600 absolutely beautiful books. People often say they can spot a Barefoot book a mile away, even though we work with a wide variety of writers, illustrators and designers. A lot of publishers make beautiful books, but we think of ourselves not just as a publisher but as a way of life and that has underpinned our business since we started it from our homes in 1992 and launched it in 1993. We have a real commitment to introducing children to other cultures and diversity, using stories to bridge boundaries, and we started the business because we felt there was a gap in the market for books like that: not just books you’d see in your own culture, but books about traditions from all over the world that expose a child to the idea that not everyone is the same. We also believe in the importance of imagination in children’s lives. I believe strongly that space to imagine, play and be is important and the role of story in nurturing children’s imagination has always been core. The third major strand is nurturing children’s creativity and inspiring them.”
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Thinking on a human scale doesn’t mean thinking small
“I was lucky enough to work at home for eight years. I’d been to business school, spent time at Pricewaterhouse, worked in the design industry, but had never worked in publishing. With hindsight, that was a good thing – we were able to be pioneers, I was able to think outside the box, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I questioned the way that books were always sold through the big chains. I felt it was much more rewarding to connect direct to families. When my children were small, I’d do events at schools, at fairs – we relied on the power of word of mouth. Because our books were so high-quality and special, it didn’t seem right to stick them in a supermarket, pile them on a table. I remember one trade fair where we were asked for a package that would have included, for example, changing a cover. It was very tempting, we could have sold a million copies, licensed all over the world – publishers do that and it’s a very valid model but I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking ‘We can share with our friends, with friends of friends.’ From a very early stage we were out in the community. The human connection is so important in getting people behind you and supporting you, and you don’t get that in a chain, or through mail order, or on Amazon.”
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If big business can’t fit with your model, maybe you don’t need big business
“In the US, I got caught up in Borders and Barnes & Noble, because that’s just what you do. For three years we sold to them and it was soul-destroying. The books were just a commodity. You had to pay for ‘table real estate’, shift large numbers, pay for the space and often books came back – this is a returnable product. We sold better in some areas than others but we never really knew how much we’d sell or how much we’d get paid. We’d be getting returns and reorders on the same day! It was the opposite of what we wanted to do and we made the decision in 2006. And when Borders went down, we were among the few publishers who didn’t lose money. When we stopped with Barnes & Noble, we actually made more as we didn’t get the returns. Amazon: we shipped to them and then I realised how much they were discounting our books. Our World Atlas, for example: Amazon was selling it at 60 to 70 per cent off the published price and our Ambassadors [independent sales representatives of Barefoot who generally sell face-to-face through events in schools, farmers’ markets, homes, etc.] couldn’t compete. The penny dropped. I said ‘If we are going to support these women, we can’t do this.’ We realised that if we weren’t selling to the chains, we shouldn’t sell to Amazon: we should focus on the model that we started. The decision to pull – maybe it was brave, but it was the right one. It’s too easy to be dragged in and it felt dishonest: we were competing against our own channel, and I knew I could never scale the Ambassador community if I was working with Amazon.”
Link to the rest at Forbes blogs and thanks to Meryl for the tip.