Home » Big Publishing, Bookstores, Mike Shatzkin » Knowing which titles to work on is a challenge today that was not important 10 years ago

Knowing which titles to work on is a challenge today that was not important 10 years ago

11 May 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

About 15 years ago, my friend Charlie Nurnberg, then the Sales VP at Sterling (which was, then, an independent publisher not yet bought by Barnes & Noble) threw me a challenge.

“For years,” he said, “I got the B&N green-bar report [by which he meant an Excel spreadsheet] every Friday. I had 800 titles on my backlist and I knew everything that was going on.” But times had changed. “Now we have several thousand titles on the backlist, I have two guys working for me looking at the report, and I know stuff is falling between the cracks. Can you help me find it?”

I did a bunch of things to tweak that report, but two of them were extremely simple and turned out to be extremely valuable. B&N was telling its publishers in these weekly reports what the inventory for each title was in the superstores and how many they sold last week. And they also told each publisher how many of the copies of each title B&N was holding in their distribution center. These were copies not on store shelves.

In our massaged version of the spreadsheet, we calculated and reported what percentage of the week’s superstore inventory had sold and what percentage of the total B&N stock was in the distribution center. Then, employing one of the simplest things one can do in Excel, we sorted by those percentages to see what titles had sold the highest percentage of their inventory and which had the highest percentage of their stock in the DC.

Actionable items literally jumped off the spreadsheet. There were titles with little distribution that had sold big percentages of their stock, suggesting strongly they should be in more stores. And the first time out, we found two titles with 5000 copies in the DC and none in the stores. And those two titles had shipped several months previously.

. . . .

It was also well understood that it was a rare title that would have many copies in circulation 180 days after it came out. Most stores that had initial copies would either have sold them or sent them back. So a truly professional book marketer at a big house knew that any publicity break on a book more than six months old could only have value if a) it was big enough to compel stores to restock the title in anticipation of it and b) the publisher had enough time to alert the stores, perhaps through telemarketing, and get copies shipped in.

. . . .

But one lesson from that experience is important to apply today. Deciding which titles should get attention on any particular day, or for any particular sales call or marketer’s attention, is not a trivial challenge.

And that challenge for marketers in today’s marketplace is more difficult than it ever was before. Why? Because all titles are in play now. It is no longer true that only titles with real representation in the stores can benefit from a publicity break. It is no longer true that having inventory in place at retail locations is a necessary preconditon to get sales. Except for the biggest bestsellers — for which individual publicity breaks would seldom require a publisher to do anything — I reckon most titles over time sell more copies online than in stores. Online venues, with rare exceptions, are always “in stock”.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Big Publishing, Bookstores, Mike Shatzkin

16 Comments to “Knowing which titles to work on is a challenge today that was not important 10 years ago”

  1. Sorry, Mike, the only reason it matters more now is that Amazon can stock ‘everything’ and have it to the customer quicker than the bookstores and publishers want to bother with.

    “Deciding which titles should get attention on any particular day, or for any particular sales call or marketer’s attention, is not a trivial challenge.”

    And is out of their control as Amazon and social media can wind up supporting something else with little to no input from the publishing ‘movers and shakers’.

    “… all titles are in play now.”

    Now you’re getting it. Now the publishers have to worry about all those books they let go out of print and didn’t want to convert into overpriced ebooks. Then they have to worry that what they are offering the public won’t be undercut by their very own remainders. See:
    http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2017/05/amazons-taking-another-bite-of-the-publishing-pie/#comments

    And all that doesn’t take into account all those indie/self-pub titles out there that might catch the public eye rather than their offerings.

    Yup, they helped build this whirlwind, now they get to reap it.

    • Felix J. Torres

      We just saw this with 1984 last november. A panic rush for copies. Which started , peaked, and ended before any tradpub could do anything about it.
      The world moves on internet time.

  2. “And the first time out, we found two titles with 5000 copies in the DC and none in the stores. And those two titles had shipped several months previously.”

    The books shipped and never reached the store at all? The ramifications for the authors on that can’t be good.

  3. If you’re in business and you can’t work out how to add your own formulas to a spreadsheet without a consultant you’re in trouble.

    • Most all of the people in “business” could be replaced by dogs watching TV and be just as productive.

    • Thank you. Even 15 years ago, this is primitive sales analysis and not something that should be bragged about today.

      • just think –

        Pub executives like this tried to sign Data Guy and inspired him to create the first Author Earnings Report.

      • MKS, our royalties are still kept by hand, no kidding, at randy peng. Then typed up. Some of the old timers take pride in analog, as in the old days. One top old guy at knopf still uses his old banger typewriter. I dont begrudge them that, just that seems there are easier faster ways.

  4. Al the Great and Powerful

    Certainly sounds like it…

  5. “But one lesson from that experience is important to apply today. Deciding which titles should get attention on any particular day, or for any particular sales call or marketer’s attention, is not a trivial challenge.”

    Not if you tackle it with an abacus, no. But we have these nifty things called computers, which can crunch data pretty quickly. 15 years ago you could see a pivot table really helped make all the numbers into something really simple (and eliminate the “two guys who are helping, but can’t keep up.”)

    These days, computers can do even more sophisticated number crunching, using multiple parameters. It’s called…ah… algorithms. You may have heard that one of your vendors uses these algorithm thingies to great effect. They’re called Amazon?

    But first you have to know what you want… and second, you have to know hoe effective your marketing push is.

  6. In the good old days there were only 800 titles on the backlist and you could know the status of each. It was easy, excel could handle it. But now they have thousands of titles and have no idea what’s going on. Let’s make it simple.
    I am Mr. Bigpub and I control the supply of books and the market. Each book released has a shelf life of beans, if not sold the beans must be replaced with new beans every three months before bugs infest them. The beans come in large varieties and a small variety are popular, and fresh crops are released to the stores, the other beans are not worth a hill of beans.
    But now, someone invented an everlasting bean-elixir and they never become Mexican jumping beans again. The backlist of bean brands increases and it’s becoming unmanageable. Furthermore I don’t know where those bags with beans are. On the shelf, in a warehouse, somewhere in transit or acting as door stoppers. What’s one to do?
    Well, if I were Mr. Jumpingbean I would do the following:
    1-Have a marketing plan understanding the many flavor of beans there are, and the clientele they appeal too. Understand that the beans are seasonal, depending on the mood of the political/social/demographic/Russians-did-it times. This requires not only marketing brains but also data mining, computer savvy brains. Amazon seems to have them, so they must be more of them out there.
    2-Beside mega crops of beans, some beans may be produced in smaller batches on demand (POD) when there is a demand.
    3-Once a retailer orders a bag of beans, it’s considered sold. Returns accepted with a restocking fee.
    4-If the retailer wants more beans sell from stock (if any left) or POD
    5-Prodcution of beans and new varieties had flooded the market. It’s a new reality. Learn how to compete. Adopt new marketing strategies. It is done every day by thousand of businesses with millions of products.
    The bowtie, gentlemen club publishing is coming to an end just like fox hunting. They will not expire overnight. They only delayed the inevitable by mining the eBook field for now. But there are plenty of wild eyes and bushy tail new writers born everyday and they want a piece of the pie.

  7. Felix J. Torres

    BTW, that Sterling publishing? He mentioned that B&N bought it? They still own it. They’ve been trying to sell it for five years. Not even Hachette wants it.

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/barnes-noble-sale-sterling-publishing-amazon-278682

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.