for a Better Bottom Line
When Pam Art left her job as managing editor
of a local newspaper to become an "editorial traffic cop" for
Storey Publishing as a startup, her husband presented her with
a hard hat and whistle. Twenty-one years later, the hard hat
is still in her office, only now it’s used when she’s
mining data. As president of Storey Publishing, Art spends
her days digging through the company’s financials looking
for trends. In this interview with PMA, she uncovers a few
jewels other publishers may find stunning.
Storey Publishing has a down-home, country-living,
folksy persona–but don’t let the overalls fool
you. Today, Storey is a major publisher employing 48 people
and the latest technology in the production, distribution,
and sales of more than 400 titles. The company is much like
the building it inhabits: a restored 19th-century textile mill
that’s Victorian on the outside and contemporary on the
inside. The building is also an incubator for high-tech startups
and home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s
a marvelous blend of history, art, and technology that suits
the savvy publisher with the country accent.
Storey’s roots truly run deep. The company
sprouted from the marketing department of Troy-Bilt, a manufacturer
of rototillers. Troy-Bilt cultivated sales with books and pamphlets
showing people all the wonderful ways to use their tillers.
When the company realized its publishing division wasn’t
exactly a profit center, they transferred the line to employee
John Storey. He lured his wife, Martha, and Pam Art away from
the newspaper they worked at, and Storey Publishing was born.
Storey is still loyal to those roots, publishing
such classics as How to Make Your Own Motor Fuel, which Art
says is "remarkably similar to making Jack Daniel’s." You
can understand the appeal to backwoods farmer types. This explains
one of the company’s profitable editorial lines, Beer & Wine,
which is dominated by how-to guides for brewing potent potables
on the back 40.
Immersed in Eight Niches
Most successful publishing companies are built
in a narrow niche. Storey is like eight successful publishing
companies wrapped into one. "Our editorial department
is divided into eight lines," Art explains. "There’s
an acquisitions editor in charge of each line. Part of what
makes us strong is that the editors are immersed in their niches.
Our equestrian editor rides horses. Our gardening editor has
a green thumb. When editors attend trade shows, they’re
more likely to be knitting shows or livestock shows than BEA
or some other book trade show."
Just as Storey mines these niches, Pam Art mines
the data the company generates. "Our acquisitions editors
are working on our future," Art says. She’s looking
at the past and the present with an eye on the future. And
the past has been very good to Storey: "Backlist accounts
for 90 percent of our sales." Asked if this golden mountain
allows the company to take more chances, Art replies, "No.
In fact, we take fewer chances than we used to. We’ve
trimmed the number of titles we publish each year from a high
of 72 to 40, and our standards for each title have risen. We
have raised the bar."
Looking at the past, Art realized that the company
had too many side projects to concentrate effectively on its
core business: books. "John and Martha had a publishing
business, a packaging business, a direct mail company, and
an ad agency. When they sold the company to Workman two years
ago, we decided to focus our energy on one mission: to be a
great publisher. It’s all about the books now," she
The Workman Deal
"The arrangement with Workman is terrific," Art
confides. "For our first 15 years, we were distributed
by HarperCollins. You should have seen their faces at sales
conferences when we held up books like Raising Pigs the Modern
Way. Our covers were kind of goofy in those days, too. Then
HarperCollins dropped us in the late ‘90s and Random
House picked us up, but we were with them for only 18 months.
After the Bertelsmann buyout, they let us go. When we sat down
to consider which company we’d want to distribute us,
the consensus was Workman.
"The fit was perfect. Workman is very effective
getting our titles into bookstores, libraries, and gift stores.
We’re still very good at getting our books into retail
outlets that cater to our niches: feed stores, pet stores,
garden supply stores, etc. The relationship with Workman has
helped drive the desire to raise the bar, publish fewer books,
but make them better.
"We have a great new art director now. We
have substantially improved our covers to appeal more to the
trade. Storey books have always been thick with practical content
and quality illustrations. We want the covers to be as good
as the content. We are focused on publishing the best books
in our topics, and in capturing market share in those topics."
The newest addition to Storey’s editorial
family is a line of children’s books–one of the
toughest markets to breach these days. Asked how the Storey
Kids imprint is doing, Art replies, "I’ve been delighted
with the results so far. We still have a couple of titles that
haven’t been picked up by the chains, but we’ve
done extremely well with book fairs and book clubs, including
Scholastic. We’ve won several awards from the educational
community, and that’s driving sales. Surprisingly, we
are selling more hardcover than soft, thanks to the libraries
and Workman’s reach into that market."
The Magic Metric in the (Pam) Art of Publishing
Many publishing executives have one number they
focus on–cash flow, profits, gross margin, sales–knowing
that if that number is strong, they don’t have to worry
about the rest of the financials. We asked Pam Art if she had
a magic metric, and her answer was quick and surprising: printing
"I look at PPB and S" (translation:
printing, paper, binding, and shipping). "It’s amazing
how much money you can save, and how much it contributes to
the bottom line. I encourage all publishers to seek printing
bids aggressively. For us, it has been like printing money."
"The printing market is soft right now," Art
explains. "We’re bidding every reprint. We do 12
reprints a week, and we get five or six bids. Our markups before
were OK; now they’re fabulous. It’s hard to get
excited about saving 20 cents a copy–that doesn’t
sound like much–but it adds up. Every $1,000 we save
in printing costs has the same effect on the bottom line as
an increase in sales of $10,000 or more."
When asked about quality concerns, Art responds, "We
look for the best printer for the project. They must have the
right paper, processes, and equipment. I urge all publishers
to visit their printers; you can tell a lot just by looking
around. Many publishers stay with the original printer for
reprints, but you need a different printer for a 20,000-copy
initial print run than you need for a 2,000-copy reprint.
"We manage our inventories to turn twice
a year. With 400 titles, that’s a lot of printing. It’s
time consuming to bid out reprints, and it’s a pain to
move a book from one printer to another, but it’s worth
it. If you can save 5 percent in your PPB&S, it’s
going to have a huge impact on your bottom line."
© 2004 by Steve O’Keefe
Steve O’Keefe is the executive director
of Patron Saint Productions, Inc., a publishing consultancy
(www.patronsaintpr.com). His latest book is Complete Guide
to Internet Publicity (Wiley, 2002). To suggest a publishing
company or person for him to profile, email info@PatronSaintPR.com.