Strategy • 22 June 2007 • The SnowBlog
A couple of weeks ago Rob, Anna and I sat down for almost a week straight and talked about what we were going to do for the next five or so years. Here is our strategy. Firstly, how the company is run. The general principle is to automate all the boring stuff so we can concentrate on the important things like creating books and developing the company. To that end, we plan to make even more use of Anko's APM system, a remarkably complete software package for the price. This contains most of the business' information including bibliographic data, marketing, contacts, production, print scheduling, royalties, author information and contracts, rights and customer information. Marvellous. On top of that, we'll continue to automate the production of our catalogue webpages and AIs using XSLT which turns them into html. New projects scheduled for the automatatron include a scheduling system (think klaxons and yellow flashing lights when our stock levels of a particular line get to a pre-set level), a whizzy submissions system (think giant hopper into which authors drop submissions, and the best ones drop out the end. Or something. The details aren't worked out yet) and silly things like a photoshop droplet that converts an image into a 3d image, a little application which cross references the amazon system with ours to check Nielsen haven't somehow corrupted the data, and a way of getting comments to be filtered properly on this blog so that I don't have to manually edit them! I reckon a year or two of automating bits and bobs here and there will result in a pretty smooth-running company.
Secondly, what the company will publish. We are going to focus in on a few core categories. In fiction they are: Historical fiction, Horror and Supernatural Thrillers. We are also going to publish General Fiction which, oddly, is its own genre. In non-fiction, we are going to focus on lifestyle books. This covers Crafts, Sport and Fitness (covering martial arts, fitness and cycling), Food and Gift.
Why are we focusing on these categories? Our favourite fiction is in these categories; we are either expert in or passionate about the non-fiction categories. We are also good at spotting winners in these areas, and publishing them well. And they make us - and our authors - money.
They are also areas that we feel we can earn our keep in. There is a school of thought which suggests that in ten years time the self-publishing model will be so developed, and the internet so good at searching and filtering content, that the role of the fiction publisher will be redundant. Will people need the authority of a company to say 'yes, 200,000 books were written last year but we think you should only have access to these 2,000'? It's a tough one - it might happen, might not. If it does, it will be because authors have found a way to disintermediate the publishing industry. All power to them, frankly - we would never stand in the way of progress - but we need to make sure we're not going to be out of a job in ten years. I'm not putting in all this bloody work only for publishing to witness a disruptive technology! So to that end we are going to redouble our efforts in the colour non-fiction categories.
Why's that? The non-fiction books we have published so far would never have seen the light of day were it not for us. The fiction, truth be told, could have been published by the author who may or may not have got their book the same sort of distribution as we've achieved. In the future, ensuring distribution may become easier. Amazon are turning into publishers; so are Borders in the US. Who knows what will happen. However, on a book like Crafter's Companion, or Fighting, we pretty much created those books ourselves. We commissioned (read: took) the photos; photoshopped them; laid the books out; edited them (*really* edited them!) and generally did a job of work to get them into existence.
This sort of approach fits nicely with our stated values, which are, and always have been, to be proud of what we do, and happy. I've mentioned before that life is so much easier when you've got values to live by - you never need to make a decision again! Faced with a decision to publish a book by a really famous author (a book which happened to be utter garbage) we decided against it because, although we could have made a bob or two, we would have been embarrassed about it. Not proud!
And we are going to be rather singleminded about becoming the best publisher in these fields. One of our main approaches will be to provide people who are interested in these areas with a place online where they can indulge, explore and further their interest. Watch this space for further announcements there!
Thirdly, we are going to take our Snowbooks Publishing Services arm to the next level. We really enjoy cover design and our covers work well in bookstores, so we are going to continue to add projects and clients on that front. It helps us out on cash flow, as well.
There's a whole bunch of other things on finance, sales and marketing too, but I have a load of things to do before knocking off for the day so I'll finish this strategery round up anon. Hope you find it interesting. I know none of it's rocket science but it is so useful to spend time thinking about our direction. When I'm flailing around knee-deep in 400 tasks, it's nice to know that they are all pulling in a deliberate direction. Ooh, Weberian. I'm learning something on this degree of mine, after all.