Recorded at IBPA Publishing University 2016 – April 8, 2016
For podcast release Monday, May 2, 2016
- Peter Goodman (Stone Bridge Press)
- Kathryn Kemp Guylay (Healthy Solutions of Sun Valley)
- Karla Olson (Patagonia Books)
- Christopher Robbins (Familius & American West Books)
KENNEALLY: On behalf of Copyright Clearance Center, my employer, and of all of the panelists here today, I want to thank Angela Bole and the IBPA for inviting us here, the opportunity to speak to you and talk about what we think is a really interesting and important topic to all of you.
If finding relatives you never had strikes you as a good idea, then there’s a kit for you available online. Whether your interest lies in a curiosity over family history or a longing to solve a family mystery, all it takes is about the amount of saliva necessary to lick a stamp. Microarray-based autosomal DNA testing promises to trace the origins of your ancestors going back generations.
Now, for some of us, of course, it’s not a sure thing you’d want to bother. As Mark Twain observed, why waste your money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics, and your opponents will do it for you. (laughter) After all, while friends come and go, relatives tend to accumulate. Your family tree may have some beautiful leaves, but chances are just as good you’ll find a few nuts there, too.
So what makes us human? Certainly language and culture are unique to us as creatures on this earth. But it is the human genome that determines much more about us than our education or our upbringing. The human genome is a remarkable and artful sequence of billions of pieces of DNA. It is the biological database that makes us who we are. All members of the human family share the same genome, because we can all trace our family trees to a common mother in Africa who lived over a quarter million years ago. The countless variations and mutations possible in human DNA are what account for our individual identities.
The DNA of independent publishers is equally complex and diverse. Many IBPA members here today trace their roots to work as authors and editors. Others of you are entrepreneurs or subject matter experts, advocates or evangelists. No matter where we come from, IBPA members enjoy a common heritage connected to a desire to share information and inspire the imagination.
My guests on stage are going to reveal what’s in their publishing DNA, and I expect you’ll find many connections with your own stories. And I’m going to get to the heart of the matter without requiring anyone to spit.
So let me introduce our panel, then. I’ll start with Peter Goodman. Peter Goodman, welcome. Peter is president and publisher of the Berkeley-based Stone Bridge Press, which he founded in 1989. He is currently chair of the board of directors of IBPA. Peter lived in Tokyo, Japan, for 10 years, where he worked as an editor for an English-language publisher, Charles E. Tuttle, as well as Kodansha International before returning to the United States in 1985. Stone Bridge Press has published nearly 350 Japan- and Asia-related titles.
We’ll go to the far end. Kathryn Guylay – Kathryn, welcome. Kathryn is the principal of Healthy Solutions of Sun Valley, Idaho, and author of Mountain Mantras: Wellness and Life Lessons from the Slopes. She is a former management consultant, who brings an expert entrepreneurial eye to the world of publishing. She approaches publishing from a perspective of how a small fish can survive and thrive in a big pond.
To her left is Karla Olson. Karla, welcome. Karla is director of Patagonia Books, based in Ventura, California. She is also the president of Publishers and Writers of San Diego and is the founder of BookStudio, publishing consulting. She was the creative director of Tehabi Books, the founder of Via Press, and worked in editorial departments of two major publishers in New York City.
And then finally, to my right immediately is Christopher Robbins. Christopher, welcome. Christopher is the founder and CEO of Familius, a book publishing company with a mission to help families be happy. He also serves as the president and partner of America West Books, one of the premier book wholesaling companies to Costco, Sam’s Club, and exclusive distributor to Whole Foods throughout North America.
I guess to start the conversation, Peter Goodman, I’d like to turn to you. You are the chair of the IBPA board, so certainly sort of the ranking panelist here. And I want to ask you about your own publishing DNA. We heard a hint of it, because you spent time in Japan and that really sent you on the direction we find you at today. But it began before then. You were a senior in college at a moment when you couldn’t quite decide what to focus on for your life.
GOODMAN: Well, that’s right. I was a senior. I was an English major. I had always been confused about what I should be doing. I wasn’t a terribly good student. In fact, I was a pretty mediocre student. So I didn’t really see a prospect for myself much in academia. And in a sense, I was just kind of going through the motion at the end of my college career, and I happened to take a class, because I had an opening in my schedule, in Japanese literature. It literally changed my life, because I got really turned on by the stuff that we were reading. I just found the expressions and the sensibility in the material was just fascinating to me personally. I can’t exactly explain why. It meshed with something. And I discovered that all the books that we were reading were published in Tokyo by publishers who published in English but were overseas, and I just got it into my head that I should go over and work for them.
KENNEALLY: Right. And there was one particular book, which is appropriate today because you have something of a frog in your throat.
GOODMAN: Yes. (laughter) Sorry. Apologies.
KENNEALLY: It was a book called Frogs & Others, which is by a really well regarded Japanese poet, Kusano Shimpei.
GOODMAN: That’s right.
KENNEALLY: And the character of the frog is really important. Obviously he sort of uses them as a stand-in for human beings. They have a sense of doom as well as they kind of block life as well. Did you identify with that particular book?
GOODMAN: Not with the frog in particular. (laughter)
KENNEALLY: But with the sensibility, then?
GOODMAN: Well, the thing that I remember about that book is that it was like a handcrafted book. It was beautifully typeset, beautifully designed. It had gorgeous end sheets with special Japanese paper. The type was so attractively done. There was lots of white space, which I learned later was a key component of a lot of Japanese design. But beyond that, it perfectly conveyed the sensibility of the poet, and when we read it out loud, I remember there was one student in the classroom who made the sound of the frog. They transcribed it into Japanese sounds, so it wasn’t ribbit-ribbit, but it was more like oop-oop-oop-baloop, which could be Japanese sounds. And I just remember him –
ROBBINS: Those are Japanese frogs.
GOODMAN: Yes, they were Japanese frogs. And he was reading it in class. And I just got – it’s like the book, the sound, the sensibility, everything fit together, and I just thought – I don’t know, I just got into it.
KENNEALLY: Well, you know, I think about those DNA tests, Peter Goodman, and they reveal things we didn’t know were in our past. And I wonder whether it was something there that you didn’t know you had identified with throughout your life, but it took that particular poem.
GOODMAN: I don’t want to get into this long philosophical thing, but I was just a lost kid for much of my teenage years, for sure. And this whole sense of longing – feeling surrounded by beauty and sadness at the same time – I felt it very unnerving until I started reading Japanese literature and discovered that that was one of the key aesthetics. It doesn’t necessarily mean that no one else feels that. It’s just they’ve been working on this particular poetic sensibility for literally centuries. They’ve written lots about it. They’ve approached it in all sorts of different ways. And to a lost American kid looking lost and feeling sad a lot of the time, it just made a lot of sense.
KENNEALLY: Peter Goodman, we’ll talk about what that has meant throughout your career in just a moment. But it really took you to hop on a plane. You had caught something of a bug –
KENNEALLY: – which you were able to transform into a career. I think it’s remarkable in those days. I’m not sure it’s entirely so possible today. Japan was a very distant, exotic land. You showed up. You were an exotic creature as well.
GOODMAN: And still am. (laughter) Yeah. Well, that was a time in Japan – it was 30 years after the war had ended. Japan still felt very much like an outsider on the world stage. They were kind of flexing their oats, but they still looked to the West a lot for leadership, and so a westerner who shows up with a diploma in hand and some sort of skill, especially in English, was a valued commodity. I didn’t have any trouble finding work there, finding good work, and finding that my opinion was sought after and respected. It was a very heady time to be in Tokyo. It’s not like that now.
KENNEALLY: Well, we’ll hear more about that in just a moment. But I want to go from our senior member of the panel to the self-confessed newbie at the far end there, Kathryn Guylay. Kathryn, welcome again. You are a publisher, but as newly minted as they come. There might be someone even more recent vintage than yourself. But your book Mountain Mantras came in September, just this last September. Your DNA isn’t in publishing, as Peter found his, but yours is in management consulting. Tell us about that.
GUYLAY: Yeah. And we talked about DNA and looking for a long-lost ancestor. So if you’re looking for somebody who is happy to be here and stop the whining – doesn’t want to put up with a lot of whining – just come and talk to me. I will tell you that – remember that picture that Angela showed of that woman that was sitting by the phone earlier when she was giving the introduction? I felt like that about a year ago So not only was I a management consultant, but I also come from a 10-year background in nonprofit management. And I have a nonprofit organization where we have awesome messages. Of course I’m a little objective there – or subjective there. But we teach kids about the importance of eating healthy foods, and we help families with nutrition and wellness.
I felt like I needed to get the word out to more people, and I’m sure that that probably resonates with a lot of you. A lot of you are probably here because you have something really important to say, and you want to help people, you want to change the world. But then you start the process of trying to get your book out there, and maybe you end up feeling like that woman who is sitting by the phone. In fact, what I felt like is I felt like – have you ever been to one of those clubs where it’s like really elite and you’re at the door and you’re in line, and like some people are getting in, but they’re kind of like this to you? So that’s sort of how my start in publishing began was I kind of felt like I wasn’t welcome.
When I found IBPA, I really found like my home. And I can’t tell you – someone asked me to call Terry. And I’m like, really? Because I had been so used to people being kind of mean to me. (laughter) And I called Terry. He was so nice. Angela’s been wonderful. You know, Mimi, Patti – it’s like there are such wonderful people here, and the people that I’ve talked to so far have been lovely. So I’m just excited to put on a smile, to not wait by the phone anymore. Let’s talk to each other and collaborate.
KENNEALLY: Well, you nevertheless approach things, Kathryn, with the mindset of a management consultant. So when you were looking at publishing, a lot of people get into it without sort of – well, they sort of jump feet first. But you did some analysis – the kind of analysis that you would do for any client, really – and sort of looked at where the opportunity was, where the challenges were, where the barriers to entry were. What did you see in that analysis?
GUYLAY: And it’s interesting, because there’s a great panel up here with incredible decades of expertise. But we’re talking about I’m looking at this from a standpoint of maybe nine to 12 months. But the first thing I did – and I encourage all of you to do the same – is to study the industry, read what’s going on. What are the trends? What’s happening with the players? Why are some of them going out of the business? What’s the economic issues in the industry?
And I’m trained in radio, so I know not to swear. But this industry (laughter) – it’s tough. If you look at it from this management consulting standpoint of the threats of substitution, the threats of new entrants, of the customer buying power with Amazon – I love Amazon, I hate Amazon. It doesn’t matter. We’re in a circle that has all the pressure there in the middle. And what that middle is – it’s competitive rivalry. And when those pressure points become more intense, it becomes more difficult for all of us in there to make money. So I encourage folks to look for other metrics – like I said before, to change the world, to have ancillary products, to make a difference. Yes, it’s nice to make money, too, but I think that the road to success lies in alternative metrics.
KENNEALLY: It’s interesting – alternative metrics. You know, the metric that I was familiar with a few years ago in publishing was if you want to make $1 million in publishing, you start with $2 million, right? (laughter) That’s a very old joke. And it gives you an idea of just how familiar publishing is with these kinds of challenges. Yet books still come out. You believe, I think, that books still matter. We’ll hear about this from the other panelists, too, but tell us briefly why the book as a vehicle for this mission is so important. Why is that something that regardless of this DNA in management, you really feel that publishing is there in your blood, too?
GUYLAY: Well, I’ve heard it said so many times that I can’t attribute to any single person, but the difference in the person that you are today and the person that you’ll be in a year is the people that you meet and the books that you read. I really believe that. So I believe that books will continue to play a very important role in the world. In the newbie session, because I was part of it – that started off this morning – we had some discussion around nonprofit publishing and how education is an important component of nonprofit work. So I think we should continue to put books out there. We just need to be smart and collaborative about it and step carefully.
KENNEALLY: Christopher Robbins, your new book publishing effort is really – it’s about DNA, because it’s about family. And you have in your DNA publishing as well. You can trace your publishing DNA at least back to the 19th century.
KENNEALLY: Even farther? OK. So tell us about that. And what did that mean to you growing up, knowing that books were in the family in a way more than just on the shelves.
ROBBINS: Yeah. I think, to understand this – you guys are in the center of Salt Lake City, which is the international headquarters for the Mormon church, right? To understand this, for me, you have to understand that I am Mormon. We have the scripture that says seek ye out of the best books even wisdom and study and learning. And so we believe that God Himself is commanding us to search out the best books. Now, He didn’t give us this list of which ones to search out. So we’re constantly exploring.
You said, why the book – the book is just a perfect technology, right? It can be given. You can have it again and again and again. It’s not really been improved. And so as a culture, we read books, we write books, we write journals which become books. We write our family history, which becomes books. Like we’re not just drinking the Kool-Aid. I mean, we’re vaping the Kool-Aid, we’re injecting the Kool-Aid – you know, sublingual the Kool-Aid. And so books become just a natural extension –
KENNEALLY: I don’t think I ever want to inject Kool-Aid. No matter what kind. (laughter)
ROBBINS: So culturally, that’s why books. But the story is that my great-great grandfather was John Taylor, who became the third prophet of the Mormon church after Brigham Young – a really tough story to follow. And he was the publisher for the church – the newspaper publisher, the book publisher. And I have his first edition – a signed copy of the Koran. So my parents would just tell me about publishing and books and how important it was. And so that DNA genealogically – just I couldn’t escape it.
KENNEALLY: Yeah, in a way you were destined to be a publisher. But there were other things pushing you along. So all the presents you ever got from your grandparents –
ROBBINS: Oh, (laughter) so I never got a toy. What I always received was a book. Usually a book about the world, because what my grandparents wanted was to me to have a very broad view of the world around me. I mean, the pioneers moved to Utah to get away from persecution, and one of the first things that Brigham Young did was to send out the artisans to bring back culture so that they could then export culture to the rest of the world. My grandparents had the same ideal. They wanted me to get a very broad view of the world around me so I could have a greater appreciation, greater knowledge that I could then use that to do something important in the world.
KENNEALLY: Yeah. As much fun as a toy would have been, though, you probably would have lost track of it a long time ago. And it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those books you received –
ROBBINS: I still have them.
KENNEALLY: – as a child – that you’ve still got them.
ROBBINS: Yes, I have a great collection, and it’s all boxed up right now. (laughter) Yeah.
KENNEALLY: Well, you’ve been moving around.
ROBBINS: I have.
KENNEALLY: So Familius, which is a new publishing venture that you began in 2012 – tell us about that, because I think we can guess from the name – we don’t have to be a Latin scholar to imagine that Familius is about family.
ROBBINS: Right. And so I came – the funny thing is – do you guys know the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? OK. It’s a parody of the Iliad and the Odyssey. So George Clooney plays this character there, and he calls himself the paterfamilias, which is – you know, he’s the bona fide paterfamilias.
KENNEALLY: The father of the family. I went to Boston Latin.
ROBBINS: And I thought that was so funny that I decided I would name our company Familius to tie it into a Latin play on family. So Familius’s mission is to help families be happy. We do that by publishing books on marriage, books on relationships, books on raising children, raising teenagers – which is just buckle up and hold on for that ride – publishing books that get parents and children reading together, cooking together, playing together. And so anything that happens within a family for me, even if I have to squint, is fair game.
And why is that important to me? So you can see the cultural issue of why books are important to me in that DNA. But why is family important to me? Why did I pick that niche? Well, because I have nine kids – from one wife, in case you’re wondering – and I believe that the family is the fundamental unit of society. As our families are strong, our society is strong. As our families are weak, societies are weak. And I think that that’s my way of contributing to the world.
KENNEALLY: Well, you’ve been talking a lot about Latin. And I just tried to tell you I was a student at the Boston Latin School, so we had to learn some of that Latin. I’m familiar with it. It was something that Cicero said, and so we can understand just how things haven’t changed all that much. They were a literate culture – obviously loved literature. And Cicero said that we live in terrible times indeed. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone’s writing a book. So things haven’t changed all that much. There are people still struggling with their children. We’ll get back to Christopher and the way that you are approaching this very traditional family-driven publishing venture using the latest technology. I want to talk about that.
But I also want to get to Karla Olson. Karla, welcome. At Patagonia – we know about the mission of Patagonia, which is tied to the environment. It’s tied to making really strong, long-lasting materials and objects. How does the publishing unit work within that kind of a DNA? How does it fit in?
OLSON: I think if you know something about Patagonia and have perhaps been getting the catalogs over the years, you know that one feature in every catalog is a story. We have field reports in all our catalogs. And we have been telling stories about getting out into nature and the things that we do with the clothing that Patagonia produces for many, many years. That’s the motivation to people to get out into more the wilderness and interact with nature and with the environment, which is a very, very important part of the mission of Patagonia.
But sometimes these stories can’t be contained in 750 words, and that’s the purpose of the publishing program. They need to grow, and they need to be told in entirety. I think the place where the books fit into the overall mission is to inspire people to be more reflective about their life, to inspire them to learn about the environment, to inspire them to interact more with the environment, and therefore the end result is to protect the environment.
We also – as you mentioned, we try to create high-quality products. I actually am asked a lot why our publishing – why we don’t just publish e-books, because that would have the least impact on the environment. But we don’t necessarily believe that that’s the best way to share stories. So we are striving to create the best books we can in the least impactful way, which means we use 100% recycled paper on everything that we print. We look at all the production quality. And we also try to create a really beautiful book that will be not only kept but passed on – will be cherished. And I think we’re achieving that pretty well.
So we want these books – not only the experience of reading it. We want it to be something that you return to often, as Christopher talked about the books that his grandparents gave him, and that remind you of certain touch points in your life that are important to you. So in the same way that the clothes that we produce, we are very thoughtful about their purpose, we are also extremely thoughtful about the book and the goal of the book and the experience that we want to create with the book.
KENNEALLY: Yeah. Well, I’m curious, Karla, about how you found your way to Patagonia and how you found a fit with Patagonia, because the founder, Yvon Chouinard, has written a book called Let My People Go Surfing. Some of the titles that you have are about fly fishing and there’s the responsible company, but it’s kind of out there on the edge. If I was going to submit a proposal to you, it would have to be about dragging a kayak across the Antarctic or something like that. You never went fly fishing, I would imagine. Did you go surfing?
OLSON: I have been fly fishing a couple of times.
KENNEALLY: You have been?
KENNEALLY: But did you find that there was a – well, let me ask you this – what did you do to fit in? I know you did a very special project of your own, but you have found a way to kind of bring that DNA into your DNA – kind of merge it together.
OLSON: Yeah. As I always say, I’m probably one of the only people in the company who’s never climbed an 8,000-meter mountain. I’ve never surfed a 40-foot wave. And I’ve never run 100 miles. But I have 30 years of publishing experience. So what happened – when Patagonia started publishing in 2007, it was kind of an after-hours weekend program. The people who were involved with it were doing it on top of another job that they had.
But by the time I came on in 2012, they’d published 12 books. And they had sort of proven to themselves within the company that this mission could be achieved – that they were actually speaking to people and getting them to – they were achieving the goals that they had set out for the program. So they decided that they actually needed someone who had some background in publishing to come on and care-take the program and really – or what I always say is champion the program. In full disclosure, one of my best friends from college works at Patagonia. So when they said, hey, we want somebody from publishing to come and take over this program, she said, talk to Karla. I went in for what was, I thought, a bit of consulting and walked out with a job.
And fitting in has been – I think the reason that I’ve been able to fit in as well at Patagonia as I can, because it’s a very, very, very interesting culture, is because I’ve been entrepreneurial for many years. I was told just, hey, pretend that this is your company and do what you would do if you were running this company. So it’s been a fabulous four years, and I feel very privileged.
KENNEALLY: But you conducted kind of a personal project. You weren’t intending to write a book about this. But you made a decision to go without for a while.
OLSON: Oh, yeah. So you do come in to Patagonia, and it’s a transformative experience. And for me, it didn’t mean that I started climbing or running or decided to run an ultra, which is 100 miles, or a century, which is 100 miles, or even – I have two boys who surf, and I surf vicariously through them. But I did go through – I started to look at my life, and I decided shortly after I started working there that I was going to not buy any clothes or shoes for a year. That was kind of tough, you know? We’re all consumers. And now I know a lot more about sort of how people consume clothes.
I heard something really interesting recently, which is in 1940, the typical woman had nine outfits. We now buy 60 pieces of clothing a year. That’s quite a transformation in terms of kind of fast fashion and what’s considered disposable. And so I wanted to see – and I am a bit of a clothes horse, and I absolutely love shoes, so I wanted to see if I could this. So for a year, I didn’t buy any clothes or shoes. My husband’s in the back. I did it, didn’t I, honey? Yeah. Yeah, he says now I’m making up for it. But anyway. (laughter)
KENNEALLY: And I was going to ask – because I think the day after, you started making up for it.
OLSON: I did buy a pair of shoes on January 1st. But in any event, it has made me be more reflective about what I need. My husband and I also just about six months ago went from living in a 2,400-square-foot house to a 700-square-foot apartment, and that was quite a task. So letting go is incredibly transformative, and we had a great time doing that.
KENNEALLY: Peter Goodman, I want to bring you back, because you were reflecting on those early days as a publisher, going back to the 1970s. And here we are today in 2016 – a lot has changed in Japan. A lot has changed in publishing. But you are still focused on Japan and on Asia. I wonder about which elements have sort of persevered in your career. You mentioned earlier the interest in the packaging. Packaging is so much a part of Japanese culture, down to the food itself. Does that still influence the way you put your books together? When you do a manga encyclopedia or something like that, is the presentation, the look and feel of the book, important today still?
GOODMAN: Yeah, it’s actually the thing that really, I think, keeps me the most interested in a project. If we were just turning out stuff that was cookie cutter or always taking the same approach to different content, I would very quickly get bored. My background was as an editor. And when I was in Japan, the only English-speaking guy on the project had to get involved in everything – not just the words, but the presentation – to make sure that it was acceptable.
One example I can give you is that the Japanese designer came up with a very nice design, but it was all orange and black. And I said, you know, that’s Halloween. We can’t really release a book of Japanese literature that looks like it’s a Halloween story. So I got very, very involved in the design of the content there, and that has pretty much stayed with me. That’s something that is part and parcel of any project that comes in. The first thing I start thinking about is what is it going to look like? And a lot of times what it looks like – how it’s going to be packaged – in a way drives the way the chapters are presented, the way the breaks are made, the typography that’s chosen, of course. And it becomes a part of the project itself.
I think all of us are familiar with starting a project with just a bunch of paper, and suddenly, at some point, it takes on a life of its own. And for me, that’s often a visual, physical existence.
KENNEALLY: With regard to being in Japan there, you were the outsider. You were the exotic creature. And so you had to explain what lay behind the recommendations that you were making. That was itself a kind of a training that is now part of your publishing DNA.
GOODMAN: Well, it was very good to – because some of these things that we take for granted I actually had to verbalize in some way and say we don’t do this, and this is why. Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying, I don’t know, it just doesn’t look right, and so let’s do something else. Or what often came up is like, oh, no, that typeface was very popular 30 years ago. We should really try something new.
KENNEALLY: Kathryn Guylay, with regard to your work, if I could put it this way, you’re a bit of an evangelist – a different kind of evangelist, though. You’ve got a real deep concern and interest in nutrition, particularly for children. I was struck by hearing that wherever you go, you take this passion for nutrition. So before you came here, you pitched an idea to the local television station, and I guess you were on TV last night here in Salt Lake.
GUYLAY: Yes, I was. That’s why I’m wearing a rainbow shirt is because I got on TV to talk about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables for all kids. And as we got into the conversation on our two-minute segment, they were asking for simple easy tips about how to get kids to eat healthy. I’m just going to give you the first one, and I’m going to put it out to you as, I think, a really successful idea for publishing and being an author. That’s to keep it positive. I have become, I think, an expert by my own demand in positive psychology.
So I just want you all to think about the answer to this question. You don’t have to say it out loud. But when’s the last time you really gave yourself a pat on the back for something that went well for you, whether that was getting a great review, whether that was writing a sentence, whether that was meeting a deadline? When was the last time you did that? And can you do it a little bit more?
There’s this interesting phenomenon in team dynamics. It’s called the Losada line. And what it says is that for optimal team dynamics, every time something’s said that’s negative, what you need to do to neutralize that is to say something positive at least three to six times. And what I want – another question you don’t have to answer out loud – but when’s the last time, in your head, you said I’m doing a great job? This is what I really want to do. I’m making a difference in the world. I think we kind of – that inner voice in our head – think about, would you date it? (laughter) I mean, would you date the inner voice in your head? Some of you are kind of chuckling. We tend to be hard on ourselves.
So anyway, what I learned is, yes, take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented, but really one of the best opportunities that we have is to keep things positive and start every day with a little bit of gratitude. Get it rolling in the right direction.
KENNEALLY: Well, and surprisingly for someone who’s so concerned about nutrition, the way you started this panel off thinking positively was to hand out little chocolates to all of us.
GUYLAY: Oh, I know – the secret got out. Well, in the nutrition field – I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’m in schools and I’m in nonprofit organizations and companies doing corporate wellness. A lot of times, I walk into the room and they go, ugh, the nutritionist’s here, right? Like she’s the food police. And part of it is when you’re trying to get a message – and people are smiling, because yeah – what you want to do in your messaging, too, is you want to make sure that you’re not building up a defense first, right? Because you can never educate somebody that’s defensive. So one of the tactics that I have – and actually chocolate’s quite good for you – is I try to start out with something positive, and I say I’m not going to take away anything. I’m here to add things.
So I think that’s a great thing for all of us to take away is when we want to spread out messages, just make sure that it’s not something that’s going to cause a defensiveness to the person that we’re talking with.
KENNEALLY: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Christopher Robbins, we were listening to you tell us about your grandparents and your great-great-great grandfather. But we live in 2016. It’s a digital world. You recognized that when you started Familius. You began as a digital-only publisher. What was the thinking behind all of that?
ROBBINS: Capital. (laughter) You know, it’s a lot less expensive to publish digitally than it is to publish in print.
KENNEALLY: It’s not only environmentally good, but it’s good for the wallet?
ROBBINS: Well, it is. And I’m sure that everyone in here who’s started publishing realizes how capital-intensive publishing can be. And as you start growing, as you start doing more books and your community wants more and you have to print those, you realize, man, you keep having to shell out more money. It’s a very capital-intensive industry. So I thought, well, let’s do digital first. Open Road was really the first that saw that –
KENNEALLY: Open Road Integrated Media – Jane Friedman.
ROBBINS: – saw that opportunity. She’s a brilliant woman. And they really – you know, capitalizing, grabbing as much content as they could earlier on, when we were pioneering digital media. In fact, this wasn’t the first time I thought about this. In 1997, I started a company called Novelocity, which was to use Palm Pilots as a way to provide serial fiction to get your daily serial. That failed.
Today, you think about mediums. So you have a book as a medium. But that book itself is divided into mediums, so you have mass-market paperback. You have trade paperback. You have hardcover. And people consume those different types. Well, then you also have e-books. Well, that’s a medium. And you have audiobooks. That’s a medium. Then you have short content that’s taken from that book. A book can basically be the fountainhead of a lot of different mediums.
And so Familius now makes sure that – and then consumers choose what medium they’re going to have, right? I believe that the consumer deserves the right to consume it how they want, so Familius works very hard to make sure that our content is in every possible format that’s available. And a really cool thing that’s happening right now, and we’re going to talk about it tomorrow, is that the large digital players – that industry is changing. It’s now possible for anyone anywhere to sell ebooks and audiobooks. And that’s revolutionary. OK? Hummingbird Digital Media has picked up on this, and others have, too. But the point is that publishers should be really focused on making sure that their content is available and distributed as widely as possible.
KENNEALLY: Right. But it’s not just about technology. It’s about the books themselves. It’s about the authors, obviously. And I understand what you did sort of rethinking the business model, first starting with digital – you’re now in print publishing as well – but you also rethought the paradigm around authors and publishers and their relationship. Again, it gets back to family. You thought of the authors as partners, as maybe even family members. And it changed the way you wrote the contracts. Tell us that.
ROBBINS: Yeah, absolutely. Every letter I send is signed let’s talk family. Every contract that I send is welcome to the family. That’s really defined how we work with people. And one of the things we did is we – and I can’t take credit for this, because Steve Piersanti is here, and he’s a friend, and he is the one who revolutionized this idea. That is that we have a clause in our contract – clause 13 – which is that if you don’t like what’s happening and you’re dissatisfied, that we will give you 100% guarantee, and you can walk away with all rights. OK? Now there’s a timeframe on that, because there’s investment, right? I know only two publishers in the world that have that clause – Berrett-Koehler, founded by Steve Piersanti, and Familius, founded by Christopher Robbins. And I think that’s unique.
What you were talking about technology is digital books – OK, that’s one way to start. But then short-run printing – it was so capital-intensive. That was a barrier to entry that made it impossible for anyone to be a publisher. Now, there’s good and bad to this. But with companies that are doing short-run printing, like LSI, it’s possible for people to do a small run and explore how that book might work before they have to bet the farm on it. Right? So that’s one way that we’ve leveraged technology to make sure that we’re just not spending money frivolously.
KENNEALLY: Right. It’s not all or nothing. And you were mentioning the “failure” of the Palm Pilot experiment. But certainly that was in a very early chapter that has led us to the iPad and reading on the tablets and so forth.
ROBBINS: I was too early.
KENNEALLY: You were too early. It was a question of timing, not of the idea. And that’s really important as well. And what you have done is not only rearranged the way that contracts are written and the lens through which you view the contracts, but you’ve also thought about the marketing of books in a new way.
ROBBINS: Oh, yeah.
KENNEALLY: And I think that’s important to share with this audience – that what has happened in the past, particularly with print books, was you had to print them all up, ship them out, and then hope you could find a market. Now you work on finding the market even before the contract is signed.
ROBBINS: Right. So publishers are really, really good at creating a book and then figuring out where to sell it or who to market it to, right? We’ve done that for hundreds of years. That’s a really expensive way to do it. So the idea was, instead of finding readers for your writers, let’s find writers for our readers. Again, I didn’t coin that phrase. I think Seth Godin did.
So what I started to do was really explore the market. You guys have the same tools. You have Google. You have Amazon. You can look at a certain market and identify what is it that they’re looking for? And so familius.com, our newsletter outreach was – the whole intent was to find out, as a parent or as a family member, what is it you’re looking for? OK, I got it. I’m going to go find a writer now to create that content for you.
Now, it hasn’t been perfect. Nothing ever is, right? But that has been a better way, I think, of approaching the industry rather than try to find your readers for your writers.
KENNEALLY: Right. And Karla Olson, what Patagonia Books certainly benefited from was an already established commerce platform – a kind of a network already and an association, a strong association, with a brand. But you’ve been trying to take the books beyond the Patagonia stores. Tell us about the challenges there.
OLSON: Well, we’re a small publisher. And just to get the awareness out about our books – our books are all so extremely niched, which is something that is in our DNA. There are specific topics that we’re going to publish on, and we’re not going to break too far out of that. I think that’s a really important thing as a small independent publisher, to stay focused on a particular topic or a particular niche and build your community and your readers within that and then, like Christopher is talking about, ask what they want and then bring the books to them. That kind of collaborative experience is going to help you be more successful.
So I think that in terms of getting our books out further into the trade publishing world, it’s just challenging to get some presence and to raise awareness about our small, little publishing company, because we have chosen to go alone. So it’s been a deliberate decision at Patagonia not to be an imprint. Frankly, we’ve been approached by all the big five publishers, who say we would love to have Patagonia be an imprint of our company. We are an iconoclastic company through and through, and that did not give us enough independence. So we’ve chosen instead to have a publishing company within the bigger corporation and to keep chipping away at getting the books out there as far as possible. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. And we know that by staying true to the niche, the message, the mission, that we’re going to keep finding the readers that are going to appreciate what we’re doing the most.
KENNEALLY: Right. And understanding yourself, getting to know yourself, is important. But it’s also important to get to know who you’re working with. So the libraries, the bookstores – they have their own DNA, too.
OLSON: That’s absolutely true. I think that that is the strength of an organization like this, where you can bring people together to share experiences – not only having librarians and booksellers and those people here to tell us what they want and what is important to them, but also to share experiences with other independent publishers, who can – I think one of the coolest things about this organization – if we were all a group of – a trade organization where everybody made hangers, we’d be competitive with each other, because if you bought her hangers, you wouldn’t buy my hangers. Instead, every single book is different. So we can come together and very openly share experiences, share knowledge, and know we’re not competing directly with each other. And I think that’s something really wonderful about an organization like this.
KENNEALLY: Yeah. Kathryn Guylay, finally, before we go to questions from the audience, so you have this very complex DNA. I mentioned that the DNA of any human being is full of billions and billions and billions of different little identifiers. The identifier you have is as a management consultant, as a nutritionist, now as a publisher. But there’s also a piece which goes back to your days traveling throughout Central and South America, and that’s really important to you as well.
GUYLAY: Yeah, and actually I didn’t even tell you this, but my dad’s a biochemist – speaking of DNA. Yeah, my dream is actually to get my work into Spanish. So I think that the populations that I serve – a lot of the need is actually in Hispanic and other diverse populations. Yeah, it really comes down to communication. When you’re here, I think you’re thinking about how I can get my words out to more people. Maybe that means having more conversations, more networking, more creative brainstorming sessions. As Chris just alluded to, for me, it’s about getting into other languages. So really just be thinking about how you can broaden your base and make the most of this conference. And if you want some chocolate, just let me know. (laughter)
KENNEALLY: Before we go out to the floor for some questions, I want to ask Karla Olson one last question. What I understand about Patagonia is if the jacket I bought wears out, you’ll take it and fix it or give me a new one. If I’m out fly fishing and I’ve got one of your books and it falls in the stream, do you replace the book?
OLSON: You know, I have.
KENNEALLY: Have you really?
OLSON: Yeah. And, you know what? We love to hear stories like that. It hasn’t happened – it’s happened a handful of times that I’ve gotten someone who said, you know, I just wore my copy out. And if you think about it, we’ve only been around since 2007, so that’s pretty darn good. But I actually did have someone who said I dropped my copy in the river. It didn’t fall apart. It just was hard to – you know, the pages were all stuck together.
KENNEALLY: The pages were done.
OLSON: You hear a story like that – they reach out to you and say I loved that book so much – you’re going to send them a copy.
KENNEALLY: I hope there are some questions from the audience. I’ll come to you with the microphone. If you want to raise a hand if you have a question for anyone on the panel here, want to share a story that you’ve connected with from someone speaking to us today? While you think about that – sometimes it’s tough to get that first question out – I want to ask Christopher Robbins about a book that you’ve – I believe you came up with the idea and then found an author for, which was The Two-Minute Marriage, which is nothing like the 24-hour divorce, as far as I know.
ROBBINS: Right. So I was walking through the airport, and I saw that book, The Four-Hour Work Week. And I thought, that’s really fascinating. How could I parlay that into Familius? So as I was thinking about my relationship with my wife – you know, I travel a lot, I work a lot of hours. And I feel that we have a good relationship. I think she does, too.
KENNEALLY: We’ll have to ask her, Christopher.
ROBBINS: Yeah. But what I’ve learned is that it’s the little things – it’s a lot of little things that you do to make that relationship. And so I thought, could you do something in two minutes to make your marriage improve? So I explored this, and I found somebody who was involved with a book, Crucial Conversations, Heidi Poelman, and we created a book called The Two-Minute Marriage Project. And the whole book explores how you can improve your relationship in under two minutes a day by doing very simple things. That was really fun. It fit with the mission. It was a fun exploration. I practiced a little bit to see if it was going to work. And it did. And I got to text my wife right now, actually. No, that was a good example of one way to come up with an idea and then do it.
KENNEALLY: Wonderful. So do we have any questions, then? Have we exhausted you all on the topic of publishing DNA? Well, I want to thank everyone for your attention. I want to thank our panel – Kathryn Guylay, Karla Olson, Peter Goodman, Christopher Robbins. I want to thank IBPA for inviting us. My name is Chris Kenneally. Have a great afternoon.