Transcript: Independent Publishers And More

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Interview with Angela Bole, Executive Director
Independent Book Publishers Association

For podcast release Monday, October 28, 2013

KENNEALLY: On the floor of the Frankfurt Book Fair, we’re joined today by Angela Bole, who is the new executive director of the Independent Book Publishers Association, and we’re going to talk to her about what she sees as her role in this very changing book publishing world. So, Angela, first of all, welcome to Beyond the Book.

BOLE: Thanks, Chris. It’s great to be here.

KENNEALLY: We’re happy to see you. The fun part about Frankfurt is you get to see people rather than just talk to them on the phone or send them an e-mail. And clearly, that would be an important part of why you’re here. You want to get a personal sense of the business. But before we talk about that, introduce yourself to the audience. Tell us where you’re coming from and what it was that attracted you to the job of executive director of IBPA.

BOLE: Sure. I’m two and a half months into the position of executive director, so my first Frankfurt as executive director with IBPA but my fifth overall. I’m coming from the Book Industry Study Group where I was deputy director, and we worked on publishing supply chain standards, so anything from soup to nuts, how to get a book from the author’s head into a reader’s hands and all of the different processes in between there.

So I’ve worked with IBPA in that capacity for many, many years, and the previous executive directors have been on the board of BISG. So we’ve had this really great synchronistic relationship of BISG as a standards organization helping to educate IBPA members on how the publishing industry works. So it just felt like a really interesting jump into something that was a little different from what I’ve been doing but still a little familiar to me, and a great opportunity, I think, to work with IBPA and its members and board.

KENNEALLY: Well, this is a big moment for independent publishing. It’s a marketplace that has dramatically mushroomed, because today almost anybody could become a publisher. In fact, so many people do now that the definition of what a publisher is is changing. Has that made a difference to you as you think about who you’re going to try to recruit as members and the kinds of services you’re going to offer?

BOLE: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. It is a broadening of our potential membership. I’m learning a lot as the new director. So what I can say, it’s only recently IBPA has really embraced this concept of self-published author. It was very much we’re Independent Publishers Association, and that’s what we do, and if you’re just putting your own book out, that’s a different thing.

KENNEALLY: I just want to make sure people understand what the difference is that you’re making there. So between self-publishing and independent to some people might not seem like much at all, but really the independent was somebody who had a business, had a shop almost, right?

BOLE: Yeah, and maybe worked on their books but also worked on other people’s books, and their point was, like you say, creating a business that had multiple titles each year, and they would have seasons, and it would be more of a traditional concept of publishing. And really, that’s the way I see it, too, is their books and other books and business. And a self-published author, they’re going to work on their books, their brand, their image, their thing, and that would be the difference.

And we really are embracing both now. And I still think, though, even in that context, we’re still talking about professional publishing. So even if you’re a self-published author, that doesn’t mean that you’re not interested in professional publishing. You still need to know all of the things that an independent publisher needs to know, from editorial straight through distribution. What is your pricing model? What are the channels that you push into? And what is your product about? These three things are true for independent publishers, they’re true for self-published authors, they’re true for people that make tables. So we still need to work in that space.

KENNEALLY: It would seem to me that the self-published author needs to turn somewhere for the information and it needs to be reliable information. I’m sure they can Google it, but what they find out might not be really either helpful or trustworthy. To be a part of an IBPA organization would mean to have colleagues, to have people who understand the same issues, but really also have a pipeline to reliable, trustworthy information.

BOLE: That is the exact reason we exist. There is so much happening, and talking about all the churn that’s even on the outside and the outskirts of this business, so many startups. How do you know which one you want to get involved in? How do you know which one might have longevity and that’s going to make sense for you? How do you choose your distribution partners? What are the different standard terms? If you see a distribution contract for the very first time, you’ve never seen one before, are you getting a good deal?

There’s a million questions that association memberships can help you answer as you’re coming up in the business. And then once you’re up in the business, you have a community. And that, I think, for independent publishers and self-published authors is so key. It’s hard to work alone in a silo. A lot of them work from home offices, and now they’ve got over 3,000 members that they can connect to or people that are in their community that are doing the same thing they’re doing. So yeah, it’s really important.

KENNEALLY: And you use that word community and it’s a really important one. We’re here at Frankfurt, so there’s a community of book publishers here. But I wonder how closely do you find you could work with people who are attending Frankfurt Book Fair? This is very much a business organization or a business conference. What are you looking for? What are the kind of connections you’re hoping to make when you’re surrounded here by players who are multibillion dollar global players?

BOLE: Listen, the world is flat, I think. So when IBPA comes to Frankfurt, we bring a cooperative booth of our members’ titles. So in (inaudible), you’ll find – I think we’ve got 200 titles on display, and our job here is to represent those titles for our members and to try and find partners for them overseas for rights deals. And that’s an important thing, and you get tons of independent publishers and self-published are getting international rights deals. It’s a really good market for them.

So that’s why we’re here. We’re here to represent the titles that our authors have, but we’re also here to learn. There’s so much even for us to learn as we come. We’ve got meetings with all of the big players, too, and we broker deals with them to figure out how can we get good distribution deals with Ingram and Baker & Taylor and some of the others, Cardinal, IPG, for our members. So we’re here to talk to them about what’s possible to level that playing field a little bit.

KENNEALLY: Are you seeing any trends you can tell us about? Any particular regions of the world that are more interested in the kinds of works that IBPA members have?

BOLE: No particular – we’ve got a great COO in Terry Nathan, and he’s actually running that side for us. He’s booked all the meetings and is meeting with all of the different rights licenses. It’s all over the map. It really is. The one thing we do see is the trend is to get specific. So somebody comes – and this is, I’m sure, for everyone that’s here – people don’t just come and want to look at your catalogue. They come and they want to look at your political nonfiction about this part of the country. They’re getting very specific about what they want to see. And so we have to make sure we’ve got the kind of diverse catalogue that has enough in each of those pockets to serve what they want.

KENNEALLY: Fascinating. So in the coming months, what are we going to be hearing from IBPA about? Are we going to expect to see Angela making the circuit of other conferences like this to try to talk about what the issues are of importance to you?

BOLE: I think that’d be great. I think IBPA is well-suited for thought leadership, and we have so much coming up to us from our members about what this market looks like, what independent publishing is about, and what are the concerns of independent publishers and self-published authors. So I think you can see that we’ll come out with a little bit more of that. I think we have something to say on those issues, and it comes through the research that we have available to us.

KENNEALLY: Well, research and experience, because there’s so many people who are just getting into the business, but IBPA has been around for 25, 30 years. You could tell me exactly how long, I’m sure. But you guys really have the experience in this field. You’re not new to it.

BOLE: Yeah. Experience is important. Experience and the agility to work off of that experience to change, too. It’s a changing space. We have to figure that out, too. So we’re really open to conversations with new players and new markets. We’ve got the stable ground now. We have the right programs, I think. So now we just need to iterate off of those programs, refresh them, make them a little stronger, and bring in some new, fresh thinking around what we’ve been doing. So I hope I can do that in the next six months.

KENNEALLY: Great. Well, Angela Bole, we hope we can talk to you again. Angela Bole is the new executive director of the Independent Book Publishers Association, IBPA. Thanks so much for joining us on Beyond the Book.

BOLE: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.