Transcript: Presidential Legacy in Independent Publishing

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Presidential Legacy in Independent Publishing

An interview with Florrie Kichler, President, Independent Book Publishers Association

For podcast release Wednesday, January 23, 2013

KENNEALLY: As presidents end their term in office, they focus on the legacy they leave to their successors. The Independent Book Publishers Association has announced that long-term president Florrie Kichler is retiring from her post on July 1. Welcome, everyone, to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series, “Beyond the Book.” I’m your host, Christopher Kenneally.

Over the five years that she’s served as IBPA president, Florrie Kichler has watched the publishing world face one crisis or challenge after another, from the Google Books case to the transformative arrival of Kindles and iPads. She joins me now to reflect on that experience. Florrie, welcome to Beyond the Book.

KICHLER: Thanks, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here.

KENNEALLY: Nice to have you back. You’ve been on once or twice in the time that you’ve been president of IBPA, and we should add that apart from your role as IBPA president, you are publisher of the Young Patriots Series of historical fiction for young readers. In 2000, you founded the Indianapolis-based Patria Press to restore to print selected titles from the classic children’s book series Childhood of Famous Americans.

The Independent Book Publishers Association is based in California. It’s a national trade association of more than 3,500 small and independent publishers, directed by a board of 15 publishing professionals and a staff of seven. So a force to be reckoned with, as you are yourself.

Let’s look back just a bit. First, what do you think have been some of the milestones for the last five years for both yourself and for IBPA?

KICHLER: I think that probably the biggest milestone has been what I would call now the golden age of publishing that is upon us. And when I say the golden age – the rise of the independent publisher, the rise of the small publisher. It’s not in the shadows anymore, we’re not under the rug. We’re way out here where everybody can see us, and we’re a force to be reckoned with. Any study that you see about the contribution of smaller and independent and self-publishers to the market is huge. It’s been most exciting for me at the helm of IBPA to see that transformation occur.

KENNEALLY: Of course, it’s all being driven by technology. A favorite line of mine is, since when did the publishing business become a technology business? Since a long time now. How are your members handling that tremendous change? The pace of the change, it almost gives you whiplash.

KICHLER: Well, the great part about being a small and independent publisher is that you can turn on a dime and you can react to the market. It’s not like the Titanic. The smaller publisher is more like a rowboat. We can turn, and twist, and pivot as needed. Therefore, I think that what we’re seeing now with the rise of smaller publishers is simply because we’ve been able to react to the changes and even get out in front of them much better than some of the larger publishers have.

KENNEALLY: I was just going to say that. In many regards, independent publishers are leading the way. They are doing things first. Or if they’re not doing them first, they’re doing them in ways that really improve upon the processes that bigger publishers have put in place, but haven’t taken advantage of sufficiently. Are there some areas that you can point to, particularly, that you think are the most exciting?

KICHLER: Certainly the whole e-book transformation. Again, you made the point yourself, is the technology has enabled the barriers to publishing to fall. Quite literally, anybody can publish a book in 15 minutes. But what I always say is it’s very easy to get into publishing, but staying in is another story. That’s why at IBPA – that’s why we exist is to help publishers stay in publishing by teaching them how to run their business as a business.

KENNEALLY: Right. I think that’s critical. And the business piece of it, particularly for IBPA, you really do drive a lot of programs around marketing. Marketing is the secret sauce to making it happen, as you say, staying in the publishing business. What about some lessons of marketing that you’ve heard? You’ve attended plenty of conferences, and you’ve put on a number of them yourself. Are there any that really have struck you as transformative themselves?

KICHLER: Again, I hesitate to say this, because it’s a mantra that we say all the time, but I think it always bears repeating, which is you market to your niche. You find your niche, you mine it. Just today, as we’re at the Digital Book World conference, I heard somebody say that as though it were something new that was just happening. Well, independent publishers have been doing that for years. That’s how we’ve survived. And now, all of a sudden, again with online and technology being what it is, it’s easier than ever to find your reader and reach that reader where the reader wants to find you.

KENNEALLY: Let’s remind ourselves, too, that as much as it’s a digital book world. You say that we’re at the Digital Book World conference, where we’re recording this. But it’s also still a physical book world. The printed book still matters a great deal to the business and to readers. In the IBPA’s membership, how are people balancing that? And particularly, how are they meeting the challenge of a dwindling number of bookstores?

KICHLER: That is a challenge, certainly. As the bricks and mortar are starting to go away, obviously we all have to find other methods to sell our books. But print is still very much alive. I wouldn’t sound the death knell just yet. I think that the challenge is how to integrate your print sales into your e-book sales. Certainly, the skill sets are not all that different in terms of marketing.

So I think the challenge, certainly – not just for small publishers, for all publishers – is to try to integrate those two parts of the business into one. Let’s say 20 years from now, you’re just selling books. You’re not saying, I’m selling e-books and print books. I’m just selling books.

KENNEALLY: What about, too – so many of your members, and I’ve been at a number of the Publishing University conferences, and you can tell us briefly at the end of this about the one coming up in April. But many of them, they’re regional publishers, they’re small publishers. They, nevertheless now, because of the technology, are able to go global with their books. Are people excited by that challenge?

KICHLER: Oh, I think so. Absolutely. Again, talking about the barriers to publishing, well, the barriers to geography are gone. The fact that that opens up a whole universe of possible readers is hugely exciting, especially for a smaller publisher who may not, before, have had the resources to reach those readers.

KENNEALLY: Let’s talk about the future. I guess we have to ask you. So what happens next for Florrie Kichler, and what happens next for IBPA?

KICHLER: I’ll have to say for myself, I’m going to take a little time and sort of explore what I want to do next. I can’t imagine not being in this industry that I love so well. What I may do is just take a little time and consider how I might want to perhaps be a different part of the industry, or exactly what I’m going to do. But for at least a little while, I’m going to spend some time with my friends and my family, do a little traveling, and then figure out how to start my third career, as they say.

KENNEALLY: Before we let you go for the program and from IBPA, there’ll be one more opportunity to see you, which will be at the Publishing University conference, the annual one that IBPA has coming up at the end of April in Chicago. Still working out all the schedule, but tell us briefly what we can expect to see at Publishing U this year.

KICHLER: We’re very excited about the university. It’s going to be in Chicago at the Palmer House Hotel on April 26th and 27th. We’re very excited – we have our keynote speakers nailed down. We have Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah, who is certainly an e-book pioneer and a tremendously, tremendously innovative publisher. She’s going to bring along with her one of her authors, who is a futurist, David Houle. He will be talking to us as well.

And our opening keynote, we’re extremely excited about, is going to be Guy Kawasaki, who I’m sure many of your listeners know from his work at Apple, but he has written a new book called Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. We have those along with, of course, our usual workshops, hands-on practical tools on how to sell more books.

Our theme is Discoverability: How to Sell More Books and Reach Your Reader. All of our sessions will be around that theme. And of course, back by popular demand is our ever-popular Ask the Experts, where all attendees can make appointments with all sorts of industry professionals to get advice on their publishing needs.

KENNEALLY: Great. We will link to more information on Publishing University, coming to Chicago at the end of April this year. Florrie Kichler, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you over the years. We look forward to doing so again in, as you say, your third career. Congratulations and good luck to you in your work in the future.

KICHLER: Thanks so much, Chris. It’s really a pleasure being here.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center – (audio interference). You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, like Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at the Copyright Clearance Center Web site, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.

Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.