At the beginning of 2016, Scribe decided to phase out our monthly newsletter. Our message was no longer resonating among our subscribers, and we realized we were no longer offering any new ideas to improve editorial and production processes. By the end of its run, we considered the newsletter to be ineffective and unhelpful.
The newsletter’s failure became evident in 2015. There was a stronger trend in publishing that was contrary to the message we were trying to get across. In addition to the instability in the publishing world, the continued downward pricing pressure along the entire publishing chain, and the additional migration to offshore services, something else tipped us off that our ideas were not resonating: the last three newsletters had significantly lower forward rates but an unusual number of direct responses. The most typical of those responses indicated that our message was of no practical use to publishers; they simply didn’t have the time or money to develop well-formed documents or follow any of Scribe’s suggested practices. Therefore, we began 2016 with a plan to transmit the remaining unpublished newsletters and then end its run.
But then something interesting happened…
In the second quarter of 2015, Scribe’s revenue began to increase, despite an overall decline in work from “traditional” (or “status quo,” as we will explain in a forthcoming newsletter) publishing. Interest in our approach started to increase, but not from the bulk of our original subscribers and readers. The interest came from a different type of publisher—publishers with a purpose or mission. These are organizations that cultivate ideas, have a group of people engaged in those ideas, and develop and serve narrative content within their community. By the end of 2016, we even had a name for the types of publishers—mission-driven publishers.
There are different types of mission-driven publishers: religious organizations, educational institutions, professional associations, or issue-focused publishers. They all have a mission and a community of people who share that mission, and they serve their “readers” (this will be defined and discussed in the next newsletter).
The characteristics that these mission-driven publishers exhibit and the approach that they seem to take to publishing are noteworthy. The following are traits that they all share:
They do not seem to be weighed down by the current publishing environment. In fact, most see this as a time of ample opportunity.
They see what they are doing as important and focus on the strong cultivation of publications that support their mission. This means that they tend to focus on the content and the ideas that their publications convey much more than the book product. There is a high level of publisher investment in the development of their publications, and they focus on getting their readers to share in the desire for success.
They seem very concerned with best practices and developing a sustainable, adaptable program that enables them to disseminate their ideas, educate, and inspire. In other words, they focus on fulfilling their mission and see publications as an important aspect of that.
Their concern with the proliferation of ideas means that they are much more focused on expanding the reach of their publications, so they rarely deploy digital rights management on their e-books, and they build books that are fully accessible and designed for multipurpose functionality.
Their publications are developed within their community, and they respond to the needs, concerns, and sentiments of that community. In other words, their publications are developed with a dialectic relationship among author, publisher, and reader. And while their publications are of varying types, they all reflect the mission and concern of the publisher.
None of them relies on Amazon for a majority portion of their revenue. Mission-driven publishers have a variety of sales outlets, direct-to-consumer methods, and licensing arrangements. While much of their income does come from anonymous sources, they tend to know a large percentage of their customers. And while they may sell fewer books than others, they have a better returns on each unit sold.
In that vein, most of our mission-driven clients have not had a traditional best seller (in fact, only two mission-driven publications that we have produced have made it in on the New York Times Best Seller list). But they are successful due to the overall revenues produced by their full list. Thus they are focused on the processes that help reduce overall costs and increase overall revenue and rely heavily on their entire list as a reliable source of income.
They focus on the long game, so they look carefully at the real costs and long-term revenues from publications. They also tend to employ more normative accounting instead of bookkeeping that is specialized to publishing. Thus, for example, their profit and loss statements usually include licensing revenue, employee costs, reprocessing costs, and other things that fall out of normal title considerations.
Lastly, none of the mission-driven publisher that we know (even those that are not our clients) relies on offshore vendors. And they tend to hold a high standard for all versions of their publications, whether electronic or print.
We feel that mission-driven publishers’ success can teach us all a number of lessons. Certainly, Scribe has learned a lot, so we have decided to revive the newsletter as a way to share that new knowledge. In the last year alone, Scribe has grown—and we’re having a ton of fun in the process, so hopefully we also can spread the enthusiasm of mission-driven publishers.
As always, we hope that we can contribute to the publishing world and look forward to your feedback.