Archive for the ‘LinkedIn’ Category

To Book Publishers (Traditional & Self) Who Just Don’t Get It

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

In reading a response to a discussion I started on a writer’s group on LinkedIn, I was struck with the thought that it isn’t just self-publishers who need to pay attention to the quality of their products. Some very big names are guilty of foisting-off crap.

The kind of food you'll find at Cracker Barrel.

Recently I visited a Cracker Barrel Restaurant with my wife. For those who may not be familiar with Cracker Barrel, it serves southern style comfort food at reasonable prices. We like to go there when we just want foody-food. Nothing fancy.  No cooking with exotic spices like saffron or curry. On the menu will be dishes like meatloaf, country fried steak, and catfish. You can choose your sides from a menu that includes fried okra, turnip greens, and corn. For desert there are various cobblers, pie, and ice-cream. Yum.

Before you get to the restaurant part of the place you have to wend your way through kitschy collections of merchandise that change with the season. My wife loves to peruse their tables of nick-knacks, music boxes, and stuffed animals. Now, as I am writing this it is three days from Christmas, so they were all decked out in a torrent of red and green. Santas and gift items were stacked nearly ceiling high. My eye caught an illustrated book of The Night Before Christmas. The illustrations were beautiful. I wish I could say the same for the book. The workmanship, especially on the cover was a disaster. Both covers, front and back, bowed outward from the spine. It was not only ugly, but made it impossible for the book to lay flat on a table. Here was a book that I wanted to buy, wanted to take home and treasure, wanted to read it to future grandchildren, but I couldn’t get past the cover. This was not an heirloom piece; it was a piece of carnival crap. I looked at the spine and was surprised to see that Simon & Schuster allowed this mess to go out under their banner.

I believe that books are a treasure. They last decades and centuries even. It saddens me to think that the noble business of publishing, especially the giant houses like Simon & Schuster, may be more focused on profit than quality.

I have heard authors complain that their traditionally published books were an embarrassment to them. That the cover designs didn’t truly represent the book, and that cheap cost cutting methods were implemented. Authors who have sold their rights to the publisher have no claim on how the book is manufactured. As for The Night Before Christmas I’m guessing it was sent to a sweat shop overseas to be printed and bound for the lowest price possible, a price guaranteeing maximum profit but sacrificing the honor of the book. I didn’t buy it. I’m hoping no one does. If enough customers reject poor quality the publisher will have to ask why. Why didn’t this book sell?

I plead with self-publishing authors to realize that they have total control of their children. Dress them up in their Sunday best and send them out to play. The day may come when the marketplace will select a self-published book over a traditional one because of the value added that comes from your care.

Bargain With Life for a Penny…

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Many years ago there were three young ambitious friends. They met while working for a small start-up business newspaper. One went on to get a Masters in Marketing. Another created a newsletter business. And the third became a printing sales rep.

Time passed and they lost track of one another. The one with the Marketing Masters Degree jumped  into direct marketing and began to create a name for himself. He was invited back to his home town to start direct division for the largest advertising agency in the city. The newsletter guy struggled but kept afloat. The printing rep found out how to make a prosperous living by securing good customers, and taking good care of them. He did well.

All three had different business philosophies. Mr. Marketer believed in charging top dollar for his services. The newsletter guru believed in being the lowest priced, and the print rep felt the real answer was somewhere in-between. Being the highest priced would drive some customers away, but being the lowest would create disrespect. When it’s all about the lowest price, someone will come along and find a way to shave off a penny or two. Price is a very shaky foundation to build on.

Fast forward a few more years. The newsletter man lost his business and moved away somewhere  to the Northwestern United States. The direct marketing guy teamed with another well-respected direct marketing entrepreneur and discovered  that he could charge even more than he previously thought was over-the-top for his services. And the print rep steadily built his customer base seeing  year-by-year increases.

Eventually, the Marketing fellow, sold out his business to his partner and began an affiliate Internet business. He caught the wave at the beginning and has been very successful. The print rep became a self-employed printing broker and began making more money than he had ever seen before, not as much as his friend, but pretty comfortable nonetheless.

Today, the newsletter guy has been off the radar for too many years. Hopefully he is doing well. The Internet affiliate master has a big office with many people working for him that do mysterious things on the Internet that even he doesn’t pretend to understand. He drops in from time-to-time just to satisfy himself that all is well and count his big bucks. “It’s a tough job,” he acknowledges, “but somebody has to do it.”

The printing broker is still doing well, but has definitely seen a drop in business because of the Internet. He is concerned about the future of the printing industry and his place in it. Maybe a little late he decided to enter the fast paced world of the Internet. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. He’s now on social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. He’s learning terms like SEO, Links, Widgets, and Plugins. He’s writing blogs, books, and developing training materials to help printers, customers, and prospective print brokers become more successful in their businesses. In short, he’s reinventing his career at a time, he thinks, when he should be resting in a golden hammock.

What’s the moral of this story? If you bargain with life for a penny life will pay no more. There’s a temptation during tight times to cut prices. If you own a company your salesmen will all whine that, “Our prices are too high–we can’t compete.” Don’t give in to this cry, because it is very difficult to raise them again after you have established a low water mark. If you compete on being the lowest price you may as well start making your bankruptcy plans now.

What about the middle road? The middle of the road has its dangers too. That’s where the traffic is the highest. It is very difficult to establish your own identity when you are in a flock of me-too’s. Long-term success depends on splitting off from the pack and becoming your own person, or company. Be unique and find a way to charge more for your services than the going rates.  Sock some of it away so you’ll have extra dollars to take advantages of opportunities that may come your way. Maybe you too can catch the next big wave and beat me to that golden hammock.

For Flexibility, Yoga Comes Recommended

Friday, February 20th, 2009
buggy-whip changes

I stirred up a lot of comment with  my blog Steering into the Slide. I really appreciate my new friends with LinkedIn opining on the issue. Most responses favored my never-say-die attitude, but a few expressed concern that it would never be the same again in the printing world. I have to ask myself, “When has anything ever remained the same?” The printing industry is being confronted with what I call buggy-whip changes. You know, with the advent of the automobile, buggy whip manufacturers went out of business. We are facing a catch-up or get-out world. The problem is knowing which way the wind is blowing. The best guessers win. The worst lose.

reverse progress

We in the business have all seen change coming. We’ve been watching it for a  long time. Sometimes technological change happens too fast despite our best efforts to prepare for it. I’m thinking now about the latest generation of co-processors. I read that the computers are not currently developed to the stage where they can take full advantage of the chips and installing them could actually hamper performance by slowing it down. Isn’t that a kick in the head? We are so used to the next annual upgrade that we never suspected we could go backward. How long will this be a problem? Well that is the beauty of it, it won’t take long. In fact, I read that article a couple of months ago and in techie-time that’s like twenty years or so. The problem may already be fixed.

printer-time, techie-time

Printer-time goes much slower than techie-time. Printers who have millions of dollars tied up in equipment can’t turn around that fast.

he died

I toured a large plant in Denver, Colorado a few years ago. As I was being shown the shop we passed large area that was jammed with old letterpress equipment. They must have had thirty non-operational, dusty, cobwebbed presses and Linotype’s just sitting there. I asked about it and was told in an offhanded way, “Oh that junk? The man who operated it died.”

“Don’t you have anyone else to run it?” I wanted to know.

He said, “No one wanted to learn.”

I felt a little sad to see the memorial to this man’s life rusting on the floor and I knew that it was just a matter of time before it became scrap. On the other hand, the man had probably spent his entire life operating that equipment, or something just like it. Press operators now have no such assurance of a lifetime of work. The skills they’ve worked so hard to perfect could become useless in the new printing reality. They can be the best in the business, top-of-the-heap right now and in a relative blink of an eye their services may no longer be needed, they’d be buggy-whipped into oblivion. No one wants to see that happen, but how do you stop the technological juggernaut? You can’t. Change is coming and no one can stop it and honestly why would anyone want to?


The whole industry needs yoga classes to calm us, and teach us flexibility. Breathe in the prana you printers. We’ll find a way together. We’ll all find the way together.

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