Steven Spatz | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Steven Spatz

Background:  

Founded in 2011, BookBaby is a self-publishing company that creates and distributes printed books and ebooks to large distribution networks, including Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers worldwide. BookBaby is launching the first ever Independent Authors Conference, hosted in Philadelphia at the Sonesta Hotel Nov. 3 to 5.

The Mistake:

The mistake was our assumption that all creative individuals are alike.

We’re part of a 70-year-old company that’s worked with independent musicians and filmmakers helping them get their products into the marketplace. We started with the music scene, going back doing records and cassettes, then CDs and DVDs, and went over to the digital side and bought CDBaby, one of the leading providers in the digital music space.

We felt like we knew what all of these creative souls needed. Then came the self-publishing revolution, and finally authors had the chance to do what musicians and filmmakers had done in previous decades, of being able to bypass the traditional system and go direct to the market.

We really assumed we knew everything there was to know about creatives—what they wanted, how they worked, how to market to them, how to sell to them, what products they wanted. We felt like this was a Venn diagram with circles of musicians and writers that were very close together.

Today, eight years later, we realize that was a completely false assumption. That Venn diagram of two circles interlinked? Now it feels like the one circle’s on one end of the room and the other circle’s on the other end. What creatives have in common is a desire to get their content out into the marketplace, but that’s where the overlap ends in my mind.

Writers have very, very different needs than musicians, and that starts with the actual product itself. Think of a musician who’s standing on a stage belting songs out, playing in front of adoring crowds. Contrast that with the author, who’s plying his trade in some office or out in some remote cabin trying to polish up his work, and then hands it to a publisher. Authors don’t have the same kind of exposure to their readers.

The differences first emerged in call center stats. An average call on the music side was two minutes; an average call on the publishing side was 12 minutes. We see in our marketing funnels that a musician who contacts us have transacted within the first 45 to 60 days. On the publishing side the marketing funnel is years long in some cases, and months long usually.

We also noticed that the sales cycle is much longer—we’ve been talking to authors for five years and their book is still not ready for the marketplace. We do everything we can to encourage them and provide products and services to speed them along, but it’s a much longer buying cycle.

Writers have very, very different needs than musicians, and that starts with the actual product itself.

The Lesson:

We learned that the creative individual really has different needs. It’s a very one-on-one kind of business and it needs to be customized. It can’t be one size fits all, whether you’re doing a film or a documentary or a memoir or a religious text. These customers have unique products and unique needs.

We needed to adjust our business to really respond to their needs and to the expectations of our customers. The end result is all the same though—they all want to get their story out, or their music out, into the marketplace and tell what tale they have within them, be it through music or writing.

We all want to rush to the digital side of things, but there are some times where analog, meaning people, probably are best suited to be part of the equation. One size does not fit all. Sometimes people need to have people on the other end of the equation. We call it people-powered publishing, because customers aren’t talking to some automated chat bot or responding to an email. We have real live people on our phone lines handling this in an analog kind of way.

Follow Steven Spatz on Twitter at @SpatzSteven

Photo courtesy of Steven Spatz