Archive for December, 2007

Getting to Know You

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

I saw a post on another journal, and it’s a really good idea. As a gesture toward end-of-the-year bonhomie, I’d love it if you would post something about yourself in the comments. Writing/publishing interests are grand, but so are more personal comments, like descriptions of pets, hobbies, and other things. I suspect I know some of you from other venues, and I know that most of the folks who drop in here never post a comment at all, but please de-lurk and do so now?

Here, I’ll start:

I have a 7 year-old daughter, who is the light of my life. Like her mother, she’s an utter printers’ ink junkie. Also like her mother, she loves fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, and general fiction. She also likes dinosaurs!

I have a husband, and he’s a complete sailing fanatic, so we have a boat. We live on board for a couple of weeks or more each summer, which is all we can spare. Sailing has produced lots of stories.

I love to knit and crochet, and do all sorts of crafts and DIY stuff. Upholstery, masonry and brick-laying, gardening, and sewing are on the recent lists. And I have two very cute and spoiled cats.

Your turn!

Why Co-Ops of Indie Publishers Don’t Work

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The short answer: they’re usually trying to re-invent the wheel.

Very small presses have a hard time exposing readers to their books. We all know this. And inevitably, discussions of this issue cause someone to suggest a co-op as a solution. Such a co-op could try to sell directly to readers, or to bookstores, or to Ingram. It could even be a purely sales and marketing organization that never handles a single book. Let’s look at those:

Selling directly to readers: This has to be web-based, or it’ll be much too expensive. That wheel’s already been built. It’s called Amazon. It’s so easy to get a small presses’ books onto Amazon itself, that this seems pointless.

Selling to retailers: This wheel is known as a wholesaler, or possibly a distributor. The co-op will need to give the retailers reason to bother with its catalog, and it needs to make the ordering, payment and service as convenient, quick and inexpensive as they are with Ingram, NBN, etc. And building that capacity is expensive. Building the response time and consolidating shipments from all the different publishers requires a warehouse. So the practical version of this option is another small press distributor. That has huge economies of scale, so the chances that you can match the current distributors’ services and prices are slim. Still, another distributor isn’t a BAD idea. Necessarily. It’s just not a NEW one.

Sales and Marketing Only: One version would be to contract with a copywriter or a publicist, and create campaigns at a lower cost. In-house publicity is less expensive because the publicist is constantly working, and doesn’t need to spend time running a business or marketing her/his services. This would give the small presses the opportunity to share an in-house publicist. It could be useful. It could also be a disaster. It will work best if all members of the co-op have similar types of books, rather than a similar geographic location or other characteristic in common.

Of course, there are other types of marketing co-op, such as the mailings done by PMA, or Florida Academic Press, or several other organizations. That can work, although publishers report mixed results.

Or there could be a joint catalog, one that might have more interest for bookstores than any single publishers’. Or even a central ordering website and shopping cart. The problem would be in administering the payments, and in customer service, if the publishers shipped separately. And, of course, it would have to give better discounts to stores than the wholesalers do, since the shipments wouldn’t be consolidated and the convenience would be less.

And all of this requires that the books be of sufficient quality and have a significant appeal to the reading public. And there’s the rub. Many small presses are run by people with minimal experience in publishing. Their judgment may not be good enough to ensure that the books are packaged and tuned for their markets. And worst of all, the successful small presses in this mix will tend to grow out of the need for it, meaning that keeping it vibrant and appealing would be a constant problem.

In short, most versions of a co-op are a perfect illustration of the old saw: For every problem, there’s a solution that’s simple, obvious, appealing . . . and wrong.

How Should We Amortize Plant Costs?

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

A question from the Audience, paraphrased:

How to amortize plant costs in COGS: You say we should amortize over time, but we use a per book cost. For example: if our development costs are $5,000 and we expect to sell 5,000 books, we amortize the costs at the rate of $1.00 per book. That way, we more closely match revenue and expenses. However long it takes to sell those books, that’s the time we use to amortize the cost. While GAAP may suggest your version, is there any problem with this?

I see two potential difficulties, both of which can be handled:

1. You may never sell all the copies you expect.

Handle this by having a reserve against that eventuality. When it happens, you write off the balance against that accumulated reserve, rather than taking a then-current expense. This restores the matching.

2. It’s awfully tempting when considering some sort of incremental deal to include the per book plant cost. This is very wrong. The plant cost is a cost of producing the book in the first place, and is not at all changed whether or not you make the special deal. (I see it all the time, and it makes people turn down deals that have only a small profit margin on each book, but huge volume, and huge profits in total. Not good.)

You handle this by being sure to do a total cost and profit worksheet on the book with the deal and without the deal, in order to decide if you’re better off doing it. That’s a lot more work, and most folks make errors somewhere in that as well.

You can, of course, change your amortization pattern to reflect the expected speed of sale, rather than using a straight line. And that would do a pretty good job of restoring the matching of revenue and sales. (In fact, it has an even better effect: it matches your intended revenue when you planned the project to the expenses you incurred based on that planning: much better feedback, even if not quite the same as the reasoning underlying GAAP!)

So, we’ve beaten this issue into the ground. You amortize plant costs somehow, and they don’t go into Inventory. But how do you get them into COGS on your Income Statement? Most accounting programs compute your COGS straight from your change in inventory.

You can’t use the pre-programmed Income Statement report, but must write a custom report to replace it. I know that sounds scary, but there’s just no way around it.

In this custom report, your copy the Income Statement, with the one exception that your Plant Cost Amortization and your Royalty Expense accrued are included in COGS rather than in Operating Expenses.

Some accounting programs will pull anything into COGS that’s in a pre-programmed range of account numbers. That’s not common, though, so you will almost certainly have to bite the bullet, and read the manual, and learn how to write a custom report.

Is there any way around this? No. Even if you treat Plant Costs as part of the inventory value of your first print run, which I do NOT recommend, you still have to write a custom report in order to include your royalty expense. Could you include royalty expense as part of the inventory value of your books? No, not for tax purposes, not according to any type of financial accounting standards, nor according to any other set of standards I know. These rules are based upon the practical consequences of the way you record your information, but that’s a little complex to go into here. Just, please, believe me. This is a bad idea that tends to come back and bite you. Hard.

Now, who is confused by this entry? Don’t be shy, ask. This is complicated stuff, and I’m not a writer. (Well, duh. Apologies to all you editors out there who must be itching for a blue pencil as you read this!)