The quiet revolution in business book publishing

The quiet revolution in business book publishing

Over the past six or seven years, there has been a quiet revolution in the world of business book publishing. Where a decade ago most business books were solid tomes by well-respected experts based on years of research and published by big name or specialist houses, the demographic of today’s authors, the range of their titles and routes to publication are radically different.

The developments we’ve seen have been author driven. Alongside the accessibility of print on demand and online retail distribution, entrepreneurs, small business owners, coaches and consultants have become increasingly aware of the benefits to them, their brand and their business of publishing a well-written and well-produced book for their market.

For these authors, the return on the investment in their book is increased authority and influence in their industry; the ability to use their book to generate leads and clients; the status to increase their fees and get speaking gigs. For them the book is not so much a product as an enhanced business card, so giving books away is their favoured modus operandi, and income from retail sales is a non-essential bonus.

They also do not want or need to write lengthy, research-based books – their niche markets are looking for short form, value-packed content that can be quickly absorbed and applied to their lives or businesses. The average business book is now closer to a slim 40,000 words than a substantial 80,000. And business authors want to get their book through production and to market in the shortest possible time to maximise the currency of their content and freshness of their offer.

So for them, the business model of traditional publishing - with its focus on broad market titles, slow, intensive production cycles, and well-known authors to generate maximum sales - does not work. Where traditional publishers need authors who sell books, the business writer needs a book that sells the author. One such author is Ian Retallick, author of David and Goliath – How independent retailers can take on the giants and win, who gives a clear example of what his very niche title has done for him:

"I was preparing to speak at the Harrogate Flooring Show and there were only 10 people in the room listening to the previous speaker, whose talk was good and relevant. Just before I got up to speak the room filled and every seat was taken! After my talk, the room emptied and the next speaker had six people in the audience. I am realistic enough to know that it wasn’t my reputation as a speaker that drew the crowds; delegates told me they were there because they had seen my book and its positive reviews."

After some years of experimenting with sub-optimal self-publishing, and attempts to publish their books through old-school, non specialist ‘vanity’ publishers, authorpreneurs and their needs have stimulated the development of a whole new publishing environment.

‘Self-publishing’ turned out to be an unfortunate misnomer, and there is now a wide range of business book ghost-writers, writing coaches and mentors, developmental and structural editors that supports business authors whose are not primarily writers. The supporting cast also includes freelance book cover and book interior designers and typesetters, e-book and audio-book producers, many entrepreneurs in their own right, who enable business authors to become high quality micro-publishers of their own titles.

Perhaps, though, the most disruptive element of the new business book publishing ecosystem is the hybrid publishing companies that have emerged and threaten to undermine the authority of traditional publishers. Hybrid publishers bridge the gap between traditional and self-publishing by offering professional production expertise, experienced and specialist teams (sometimes inhouse, sometimes outsourced) and full project management; along with agile and flexible processes, short publishing schedules and a low risk business model. Successful entrepreneurs are happy to pay hybrid publishers for the full cost of producing their book (much as they would their website designers or marketing companies), confidence in the quality, control over the branding and positioning, speedy publication, cheap author copies and no pressure to sell books.

From the hybrid publisher’s point of view, they are paid up front for producing books, they distribute via print-on-demand, unless they or the author chooses to invest in up front print runs for physical distribution, and an occasional bestseller is a bonus, even though they pay authors high royalties on retail sales. As Alison Jones, founder of Practical Inspiration Publishing and head judge of the Business Book Awards, says:

"Business used to be considered a publishing niche, but over the last few years the genre has become one of the most exciting and dynamic categories in any bookshop, real or virtual. I think it's a perfect storm, a combination of the disruption faced by established business, the boom in entrepreneurship, and an explosion of smart thinking and positive psychology titles that deal directly with our experience as humans in the workplace."

Many hybrid publishers are now mixing and matching their business models around different types of titles, offering ‘traditional’ deals to selected high value authors; while some traditional publishers are contracting authors to underwrite book sales to the tune of 2,000 copies per year for three years. The future is fluid, and will continue to follow the needs of business authors.

Now that e-books have become the standard pairing with the initial print format, audio books are the next must-have for authors with an appropriate market, with business authors and publishers often choosing a delayed audio release to maximise marketing options. Both print and e-books typically contain direct links to author websites, audio, video and other online formats. There is no doubt that business authors will lead their publishers into innovation and integration of all the platforms and technology they use in their business and marketing activities.

The Business Book Awards are now open for entries. Enter here: