Recently, I attended a conference on project management in order to maintain my PMP certification. One of the sessions was not closely-related to project management, but it was very relevant to Sunbury Press. The presenter went into Porter’s generic business strategies. This really stimulated my mind regarding what we are doing with the press and what additional activities we should be considering.
First and foremost, Michael Porter from Harvard is best known for Porter’s Five Forces, regarding the primary influences on business success. I won’t go into those, but will instead mention his generic strategies based on this table on the left.
There are two dimensions to the strategies: cost vs, differentiation and broad vs. narrow focus. At Sunbury Press, I have always described us as “generalist opportunists.” This aligns with a broad differentiation strategy. We are not trying to be a low-cost / low-price player because we are too small to win in that space. Instead, we focus on quality content and quality production, demonstrating we are deserving of a higher price. To do this, we differentiate our broad portfolio of products in their individual categories. The imprint strategy was a perfect method with which to implement this strategy more successfully. To summarize, we have a wide offering, but it is differentiated into categories that seek affiliation from a number of different reader communities.
So, that is our (reader) customer-facing strategy. We also regard you (our authors) as customers because we are competing with other methods of publication:
2) vanity publishing
3) subsidy publishing
4) other independent trade publishers
5) large market-maker publishers
While we do not charge for our “services” as a publisher, we earn a portion of the proceeds from book sales in return for your trust in our ability to take your work, turn it into a high-quality product, and take it to market. In this mix of publishing options, we are very competitive, as evidenced by a large number of manuscripts we receive and subsequently turn into books. We are successful because we have managed to provide large press quality and opportunities, small press personal interactions, and give a lot of autonomy to the author. We believe these unique qualities to our press are a huge competitive advantage.
Jen and I have both returned from writers’ conferences where we heard others talk about their small presses publishing only a handful of books a year. Everyone seems amazed that we publish 50 to 70 titles with such a small staff. Many have asked us how we do this. Not being from the publishing industry, I had no idea how long all of this normally took and what it would cost. Because we are a recent entrant (2004), we are able to grow and evolve with processes developed internally, not influenced by tradition. I recently described the root of our efficiency with Pareto-thinking. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who came up with the 80-20 rule — you derive 80% of the benefit from 20% of the activities. We have applied this “magic” to the Sunbury Press process, resulting in high-quality products brought more rapidly to the market.