2023 Review

Hello and welcome to 2024. Hopefully the turn of the calendar treated you well.

Being a business, we do a “year in review” to learn, and 2023 was a year of great learning for us.

Nutshell: we made it and ended our year enough in the black to hand out cash bonuses to everyone. Good job, yeeha, and all that.

Expanded version:
We created Northern Lights Publications in Sept 2022 and spent Sept through Dec getting production systems in place. Anybody releasing books knows physical production is close to zero effort. There are so many platforms offering some form of “upload-publish” people spend more time deciding which platform to use than they do actually uploading and clicking on the “publish” button. For that matter, most people don’t even spend lots of time exploring all their options. They go with a known platform (Amazon, Draft2Digital (D2D), Lulu, Ingram, …) and hope for the best.

We spent 2022 exploring the pros and cons of all the platforms we could find. Production is production is production. The major concern is finding a platform with distribution and marketing for the type of book being produced to the best audience for that book.

The three that offered the most with the least resistance were Amazon, D2D, and Ingram, and we realized (with reservations) no single platform would do it all. We didn’t anticipate the fluidity of the platforms and the brick&mortars (b&m), but adaptability is essential in business (especially small startups) and we adapted accordingly.

Originally our strategy was to publish via Amazon and Ingram, and use D2D to pick up any e-markets where we noticed a need. The Ingram aspect was to get our books into b&m because none would purchase from Amazon or D2D and a key part of our marketing strategy was personal appearances in b&m.

Good idea, and the market changed early in 2023. Major b&m (Barnes and Noble (B&N) most notably) no longer order books from Ingram and instead go directly to the publishers (ie, the Big 5 or however many there are now) for greater discounts and easier return policies. The contracts major b&m offer to any publisher would quickly put a small publisher out of business, so we decided the financial risk was greater than we wanted to take. Maybe in the future, definitely not in startup mode.

Thus, releasing via Ingram no longer offered guaranteed access to most b&m.

However, most indie b&m (and this includes franchise B&N (who knew such creatures existed?)) would purchase through Ingram, so Ingram still appeared a viable option.

More learning
Ingram’s production pricing structure is not competitive with D2D, Amazon, and most other platforms. A book which can be produced and offered for 10$US (for round numbers) via other platforms has a base offering price of 12$US on Ingram, and competitive pricing becomes worse as base offering price increases. Many small, indie bookstores can’t afford Ingram’s prices and would rather authors supply books on a commission/consignment basis (major, chain b&m also prefer this when small, indie publishers can’t meet the chain’s stocking requirements).

Thus more negatives towards Ingram.

The final blow to Ingram came when we learned it, like Amazon, D2D, et cetera, is POD (Print-on-Demand), meaning they do not warehouse books (understandable if a title is rarely requested), meaning a B&N or other major chain customer wanting a small, indie press book has the same if not longer wait than they would if ordering through Amazon or a related online.

The only feather left in Ingram’s cap seemed to be expanded distribution and access to non-US bookstores for books which don’t meet Amazon’s requirements. Expanded distribution via Amazon seems, quite honestly, more headache than it’s worth (not to mention the required shift in price when Amazon’s expanded distribution is active. Example: The Shaman lists for 24.99$US. Expanded distribution would kick the price up to 127.63$US per “Having received feedback from the Technical Team it was established that you need to increase minimum list price to $127.63 in order to enroll into Expanded Distribution.”), and Ingram can get books into non-Amazon chain stores with no effort on our part (please let us know if we’re mistaken in this!). We do lose something on royalties and large chains rarely sell books at list price, so we’re sticking with this strategy at present.

Although not a sizable income source for us, Ingram is a recognizable income source for us, so keeping it active to access non-US markets and expanded distribution is, in our case, a positive.

Marketing failures
We spent some of 2023 exploring marketing avenues. Northern Lights Publishing is small, we hired for known strengths inhouse, we outsourced to cover our known weaknesses, marketing being the big one.

Quick learning – To date nobody and no organization claiming they know how to market a book knows how to market any book (see I can make you an Amazon !!!BestSeller!!!” (definition confusion)). Their successes are short-lived if at all and few compared to their efforts and non-existent when compared to their costs. The big plus here is learning from others’ failures, and those are many (there’ll be another blog post about marketing failures later this year).

We did realize successes when using our own marketing methods. Case in point, our The Shaman became a #1 New Release on Amazon and Search debuted at #92 and hovered around the 100 mark for quite a few days.

In the end
End of the year, that is. We had our first two profitable months in November and December of 2023, December doing so well we were able to give cash bonuses to our small and hard working staff.

Looking forward in 2024
Our plans are to explore more marketing avenues throughout 2024. We will also be publishing three more Joseph Carrabis books. In addition, we’ve started conversations with other authors who’ve asked us to publish their books.

Exciting times, we thinks, and we thank all the readers who made it happen.

Author: tech