What Baseball Can Teach Us About Publishing

Many publishers and the customers who buy their books can’t see past the book. In the digital age, publishing isn’t about books, journals, or magazines. Those products generate revenue, that’s true, but success in the publishing business depends on the identity those products create.

Take baseball, for example. Fielding a winning team on the field translates into more customers and brand loyalty, while a losing team loses customers. However, the ballgame is not how each franchise becomes successful. Although fans might watch the game, in the business of baseball, the game is only a teaser, because it gets customers in the door. Over 70% of the revenue comes from elsewhere. This revenue can be from television and streaming deals, memorabilia and merchandise, and other products outside the game itself. Baseball franchises are really selling an identity that attracts customers and shapes them to be loyal fans. Their success depends on building a recognizable brand.

Publishers of all stripes—traditional, hybrid publishers, self-publishers—would do well to take a page out of baseball’s playbook. If the ballgame equates to the book, then building a brand based on customer loyalty is key to successful publishing. Publishers are purveyors of information in many different forms, distributed through an array of channels. Book products attract customers, but those customers are really looking for the information and inspiration offered by the book. This information and inspiration shapes the identity that indulges the reader. The degree to which the publisher can reliably deliver what customers want determines their level of loyalty and thus the value of the publisher’s brand. As with winning teams attracting fans to games plus buying merchandise, great books that can speak to the author’s desire for information build the publisher’s brand. Bad books, or poor publishing, that do not deliver the content the audience seeks and that fail to enhance the company’s identity, erode a publisher’s success. Be that financial success, a stellar reputation with authors, and most importantly strong appeal to customers, the publisher either advances or declines with each new body of content. If publishers want to thrive, they need to reorient their focus from the book as a product to the information and inspiration customers desire, whether in book format or beyond.

Independent authors and self-publishers contemplating how to publish their book are wise to view their options through this lens. Publishing and selling individual books is very tangible. Doing so as one means of building your brand is an altogether different focus. The book is one piece of your platform, alongside speaking at conferences or other venues, writing and publishing blog posts, doing radio and TV interviews, creating infomercials, being an influencer on various social media platforms, and all the other things you might do to grow your brand. All of those things rolled into one are the brand of the self-publisher and formulate the identity you the author create, which attracts loyal readers in need of the information and inspiration uniquely offered by you.

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