An Interview with Steven Spatz, President of BookBaby

SPR’s CEO Henry Baum has a an exclusive conversation with the President of BookBaby, Steve Spatz, about all things self-publishing and the way forward for BookBaby, as they announce a new collaboration with Blue Ash Publishing.

Steve Spatz
Steven Spatz, BookBaby

Tell us a little about yourself and BookBaby.
I’ve been with AVL – the parent company for all our brands – for almost 10 years, heading up the marketing for most of our music brands like Disc Makers and Oasis. I was somewhat involved with the launch of BookBaby in 2010, but as the brand grew slowly over the next 18 months, so too did my interest. I started out my professional life as a journalist and writing is in my DNA. My involvement has grown to the point where I’ve recently been named President of the brand. I can’t wait to devote 100% of my time in growing this amazing brand.

BookBaby’s tagline really says it all – we help writers publish, promote and sell their books. Both printed and eBooks. Note that I said “writers” and not “authors.” Anyone who can put their thoughts, opinions, hopes, dreams, rants, memories and any other rational (or irrational) thoughts into electronic format is a prospect for BookBaby.

How does BookBaby compare to the indie music counterpart CDBaby? Is the same team working on both?
CD Baby is our sister company. Just mentioning CD Baby was one of our best selling angles when the BookBaby was brand new. And it still helps put our business into context because all the ‘Baby brands are focused on helping the independent “content creator” – not the sexiest of terms but it works – get their content into the marketplace. That includes musicians, filmmakers and now authors through BookBaby. Many of the same people work on both brands in the technical and back end of the business. The publishing business requires its own set of customer service experts, and we have teams in both Portland and New Jersey who specialize in eBook and Printed Book support.

BookBaby’s main competitor seems to be Smashwords. What separates BookBaby from what Smashwords offers?
Smashwords is one of the pioneers of the self publishing industry and we are huge admirers of what Mark Coker and his company have achieved over the years. Smashwords focuses exclusively on eBooks and its own retail store, with limited distribution elsewhere. Meanwhile BookBaby is much more of a one-stop-shopping experience for self published authors. We provide a comprehensive list of products and services, from printed books and eBooks, to cover design and author websites. Both companies have “free” options for eBook distribution, but BookBaby offers a zero commission option in our Premium eBook publishing package. I think the biggest difference is that BookBaby gives its authors great promotional tools through BookPromo.

BookBaby offers many tools for self-published authors

Interestingly, BookBaby also offers a print option. How does this compare to POD services like Lulu and Createspace, or ordering books in bulk from a printer? The old problem with book printing was having a garage full of unsold books.
We do not currently have a POD option that fulfills our quality control standards. Everything that BookBaby produces or touches comes with a 100% money back guarantee. None of the current vendors in this space can meet this standard and we’re working on our own solution. However we do offer very short-run printed book offers, including as few as 25 books in a package. Unless you have a very tiny garage, this wouldn’t really fill up much space if they go unsold. But every serious author needs an inventory of 50-100 books for signings, sending out to friends, family, etc.

Streaming has taken over the music industry, and some say damaged it by lowering royalties for artists. Do you think the same thing could happen to indie books?
It might. But the longer we’re in the publishing business, the more I think the two creative industries are more different than alike. If I would have drawn a Venn diagram in 2010 of the book and music industries, I think I would have two mostly overlapping circles. But today those two circles only overlap in a few ways.  The differences start right with the creator themselves. Most musicians perform on a stage in public; writers toil in a mostly solitary existence, away from the glare of bright lights and attention. And the differences go on from there.

What do you see as the future of self-publishing. JA Konrath talks about the “death spiral” for traditional publishing. Do you see big time mainstream authors self-publishing? Do you think traditional publishing could become obsolete?
I love Konrath’s blog – I send authors there all the time for inspiration and knowledge. Being from the music business, we’ve seen how this played out with the big label record companies. I want to think that the big publishers would have learned from the mistakes of their creative brethren but that doesn’t appear to be the case. I was recently at the Writer’s Digest Conference – where we unveiled our new collaborative effort called Blue Ash Publishing  – and I listen to many authors tell me about their goal of finding an agent and publishing deal. But when we talked about the many benefits of self-publishing (published much faster, paid more, all the control and ownership stays with the author), I could almost hear the cogs in their brands spinning in a different direction. Many of the best and brightest authors are going to go it alone, and this talent drain is eventually going to weaken the traditional publishers’ grip.

With the last major bookstore chain – Barnes & Noble – teetering on the edge, the big publishers’ advantage in brick and mortar placement for authors may well disappear. If all that’s left is online book stores well — talk about leveling the playing field. We have an internal motto in both the music and book business: We’re here to make the little guy look big. We can create book covers, help authors with meta data, give them promotional tools – in short, BookBaby gives its authors every advantage to getting discovered in the marketplace.

What are the biggest problems you’ve seen with book marketing for authors?
I think most authors loathe marketing. I did a talk a couple of years ago at the Philadelphia Writer’s Convention titled: Think Like A Marketer. The talk centered on how authors have to put down the ‘pen’ (wow, that dates me) and pick up the marketers’ hat. They need to look at their book as if it’s a product, a commodity. In my PowerPoint presentation, I showed pictures of books opposite such basic staples of human life as dog food, laundry soap and toilet paper. I looked out at the audience during this slide and saw a lot of shocked and sad faces. Surprisingly – I was not invited back to speak again. : )

It’s a harsh reality that self published authors need to know and understand some marketing basics in order to give their books a chance to be discovered. We saw this need last year and came up with a very good solution. Every BookBaby author receives a free suite of marketing and promotion services in a packet called BookPromo. Remember earlier when I said that BookBaby doesn’t sell anything that it couldn’t guarantee 100%? Well, marketing falls into that category. We thought about creating some paid marketing services and products, but at the end of the day we couldn’t put that same ironclad guarantee on such a subjective area as markting. So instead of selling BookPromo – we give it away. Free reviews, placements on book discovery sites, and much more. It’s up to each author to full utilize these free tools. BookPromo alone isn’t the answer for most authors but it’s a terrific start to teaching them how to market.

How do you think ebook tech is going to change? More audio, more video? Could books become like long-form web pages? Will ereaders change significantly in the coming years?
I think this industry is full of surprises, both good and bad. I would have thought by 2014 it would be a simple thing to convert files into ePub and .mobi. As easy as converting a PDF. But it’s still a challenge for a lot of authors. People have been talking about enhanced eBooks with video and sound. It’s possible right now. But you have to have the content! That’s the hard part.

What’s in the pipeline for BookBaby in terms of marketing platforms or distribution partners?
We’re constantly working to provide our authors with new opportunities for discoverability. BookPromo will continue to grow and evolve – it’s been a slam dunk winner for our authors. We’re looking to add additional quality distribution partners, especially in Asia.

I’ll leave you with one important point. We talk about Traditional Publishing VS Self Publishing. But it doesn’t need to be an Either/Or kind of thing. A would-be author who has a manuscript today can and should try both self- and traditional publishing. If he/she wants to eventually find an author and publisher, the very best way for that to happen is to launch their literary career on their own. Get out into the marketplace with their own self published work. Learn the industry, create your own following and make a little money all at the same time. In that same time span, the author can be sending out query letters to agents to chase down that dream. Assuming the content is good, agents will be more interested in an author who already has their own built-in audience as a starting point.

To learn more about BookBaby’s partnership with Self-Publishing Review, take a look at BookBaby’s BookPromo page

BookBaby Website