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Ordering cautious, but outlook optimistic for publishers

Even though Mississippi’s publishing firms saw a dip in fourth quarter 2001 sales, the outlook for 2002 and beyond is promising.

“Last year, we had record revenues of $2.1 million, but this year, there’s been a quiet period as retail is still in a recovery curve since Sept. 11,” said Steven B. Yates, assistant marketing manager/promotions for University Press of Mississippi. “Ordering is a bit cautious.”

Barney McKee, director of Quail Ridge Press of Brandon, said sales reached a record $3.3 million in 2000, but dropped to $2.9 million in 2001.

“Last quarter was a definite drop,” McKee said. “We were headed for another $3 million-plus year.”

Sharon Morgan, acquisitions editor for Genesis Press of Columbus, declined to disclose revenues, but said the publishing firm’s balance sheet mirrors similar trends.

“January and February are traditionally slow months in the market, but you hold on and maintain until March and April, which are turnaround months for the publishing industry,” Morgan said.

A January 2002 Publishing Trends article pointed to the effects of the economic slowdown:

• Shrinking space for book reviews in newspapers and magazines because of declining ad sales;

• Cash-strapped independent booksellers opting for just-in-time buying; and

• Sales forecasts appearing “unsettled.”

“‘Unsettled’ is a strong word,” said Yates. “It sounds as if people have quit ordering and boarded up their shops.”

Yates agreed that independent booksellers could be ordering on a just-in-time basis.

“In the past, bookstores had a long planning curve for the inventory they were going to hold,” he said. “They would go to trade shows and discover titles their customers would respond to. Then they’d place backorders well in advance. That was helpful to publishers because we could bump up the print run if we were given a four-month backorder. Some of that forecasting and advance work may have dwindled. People may be working closer to the quick.”

Nationwide, the lack of review space makes sell-through more difficult.

“We’re one of the few industries that allows vendors to return merchandise,” Yates said. “After we ship a book, the vendor will keep it for four months to a year. During that time, they can send it back for credit. Imagine what would happen if you were able to do that at Whirlpool, for example? The factory floor would be a disaster.”

In Mississippi, review space has remained steady, Yates said.

“Mississippians are very fortunate to have a literary mindset among the news media,” Yates said. “I dare say you might not have that in states like Iowa, Michigan or Ohio.”

The Publishing Trends article also chronicled national trends:

• A pruning of page counts;

• A slowdown in museum publications;

• An increase in children’s print-only books; and

• A decline in the illustrated book market;

“Quail Ridge seems to operate independently of major trends,” said McKee. “For example, Laurie Parker’s beautifully illustrated book, ‘The Turtle Saver,’ which just became available, shows every indication of being perhaps her most successful book yet and gives us a shot at that niche of inspirational books.”

The most important trend in publishing involves distribution, McKee said.

“Through your computer, you can get any book you want practically within a couple of days, so we’re making sure our books are available online at our Web site and other Internet venues,” he said.

E-books, which can be downloaded to a laptop appliance, “haven’t really taken off yet,” said McKee.

“I ordered some, but personally haven’t gotten comfortable with it, and I don’t think the general public has either,” he said.

University Press

The economic slowdown hasn’t affected projections by University Press for 2002 and 2003.

“University Press has been in a growth curve throughout its 30-plus year history,” said Yates. “We’ve expanded some of our core strengths, like the ‘Literary Conversations Series.’ We’ve added a new, but similar, product line of interviewing public intellectuals, such as ‘Conversations With George F. Kennan.’ Kennan, of course, was the diplomat who wrote the long telegram from Moscow that shaped Cold War policy and a lot of our diplomatic history from 1949 to the fall of the Soviet Union.”

University Press has garnered national attention with the “Conversations with Filmmakers Series,” which includes collections of interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Jean-Luc Godard, Martin Scorsese and most recently George Lucas, and nods from healthcare providers and caretakers for its “Understanding Health & Sickness Series,” which includes “Understanding Sickle Cell Disease,” the only layperson’s book on the disease.

Since the Jackson-based, nonprofit publisher, supported by the eight state universities, was established in 1970, more than 900 titles have been issued and more than two million individual books have been distributed. The “Mississippi Cookbook,” compiled by the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service, has been University Press’ best-selling book. Published in 1972, more than 50,000 copies have been sold. Other best-sellers have included “Photographs by Eudora Welty” and Manning Marable’s “Race, Reform And Rebellion,” which have more than 35,000 and 25,000 copies in print, respectively.

“We have 32 to 34 new titles this year, and we’re promoting all of those, of course, with an emphasis on ‘Fishing Mississippi’ by Tony Kinton, an angler’s complete guide to landing the state’s game fish,” Yates said. “In it, fish species and Mississippi lakes are broken down by chapter, and tells anglers where to land a lunker.”

On tap for 2003 from University Press:

• “Touring Literary Mississippi,” a travel book of literary landmarks, including well-known haunts like Rowan Oak and lesser known landmarks around the state;

• “Memphis,” a tour of its evolution from a rough-and-tumble river town to a revitalized New South city;

• “Lost Landmarks of Mississippi,” featuring landmarks that were destroyed by fire, age or warfare;

• “Mississippi Gardening Month-By-Month;” and

• “Haunted Places In The American South,” a guidebook about “where to get scared,” Yates said.

Quail Ridge Press

Quail Ridge, a private, regional publishing firm established in 1978, gained a national reputation through its Best of the Best state cookbook series, which led to appearances on QVC, beginning in 1997. Soon after, Quail Ridge produced the popular Hall of Fame cookbook series sold primarily through QVC, and recently completed an exclusive QVC cookbook that will be launched on the mega-popular TV shopping channel March 14.

“QVC asked us to publish the book, which was strange, because they have a publishing division of their own,” said McKee. “We took it as a tribute to how we put books together.”

Compiling the QVC cookbook was “a major task,” McKee said, which called for culling through more than 13,000 viewer recipe submissions to evaluate, test and select the 350 or so recipes featured in the cookbook.

This year, Quail Ridge, which adopted the slogan, “Preserving America’s Food Heritage,” will publish three of the remaining 10 Best of the Best state cookbooks — Oregon, Washington and West Virginia. The others — Montana, Idaho, Wyomi
ng, whic
h will probably be grouped together, Utah, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska — should be completed by 2004, McKee said.

“We’ve published a few local travel books, such as ‘All Over Louisiana’ and ‘All Over Mississippi,’ deliberately setting out to find some of the more offbeat places to feature, but travel is a very competitive area so we haven’t gotten far into that niche,” said McKee.

“We ventured out with a book about the first inductees into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, but haven’t had much success on a national basis. I don’t think we were experien

About Lynne W. Jeter

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