By Andrew R. Malkin
NEW YORK CITY: Fifteen years ago, after I already had spent ten years in trade book publishing with three major houses, I thought I had figured out my dream destination: a marketing manager spot under the tutelage of Carl Lennertz, at Knopf. I had held two field sales positions for the Knopf Publishing Group in what most would argue were plum territories at the time — Southern New England and Washington, D.C. There were amazing independents and a mix of customers, a marvelous list of literary titles, authors frequenting my accounts for signings (I’ll never forget a party at Katherine Graham’s Georgetown home) and just enough travel for a single twenty-something to enjoy trips to college towns such as Northampton, MA or Charlottesville, VA.
However, shortly thereafter (before Barnes & Noble backed out of their merger attempt of Ingram in 1998), I began to think about going back for an MBA to pursue new media beyond books. More MBAs were populating trade publishing, at least at the higher levels, and I wanted to learn best practices from other industries and, ideally, walk out two years later armed with the skills of a general manager in a strategic role.
I graduated in 2001 from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management with concentrations in marketing, strategy, and organizational behavior. Needless to say, September 11th had a profound impact on job offers and openings for outgoing MBAs and I had turned down a position in category management at eBay after I had overseen the books category in the summer of 2000.
Fellow students were surprised I would not accept an offer from such a hot company at the time but I was still thinking of career change into brand management of premium wine. My supervisor at eBay had hired me to leverage my deep background in books and essentially handed over the category for me while she focused on the launch of jewelry so I devised a market strategy for what was then a $50 million business that had grown rapidly but largely in an organic way through the popularity of this C2C platform and its outspoken, active community of new and used book buyers and sellers.
While in San Jose, I analyzed the competitive landscape, engaged vertical partners for business development concepts, ran promotions and focus groups, presented on how to get started using eBay and ultimately made written recommendations to pursue growth areas based on information gathered. I nearly left books altogether to pursue my passion for wine with an importer or producer. Ultimately, I returned to publishing in 2002 after writing over a half dozen technology marketing case studies and teaching notes for Kellogg professors to use in the classroom and put into Harvard Business School’s publishing program. I owe thanks to Larry Kirshbaum who created a role for me as brand manager on franchise authors, primarily James Patterson.
This was also at a time when intuition and emotion weren’t enough in the decision-making process of acquisition or reprinting and Nielsen Bookscan’s offering was just starting to be adopted and deployed. My position was a unique integrated marketing position that cut across the company from audio and advertising to production and retail promotion. Publishing attracted me then and now not only because of the appealing people and product, but, from a career perspective, I believed, given my experience and recent education, I could make a meaningful impact. The attrition level in publishing in the early years is high, so the bench isn’t always that deep. Nearly all areas of the publishing world have interested me — whether it was international, special sales or digital. I’ve been fortunate to launch from point to point starting as a Publicity Assistant at Harper & Row in 1989 and later, VP, Trade Book Sales at Rodale in 2007 all the while embracing new opportunities and rounding myself out.
Last April, I decided to make another leap in order to expand my knowledge and experience in the book industry at a critical time. I left a trade house, Rodale, for Zinio, a digital publishing distributor known for their technology and marketing services, originating in magazines.
I soon realized that I no longer inhabited a corporate environment, but had found myself in a place full of entrepreneurial zeal, with a growing number of 100+ employees. It certainly has taken some reorientation. For example, I particularly enjoyed the badge or brand recognition while representing Random House, which helped not only so my calls would be returned or appointments would be established, but also because my accounts loved their list. My new employer, Zinio, had a presence in books powering BN.com’s “See Inside” functionality and McGraw-Hill’s e-textbook store, among other partnerships, but made the decision, with my hire, to become much more active in e-books, acquiring content around the globe and further raising their profile as a digital pioneer. Ultimately, the change has been truly energizing, not only because there is less fear and resistance to change, but because some incredible opportunities exist in the short term for digital reading.
A couple of things I like about this new position in particular (in addition to much fewer meetings) include a laser focus on doing the work rather than constantly reporting on it, more autonomy than I am accustomed to from my previous roles (results still expected for that freedom). Of course, it is dynamic since we are caught in the current of e-reading but I am learning more about formats, pricing models, DRM and connecting with niche publishers globally who I never encountered or knew of up to this point in my career.
Below are five tips that were instrumental on my career journey to date:
- Get used to career change and welcome opportunities beyond Manhattan. In 2004, many were surprised when I sold my house, and asked my wife to give up her good job to move with me to Nashville and join Ingram Book Group as VP, International. I gained perspective about effective distribution, other types of publishers beyond the Big Six dove into international sales and, in the process, had my first real opportunity to manage staff and a sizeable $125 million business. Excelling and/or enduring cultural differences is valuable and grounding too, and I know of many well-run publishers who are not in the greater New York City area. Through my various transitions, I have trained myself to look ahead and beat down any negative energy. I don’t find it productive or accomplishing anything if it doesn’t move you closer to your ultimate outcome. I also believe that once you have made a move or two (for example, I left my wonderful job and beloved city of DC for Chicago, got married and pursued my MBA, all in 1999), you are fortified and not intimidated or overwhelmed by an action or a simultaneous series of them.
- Remain open to new contacts and mentors. Both of these involve effort, but loose ties often go further to help you out. I have always selected my mentors. Reciprocity is vital, so I strive to bring something of value to them with regular meetings, and manage the friendship to facilitate our connection. My new role has provided me with introductions to agents, consultants and publishers who weren’t in my universe before, and I can learn about XML workflow, royalty rates, and much more through these relationships. Recently, I heard Seth Godin speak on his linchpin concept (http://www.squidoo.com/linchpin) and it resonated with me, especially the aspect of making human, generous interactions and becoming indispensable when you create a unique interface between your organization and the outside world.
- Get accustomed to being defined or develop universal skills. Even within the book industry, functional transitions are hard to pull off. In 1991, I moonlighted at the now defunct Upper West side location of Shakespeare & Co on weekday nights and weekends as a hardcover/mezzanine clerk. I’d wolf down La Caridad’s rice and beans during a 20-minute break and take the M79 bus home late at night after closing. It was tiring but fun, frontline experience with famous creative clientele and my packaging of sales with publicity clearly demonstrated my earnest desire to move into sales. After all, freewill ultimately requires your own exertion. Now at Zinio, I’m sometimes referred to as “The Book Expert.” However, I also consider myself a nimble, analytical and creative leader who can understand a business problem or model and offer solutions. It only gets more difficult to redefine yourself as you accumulate years of experience (that outsiders could view as specialized) without taking a step backward, potentially altering others’ perceptions of you and your capabilities.
- Read/listen more broadly (innate curiosity helps). I find value in trade publications, but try to seek out ideas from more sources, such as magazines, newspapers, conferences and podcasts. Although not immediately relevant, these can be stimulating, help you approach a problem or new business venture and, possibly, provide an applicable model. I fight hard against the widely held belief that our business is too idiosyncratic to compare to others. Connections exist that often haven’t been exploited or pursue
- Don’t get stuck into a schedule or have one role only in mind for your career ascension. Definitely keep a goal in mind but remain flexible and open-minded. I’ve known people who were promoted well before they expected it, and those who finally received a well-deserved nod after several years. Thinking at age 28 that you will be in a given role at “X” salary with “Y” responsibility only puts pressure on yourself. Remember, most of life’s events aren’t scheduled. This may not be applicable to the book business, but it exists with driven type A’s I know well. In my case, at 18, I thought I would be a business undergrad and then pursue my MBA. Instead, I switched to English and didn’t start my MBA until ten years after college. Looking back I would have excelled as an Associate Publisher or in that marketing slot at Knopf but my path has been hugely satisfying to date though I went in unexpected directions.
DISCUSS: What are your personal “best practices” for publishing career development?