In an effort to assist PMA members in learning some of the tricks of the trade used by surviving publishing
companies, I have decided to interview PMA members and share some of their thoughts, failures, and successes with
you. Yes, even the successful ones have failures along the way. This month, we're introducing two companies in
one--Whole Person Associates/Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers of Duluth, Minnesota. This company presents a role model,
and the principals of this company, Nancy and Don Tubesing, reflect the makeup of many PMA member publishers--people
who run a family business. The following interview was with Don Tubesing.
When and how did you begin your publishing company?
In 1969, Nancy and I developed a freshman orientation program (listening group) for Ohio University. We expanded on
the idea of the three-day orientation and decided to set up "Friendship Groups" to be used throughout the
whole quarter. Audio tape was not yet popular so we pressed a record. The record led the groups into discussions. We
had 144 groups going. By the time we got through with that project, we ended up with a manual. And I was smart
enough at that time to ensure that we owned rights to the manual and record for publication. We sold the whole
package (record and manual) for $20. We sent out 2,500 promotional pieces and sold a complete set to 420 colleges.
We earned enough money to pay our graduate school debts. Then, in 1971, we moved to Milwaukee. As Dean of Student
Affairs at a local university, I developed several interactive tape products. We were marketing these products on
the side while working at schools, and this eventually ended up supplying the down payment for our first house. We
moved to Duluth when Nancy got a teaching job in 1977, and I was going to set up holistic health centers (a
church-based center with physician) as part of a project we had begun in Chicago. The deal fell through, but like
all entrepreneurs I've ever read about, we used that canceled project to propel us into something better. There
always had been a thread of business and publishing throughout our other careers, as publishing was a sideline of
ours. We were therapists and encounter group leaders and tried to involve our teaching and education with publishing
and communicating. Whole Person Associates (WPA), our first publishing imprint, started out of a seminar company for
stress management. The majority of our books were sold in the back of the room after the seminar. Kicking Your
Stress Habit was our second publication. While the book was selling extremely well through our seminars and
via direct mail, it was hard to crack the bookstore market. In 1980, I managed to get myself booked on the Today
Show as the "Stress Holiday Doctor." I went to a regional wholesaler and told them about this
booking, but they wouldn't order books until they got an order from a bookstore. I went to my local Dalton, sold
them on the book, and they placed an order for 500 copies. I returned to the wholesaler who gave me the first lesson
of this business when I told them about the 500 copy order. They said,"Fine, send us 300." While I
appeared on the Today Show and sold all 500 copies at the local Dalton, I also discovered the futility of
trying to make money by only selling your books through the bookstore. We developed more publications out of our
seminars. We had not yet put a catalog together. Then with the cuts from the Reagan administration, our seminar
registration level started to go downhill. We experienced a 60% drop-off rate directly after the Reagan election. We
had to make a transition to keep afloat. We wrote books for other publishing companies; we packaged books for
others; we continued training. Basically we did what we had to do to stay alive. In 1982, we started to develop the
WPA (Whole Person Associates) publication line and catalog and made our living for the next four years off
this--books dealing with stress management and wellness. What we did when we first began business helped us
throughout the years. We developed a mission statement right away--using body, mind and spirit components, promoting
interaction by the reader, and focusing on stress management and wellness. We now do video courses, but we are not
selling videos. We are selling a course. It uses a 20-minute video to deliver the information, a 20-minute workbook
to help people apply the information to their own lives, and 20 minutes of group discussion. Altogether it becomes a
course. Our goal is to develop products with at least a 10-year shelf life. Our backlist is the key to our success.
Our catalog today contains more than 200 products that are marketed directly to professionals, and this is a steady
business, growing 10-15% per year. We have a very clearly defined and narrow niche. We have a few books that have
emerged from this imprint and moved into the bookstore, but 95% of WPA sales come through the catalog and/or
conferences and repeat sales.
When and why did you begin Pfeifer-Hamilton?
Nancy and I were reading a columnist's articles in the Duluth newspaper, and we found him fascinating. We decided
to publish a book in 1985 by this author, Sam Cook. Up North, a celebration of this region of the country,
was delivered to us on the nineteenth of November and had completely sold out its 5,000 copies by December 14. Small
mom-and-pop groceries stores and other local non-book outlets were our best sales points. (These books were
hardcover with jackets and sold for $14.95.) Based on this response, we knew we could sell lots more if we could get
them before Christmas. We asked R. R. Donnelley if they could please give us 2,500 more copies and they turned
around the second printing in six days. My son and another person drove all night after picking up the books at the
plant to make sure that they all got to the stores before Christmas. We decided then to publish a book a year at the
holiday time. The next year we didn't develop a book, but instead we bought 8,000 copies of a book from Random
House on the trip to the North Pole. We bought it at a 70% discount on a non-returnable basis. We marketed it to our
local area so that we could have another Christmas book. It was a success and Pfeifer-Hamilton was launched. Our
mission at P-H has been evolving. It was initially to develop books celebrating our regional area, books which could
be given as gifts to friends and relatives. P-H's publishing schedule fit well with WPA's since P-H's
busy season was during the downtime of WPA. Then we tried to leapfrog the region and go nationwide with the Bering
Bridge book. What we thought would be an outstanding success did not achieve our goals, due to a variety of reasons,
one of which being the demise of the Cold War! Then our national success developed out of a regional book, Old
Turtle. We experienced such a regional success with that book that we decided to go national again. We now
do six to eight books a year under this imprint but all of them begin and are tested regionally. Some make it to the
national level; others have success at a regional level only. Lots of authors and people with ideas began coming to
our door. Some we have published; others we have helped. Today there are 17 organizations or individuals who do
regional books in the Duluth region. The development of the Duluth publishing activity has good and bad points.
There are only 100,000 people in Duluth and we're now sharing this limited market. These last two years at P-H,
we decided to aim to be a midsize national company rather than a seasonal regional company. We've had some
success and have also found that it costs more than we can often afford. We're pulling back our horns a little
bit, focusing on Minnesota, but we will allow the books to grow by themselves outside of this region. We have
continued to develop really good books, and when we see one that has a market response that is trackable, we market
it to the extreme. Our bestsellers start regionally and grow, sometimes, nationally. To this day, we do not have a
distributor. We have a collection of wholesalers who buy from us and have a couple of rep groups to the gift area.
We hustle (using outside publicity people and our own staff) in any way we can to any person or group who will
listen. For us, the bookstore system has been wonderful. The chains have supported us. But we can't run our
company depending upon bookstore sales alone. For us, bookstore sales are "gravy," not what we survive on.
I don't think we could have paid our bills if we depended on bookstores. You must have creativity and hustle.
Those two ingredients will take you far. Only publish a book if you can define how you're going to sell it
outside of the bookstore market. We (independent publishers) have the advantage over the big publishers because we
can effectively develop the alternative markets. We should capitalize on developing this and fit our titles, when we
can, into the bookstore system.
Don ended our discussion by commenting, "I don't know really what I'll be doing in 10 or 20 years
from now, but I do know that it will in some way involve communication and publishing." That statement sums it
up for most of us!
[This article is from the PMA Newsletter for February, 1997, and is
reprinted with permission ofg ATlishers Marketing Association.]