This is an interview with Les Bradford and Andy Blanks, Co-Founders and Publishers at youthministry360. Both Les and Andy have years of youth ministry and product development between them.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your organization?
A: youthministry360 is a Christian publishing company that produces a variety of Bible study curriculum for churches. We also focus on training and community building through a daily blog and social media initiatives.
Q: How did you learn about Snowfall Press?
A: We had a pre-existing relationship with Snowfall’s Vice President of Sales, Dave Sheets, through previous experiences in publishing. We heard Dave talk about Snowfall for a couple of years before the right project came along to take the plunge with.
Q: What sort of publishing model do you use?
A: At the time of writing this, we’re still relatively new as an organization, less than two years old. We publish all our own resources through a variety of methods and vendors, depending on the product. We’re primarily e-commerce though we do have some titles in the trade channels.
Q: Why does the print-on-demand (POD) service fit your publishing model?
A: It offers us a ton of flexibility when it comes to cash flow and inventory. With traditional printing, there are set-up fees and, of course, accounts due. Because you have to order large quantities, it puts a burden not just on actual sales, but on innovation, as well. There are some ideas that are too big of a risk to commit to printing thousands of copies on the front end. It makes it easier to take the risk in a POD model where you don’t have to pay for or warehouse large quantities.
Q: What strategic steps did you take to make POD work?
A: For us it was waiting on the right title to test the waters with. We wanted to have a concept we thought would sell well so we could really observe how our systems would work, in terms of being able to market and fulfill orders. We work with quite a few vendors. We wanted to see how well POD would work with multiple logistical needs. We have been very pleased with the results.
Q: What types of books are you publishing?
A: We’re publishing books for adults who work with teenagers in the local church. And we’re publishing books that help teenagers develop their faith. We’re a company that puts a high value on quality and creativity. One of our concerns going in was whether or not the POD model with Snowfall would allow us to deliver on these values. We’ve been very pleased with the results.
Q: How do you currently work with authors?
A: We operate in a content rich environment. So many youth ministers are producing content, whether it is through a personal blog, or for their church services with youth. Youth ministry in general also values peer-to-peer training. And so there is just a lot of content development going on. We seek out some of these better writers and engage them in what it might be like to grow some of their ideas into book-length projects. We’re moving to a place where we will also entertain unsolicited manuscripts, but we’re not there yet.
Q: How are your books distributed and what sales channels do you focus on?
A: We operate as the publisher and provide commerce in a direct-to-consumer model (whereas in this case, the consumer is the church or the youth minister). We also have other partners selling our products, as well as some limited sales through traditional retail channels.
Q: With Snowfall’s emphasis on technology, how does this help your organization?
A: Being able to manage the supply to meet demand through the Snowfall account repository is a huge benefit. It gives us all the control we need to keep inventory as it should be. One of the biggest bonuses for us is the drop shipping (i.e., virtual warehouse) component of printing with Snowfall. For a light and lean company like us, this is a huge benefit. We’re also extremely excited about the upcoming Snowfall gateway to Facebook. Snowfall’s commitment to technology is part of why we publish with them.
Q: What types of marketing have you found to be successful, especially direct to consumer?
A: The most successful marketing we’ve done has been to offer incentives to our mailing list. Cultivating a strong email list is crucial. How this is done for various authors and/or publishers will vary. But for us, we’ve made growing and managing a healthy email database a priority. We’ve seen very good success when we have emailed our database with a special discount for being “insiders.”
Q: What marketing ideas would you recommend for other new publishers?
A: You can have the best content around, but if you don’t have an audience and/or a pipeline to an audience, it’s very challenging to move units. Maybe in the past the cream rose to the top. But in our experience, you have to have solid content and you have to be able to communicate directly with the purchaser. Direct communication for us happens mostly through social media, a daily blog, and as previously mentioned, a growing email database. I would also add that it’s important to go where your audience is. Utilize Facebook ads (they work). Comment on blogs your customers frequent. Aggregate content your audience may find useful and disseminate it through twitter, email, and blogs. And, don’t underestimate the importance of SEO (search engine optimization). If you can generate organic search engine traffic or even pay for some ad words, you’ll find you can bring in an audience that is primed for your message.
Q: What advice do you have for other publishers considering POD?
A: I would challenge them to consider what it would look like to in their projections (especially as it pertains to cost of goods and obsolescence) if they were to have a number of their titles in the POD model. For us, and for the other publishers using Snowfall (whom we’ve talked with!), it has opened up a creative solution for publishing that has provided us with flexibility and a new way of generating revenue. It’s a simple model to learn and adapt to. We’ve been very pleased.
For more information about youthministry360, join them on online at youthministry360.com.