(1,500 words)


by Gordon Burgett



From the ASJA Newsletter, December 2000. pp. 3-4

ASJA is the American Society of Journalists and Authors 


Electronic publishing can be a godsend in the niche publishing field, where self-publishing is almost always the method of choice and selling is rarely through bookstores and to libraries.

It allows us to create a parallel product line to profitably meet more needs a different way.

What follows is an actual example of that currently being done. It could easily be modified to meet your present or future needs.

After writing Publishing to Niche Markets, I sought a test case to apply the books TCE (target-customize-expand) method. (In fact, I went beyond the call of duty and married the author of that book, Standard Operating Procedures for All Dentists!)

We zeroed in on a need that all dentists have (sensible, consistent office procedures), found the best mailing list brokers, and did a market test to see if the dentists would spend money to meet that need. The results told us to produce the book!

The first edition, five years ago, was an 8 " x 11" perfect bound trade paperback, with the contents also provided in an accompanying disk (for IBM or Mac), so each page could be customized to the buyers practice. By the fourth and current (2000) edition, it had grown to 487 pages in a three-ring binder, with an easier-to-use diskall at twice the price.

Around that core book we built five supplemental SOPs books, now in three-ring binder format with disk, to meet the additional clinical needs of orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, oral surgeons, and pediatric dentists. Plus we added two related books in three-ring binder style (with disks)Standard Marketing Procedures for All Dentists and Get Paid for Your Servicesand a pair of cloth books about dental risk management and designing the perfect dental practice.

The product line was completed by four staff meeting audio cassette programs and an 80-minute, seven-part video that helped the dentist implement the SOPs program in their office.

In the past five years, though, publishing has changed significantly. No longer must we print a thousand bound books, hoping to hit profit at 300 or 400. With PQN, we can now produce 25 or 50 of the core books at a time, order the binders in four-box lots, and have 500 of the colored binder covers run and ready for insertion when the product is assembled and shipped. If demand gets slow for the specialty supplements, we may even produce them POD.

The greatest impact, we feel, will be through electronic publishing, particularly since we are already half-way there by providing disks with all but our cloth books. Which is why we will have every printed product available in both ink-on-paper and virtual forms by the end of 2000.

The change at D.C.U. actually had little to do with the publishing industry. Our buyers simply told us what they wanted, and technology was suddenly available to make it possible.

The first electronic push came from New Zealand when a dentist described his plight by email. (A bit of background: we had sold the first two paper trade editions widely in Australia and New Zealand before our distributor moved on.) The dentists buddy had our book, he wanted it, and he understood that we now sold it directly, but the three-ring binder holes were different there and even if they werent, to get it by airread "in his lifetime"would cost $49 to ship. He ended his plight by noting that the local currency had just slipped below Mexicos in buying power!

"Why couldnt I send it to you as an email attachment?" I asked, having no idea if it was even possible.

"Great! When?" he replied.

I gulped and promised it in a month or sooner.

For much longer a small but persistent segment of our American dental buyers had gently attacked the sacredness of the whole book with pesky questions: Can I buy one chapter? Can you reassemble it differently? Why cant I just buy two or three standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Most of the questioners were young dentists long on dreams but short on cash. Others wanted a more manageable sample around which to develop their office procedures manual.

Occasionally we would assemble smaller components, and we posted a dozen free samples on the website ( Finally, we were forced to wrestle with heresycould we pull the big book apart and sell it in different formats without puncturing the heart of the SOPs process (and our coffers)?

Our biggest problem still remains: we simply believe that the binder book works best for the dentist. So our primary efforts will continue to be directed at its sale.

But for those who simply didnt want the whole car but were hot for the fenders or hood, we worked from the core outward. The whole book was simply too large to sell as an attachment, so we broke it into its seven sections (the opening three chapters in one, the rest a chapter apiece), then took apart the "forms" chapter at the end and appended the appropriate forms to each section.

While we were at it, we could identify seven critical functions in the dental office that we addressed in the core booksuch as appointment scheduling, back office equipment, and patient relations. So we reassembled all subject-related SOPs and forms into seven new topic packets.

And finally we identified 193 SOPs and 47 forms that stood alone and could be sold individually, for $3 each, minimum of five please!

The attachment format presented a wee problem since we wanted the buyers to be able to download the product, call up the component SOPs or forms, and rework them to conform to their own needs. Adobe Acrobat wouldnt work since most dentists dont have the 4.0 version needed to alter the downloads. Our decision was to produce all attachments in Microsoft Word 7.0 because 93% of our buyers use IBM/compatible computers. (Word 7.0 is also compatible with WordPerfect 6.1 or higher.)

To make the transfer simple, we used both a WinZip compression and extraction program to tie the individual SOPs (each in its own file for quick modification) together into an easily attached .exe file, with the e-mail thanking the buyer and instructing them how to find and open the items attached.

We will use Adobe Acrobat, incidentally, for the cloth books, and direct them to the free reader download, since there is no reason to alter either text.

How do we get paid? Before the transfer, with of course a guarantee of satisfaction. When ordered, the buyer gives us the needed VISA or Mastercard information, or mails a check.
And how does the dental world know that this new format and product exists? Promotions always the rub.

Since we are just completing the creation of the parallel virtual line, we have so far limited ourselves to sending an update postcard to all former U.S. buyers (the response paid for the mailing in five days) and, to our Down Under clientele, we sent full selling letters after the Olympics ended. Those letters are just arriving as this report is being written.

We will redo our selling brochures, contact the dental publications, keep information about the new products current on the web, and both tell our distributors of the changes to date and provide even more information as the total electronic line unfolds. All future selling will begin by explaining the two ways they can buy our products.

Will the new electronic line affect our prices? Yes, in three ways now, with more future thinking and testing as both lines emerge in final form: (1) our clients currently upgrading can buy either format at 20% off while we initially offer the new eline, (2) the electronic version costs about 10% less since neither shipping nor tax are involved, and (3) buying the core book in sections costs more than the three-ring version simply because we think the latter makes more sensealthough if they buy many sections, then want the remainder to equate a master book, we will give them a rebate (or the rest of the sections free) once they reach the core book price.

Its too early to tell what percentage of our sales will come from ink-on-paper or through email attachments, but a quick guesstimate is 15-20% in the first year. Weve yet to fully explore the potential abroad, where a dentist in any corner of the world can have our product on hand or usable within an hour of orderingor immediately. And we have likewise only begun to identify those areas where future editions will link to a far richer electronic trove of digital photographs, office designs, animated practice procedures, even workshops and one-on-one consulting, as the Web continues to evolve and downloaded digital products likewise grow in sophistication.

E-publishing isnt salvationwe must still produce quality ideas and text, then get others to buy itbut it certainly opens up exciting and profitable paths for niche publishers eager to share specific information with a pre-qualified readership.

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Gordon Burgett

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