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Should Your Association be Publishing Books? - 6/4/2014 -

Pilson, CAE
Get to know Barry S. Pilson, CAE, director of marketing and membership for TESOL International Association, the leading association for advancing excellence in English language teaching. Here, Pilson talks about the value of a book publishing program and how some associations may be missing out on a good opportunity.

By Carla Kalogeridis 

Q: What is TESOLís activity in the book-publishing arena?

Pilson: We publish about 6-10 books a year. We just got started in e-books about 18 months ago. Our initial e-book offering was a conversion of our 10 best-selling print books. Weíre getting good interest, so now we are going back and converting more of our print books to digital, mostly new releases.

Q: Will the sales cover the cost of producing the e-books?

Pilson: We outsource the e-book production, so weíre still figuring out if sales will cover costs. But the first-copy costs for the print books now includes the cost of the e-book conversion, so technically, any e-book sales should be gravy. We sell our softcover print books for $32-$40, and the e-books are $12.99 for members and $18.99 for non-members. We donít need to sell a lot of e-books to cover those costs,

Q: How are members responding to the e-books?

Pilson: Some are excited that we finally have e-books. Some folks bought the entire first collection of e-books as soon as they were available. But my perception is that while people are comfortable buying e-books for personal use, thereís still a large group who prefer print books for work-related research and learning. If a book is bought by an institution, it is almost always bought in print. As our new releases are now made available in both formats, it will be interesting to see how print book sales do.

Q: Do you think the association community in general takes advantage of opportunities in book publishing?

Pilson: Most educational, medical, and science groups have been involved in book publishing for years, but there are good opportunities for other associations to publish books too. You have a certain knowledge base and members who could be great authors. If you have information that is not research-based, which means perhaps itís instructional or more evergreen in nature, then that might be good information for a book. Weíre been reprinting some of our books for the last seven years. More importantly, there are many publishers out there that are looking for the association imprint on a book to add value and credibility.

Q: What deters associations from publishing books?

Pilson: Usually itís production costs and maybe a lack of understanding what a good book publishing business model looks like. A great way to get started is to co-publish a book with another organization. They want your associationís good name and brand on the book, so they will often do much of the production for you. Co-publishing a book with another association or commercial publisher gives them clout in your field.

Q: How important are books to TESOLís publishing strategy?

Pilson: Books are crucial to our publishing strategy, but we donít know if they are going to be a big revenue source. If the profits turn out to be lower than expected, it will be because the production costs are high compared to what our members are willing to pay for the books. However, we are looking for ways to repurpose much of the content as it is digitized.

But one thing we know for sure: In order to be who our members expect us to be, we must publish books.

Carla Kalogeridis is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing.


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