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The Biggest Lesson for Association Book Publishers - 3/29/2016 -

The Biggest Lesson for Association Book Publishers

W. Paul Coates, owner of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing,shares a unique book-publishing model for associations and explains how publishers can use digital printing technology more to their advantage.

By Apryl Motley, CAE

"The big advantage that digital printing offers organizations is control of the product,” says W. Paul Coates, owner of Black Classic Press and its sister company, BCP Digital Printing. "They control the quality and quantity of the print materials that support their work.”

"Offset printing requires large quantities,” he continues. "Once you’re freed from that type of thinking, you can think more in terms of what you actually need.”

Coates founded Black Class Press almost 40 years ago to publish books by and about people of African descent. Most of the company’s niche titles only need to be produced in small quantities. Reducing both printing costs and the need for storage space through just-in-time inventory served as Coates’ primary motivation for launching BCP Digital Printing in 1995. A small team of employees, including his son and daughter, staff both companies.

Coates understands the challenges small nonprofit organizations often face when producing their print materials. "When working with smaller staffs that have limited resources, organizations often find themselves behind on their deadlines,” he explains. "For digital printers, we’re used to people coming in and saying they need the document today or tomorrow. That’s the world we live in. We can move from job to job easily, so they can deliver for their constituents.”

In this recent interview with Sidebar, Coates shares his unique perspective on how association publishers can use digital printing technology to their advantage, especially in book publishing.

Sidebar: Some might view the idea of digital printing as an oxymoron. What does the term mean to you, and how does BCP Digital embody this approach?

Coates: Digital printing has been around and available as a technology for the last 20 to 25 years. I think of digital printing as being a host of printing equipment that’s available for end users to make their jobs and choices smarter, faster, and more cost effective. I also think of digital printing as an array of strategies that customers can employ to save money and work faster. It offers an opportunity for customers to control more of their printed product and the amount of money they spend around it. More and more people understand and employ digital printing, but there’s still a large audience that isn’t aware of its advantages.

Basically, digital printers bring their customers’ quantities down to manageable levels. They are printing exactly what they need and no more, which allows their budget to be used in a way that gives them more bang for their buck.

For example, an association may not know if it needs a newsletter or book in large quantities. Digital printers can serve as print managers for nonprofits and associations. They can provide that kind of support with very quick turnaround. Now customers aren’t keeping overstock in a storage area. They can use that space for something more useful. 

Sidebar: As a book publisher for more than four decades, what's the biggest lesson that you've learned?

Coates: The big thing for me is learning and knowing the power and flexibility of using digital printing as a technology. I’m a publisher as well as a printer. I get to print the specific quantities that I need to get the job done.

I get to decide how much resources I want to invest to keep titles available — even the slow sellers. I get more control over my publishing and determine how many books will be in the marketplace. I benefit from knowing about this technology and using and reshaping it so that it serves my purpose.

Some associations stop at the technology. They’re happy that the technology is available, but they fail to see the opportunity to remake themselves in the publishing world. They don’t ask key questions: How can this save us money? What could we do with that money? How many books do we really need to have available?

Sidebar: Black Classic Press recently entered into a partnership with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History to take over production for its book-publishing arm. How did the partnership with ASALH come about, and do you think this is a model that might work for other organizations?

Coates: Between 1919 and 2005, The Associated Publishers (which officially closed in 2005) and ASALH co-published more than 125 titles. The association did not have the resources to keep these titles alive. People don’t think about all the resources it takes to keep things in print.

The partnership grew out of the association’s realization that it couldn’t maintain the book-publishing operation along with our recognition that we could help and strengthen the organization. You can do that if each party is being honest about what they bring to the partnership.

Under our partnership with ASALH, Black Classic Press will be the only officially authorized re-publisher of these works, and in that capacity, will pay ASALH a royalty and make an ongoing contribution to the association’s work. I think it’s a viable model and one other organizations should consider.

Apryl Motley is a communications consultant and freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to Association Media & Publishing’s Signature magazine and a member of its Content Creation Committee. She was assistant publisher at Black Classic Press from 1994-1998.


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