Guerrilla Publishing Helps Small Publisher Outrun the Big Book Industry

ISI Publications Goes Straight to Internet, Cuts Out Middlemen
Book retailing became the World Wide Web's first "killer ap," sparking an e-commerce revolution that now extends to thousands of consumer products. But despite its popularity, Internet book sales are still very much tied to the publishing industry's marketing machinery. Most publishers need 12 to 18 months to take a book from manuscript to store shelves.

ISI Publications, a specialty publisher of business and e-commerce books, is exploiting the Internet to create real competitive advantages. Established in 1991, with offices in Hong Kong, the U.K. and Bermuda, ISI can get its books to market in about three months by skipping the industry's slow-moving marketing methods and heading straight to the Internet. Sarah Barham, ISI Publications' managing director, calls it "guerilla publishing."

"Business and the Internet are moving so fast, it makes absolutely no sense to take a year or more to publish a book," Barham says. "The main thing with us is efficiency--fast turnaround and speed to market. The old book trade distribution model doesn't work for us at all. By the time a technology book got to market through conventional means, it would be 'old news.'"

B2B Exchanges, by Arthur B. Sculley and W. William A. Woods, was the first book published using Barham's guerrilla publishing. It became a business bestseller last year on the strength of good reviews and online sales. It sold 45,000 copies in English and the rights have been sold to Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Czech publishers. The paperback edition of B2B Exchanges will be released by HarperBusiness in March 2001.

Many of even the smallest publishers rely on the same sales and marketing mechanisms that large publishers use, conforming to the sales seasons and meeting at book-selling conventions, where publishers and distributors strike deals to sell books to bookstores and plan shipping schedules.

Instead of attending the book conventions, Sarah Barham sent galley proofs of B2B Exchanges to key book reviewers and worked with Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com to offer her book on-line. The book climbed those sites' bestseller lists as well, and was eventually carried by most of the major retailers, despite not using a wholesaler.

"We have no intermediaries, no warehousers, and no distributors. And we didn't lay any groundwork with the book retailers," Barham said. "The titles start gaining traction on-line, and that starts to pull sales through the bookstores. If you sell enough on-line, the retailers will track you down. The problem is that they can't break out of the traditional distribution mold."

"This whole catalog notion is absurd to me. I just can't imagine the basing of your entire business plan around the catalog cycle. With us, the whole process is content-driven. We don't have a bureaucracy deciding the fate of a manuscript. In the traditional model, the content provider is paid the least, which to me seems upside-down."

By avoiding the industry marketing channels, Barham can offer her authors more money for their work. Typically, she splits the costs and profits with the author, instead of paying an advance and royalties on sales. "With guerilla publishing we look at it as a co-venture with the author--the point here is that we are very flexible." "I come from the world of publishing technical texts for the financial market, so the speed of getting publications out was of utmost importance. Information is being generated faster and faster, and the content holder is gaining more and more power by bringing material to the public at Internet speed. We're banging the drum to have this trend recognized."

"I loved the Jason Epstein book (Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future - W.W. Norton), and the idea that a man who's been at the center of traditional publishing for fifty years is predicting the same thing, that the days of the distributor-retailer model are numbered. We're doing in our niche right now what he predicts for the future of the general book trade."

ISI Publications' guerilla publishing is supported by Bermuda-based eVentureCentre, the world's first offshore e-commerce incubator. eVentureCentre is a joint venture of a Bermuda-based member of Centre Group, part of the Zurich Financial Services Group, and Paragon, a technology applications consultancy also based in Bermuda, and the company is now poised for major expansion leveraging its author network and distribution channels built over the last decade. ISI has three new trade business books in the works. The first, Evolving E-markets, another book on the subject of business-to-business e-commerce, was released in December.

"We plan to develop the BooksOnBiz.com site into a networking association for B2B Exchanges worldwide. Kevin Kelly's second Rule for the New Economy is 'More Gives More', by which he means that the more networks you are connected to the more value you can create," says Barnham. "Feed the Plentitude!"

From the authors of B2B Exchanges, Arthur Sculley and William Woods:

"Every once in awhile, a meeting of minds occurs as several hitherto unrelated thought processes converge. For us, the catalyst was a casual discussion about our experiences with developing stock exchanges and our joint and varied experience of E-commerce companies in the New Economy. As we talked, we realized that between us we have several areas of expertise which - when combined - create a potentially powerful knowledge set for any company proposing to establish or develop a business-to-business Exchange on the Internet."

"Our securities market experiences, working with a number of stock exchanges over the last 15 years, are particularly relevant. Just as early tremors warn of an impending earthquake, the upheaval in the securities markets that Internet-based, electronic trading systems are causing is a signal of the huge changes that are to come in every major industry. The fact that electronic systems are shaking the very foundations of centuries-old stock exchange institutions should be a warning to us that no industry or company, however established they may be, will be spared. Every business will be shaken by this Internet quake."

"The more we analyzed these new business-to-business Exchanges, the more we realized that they are the "killer application" of the business-to-business revolution. These new Internet exchanges can learn a lot from the way that stock exchanges have been structured and operated over the last 300 years. And there are a lot of things that B2B Exchanges must learn from securities markets not to do - especially in the light of the economic dynamics of "increasing returns" which are shaping the New Economy."

"We have tried to set out the core principles of success for these new exchanges so that they can seize this unique opportunity and develop rapidly. In a "winner takes most" economy it is critical to move quickly and we hope that, by adopting some of the Secrets of Success described in this book, entrepreneurs that are starting B2B Exchanges can achieve their dreams. It would give us enormous satisfaction if this book were to help, at least in some small way, to influence the rapidly evolving New Economy."