I had the opportunity to interview Los Angeles Times Best Selling Author and long time publishing executive Lawrence Dorfman. Mr. Dorfman’s thirty years of publishing experience includes such names as Simon and Schuster, Penguin USA, and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. During his publishing career, Mr. Dorfman oversaw multiple multi-million dollar accounts. Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Dorfman is the author of five books including the brilliantly sarcastic Snark Handbook series. It’s these accomplishments that led me to choose Mr. Dorfman for this negotiation interview. His experience and knowledge in the publishing field along with his expertise in negotiation make him an ideal candidate.
In the publishing business, what are some day-to-day negotiation challenges you face when dealing with prospective buyers?
Most of the negotiation revolves around how many copies the chain, distributor or stores need to carry. Many of the questions asked during a sales call involve the plans the publisher has for the book(s)…will there be marketing and publicity? Will the author do signings? Will there be advertising? What are the plans for driving customers into the stores to look for a specific title? Once you’ve established that criteria, you can then begin to negotiate the depth of inventory needed as well as the timeliness involved. Should there be a big stack on a table upfront or is the marketing something that will take place over a longer period of time and therefore won’t need lots of copies. We use a tool called “co-op”, which are funds the account earned based on total sales that go towards a shared promotion of those books with that account.
What mutual benefit do you hope to gain from these negotiations for yourself and for the prospective buyer?
The benefit we both hope to gain is a solidly clean sell-thru of our books. This industry operates on a 100% returnable model, meaning anything that an account buys that doesn’t sell can be returned to the publisher within a reasonable amount of time. It’s a carryover from a different time when fewer books were written and published. It basically guarantees a “no-risk” investment for the buyers but they are also judged on keeping “returns” to a minimal, as there are costs involved even in returning product. It also impacts open-to-buy budgets and space in the stores. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to be as precise as possible.
When soliciting buyers there is a shared interest in preserving a relationship between yourself and said buyer, so how do you go about creating a mutually acceptable agreement during the sales process?
Any sales relationship is one that is based on a variety of factors. Knowledge, honesty, follow-through are some of the important ones. No buyer wants to feel that a sales person is only concerned about quotas and themselves or their company with no regard for what the buyer needs. It’s a fine line to walk to find that middle ground where a buyer feels the final negotiation creates a win-win for all involved. Fairness is expected, on both sides.
Looking for mutual gain in any negotiation is very important. Since success for you in a negotiation depends upon the other side making the decision you want, what are some shared interests you look for when looking for possible buyers?
It’s a little different in the book business because there is a unique aspect too much of the product. A buyer can only get the new Stephen King or the new John Grisham from their specific publisher. That said, there is always the option to buy from middleman distributors, albeit at a lower margin. The primary shared interest is in making a profit off the sales of books into the market.
How do you enter a negotiation and what tactics do you use to achieve your overall goal(s)?
Much of the key to negotiation happens long before you ever sit down with a decision maker. Knowledge of your product, knowledge of your account base, knowledge of the marketplace and, most important of all, knowledge of the needs and constraints your buyer(s) are under. One of the best books on the “art” of negotiation is Getting To Yes. That is truly the key question to ask: How do you get a buyer to say yes to what you’re asking for? The main tactic is as stated – compete and total knowledge of everything involved so you can make the buyer feel this is the absolute best decision he or she can make.