Creating a Better World | Steve Persanti

 

About Steve Persanti

Steve Piersanti is president and publisher of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., a leading independent publisher of progressive books on current affairs, personal growth, and business and management. Berrett-Koehler pursues its mission of “Creating a World That Works for All” by publishing groundbreaking books that promote positive change at all levels – individual, organizational, and societal.

Steve received the “Champion of Workplace Learning and Performance Award” from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) in 2003. The five previous annual recipients were Jack Welch of General Electric, Thomas Stewart of Fortune Magazine, Robert Galvin of Motorola, John Chambers of Cisco, and Fred Smith of FedEx.

In October 2013 Steve received jointly with Berrett-Koehler Publishers the “Organizational Excellence in OD Award” given by the Organization Development Network. Steve was the third individual and Berrett-Koehler the fourth organization in the world to win this award since it was inaugurated in 2011 to recognize organizations and individuals that have demonstrated a sustained commitment to organization development and organization effectiveness.

Steve has served as the keynote speaker at a variety of different book industry conferences sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, PubWest, the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Prior to founding Berrett-Koehler in 1992, Steve served as president of Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, a publisher of books and periodicals on business and management, education, health care, public administration, the nonprofit sector, and the behavioral sciences. He began his career at Jossey-Bass in 1977 as a promotional copywriter, then served as marketing director, editor, editorial director, and executive vice president before becoming president in 1989. He founded the Jossey-Bass Management Series, which became the company’s largest and most profitable publishing program, and he helped develop the Health Series, Nonprofit Management Series, and Public Administration Series.

Previously, Steve worked for short periods as a magazine advertising sales representative and door-to-door book salesperson. He graduated with Highest Honors from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in University Studies. While in school, he founded, published, and edited a university student scholarly journal.

 

Interview Transcript:

Alan
Welcome back. I’m here today with Steve Persanti. He is the president and the chief publisher of Berrett Koehler publisher in San Francisco. Welcome to today’s show.

Steve
Thank you very much,

Alan
Steve. So can you give me your background how you got to where you are today?

Steve
Well, in college, I started a student scholarly journal. And that got me very interested in publishing, I realized I was learning more I enjoyed it more than anything else I was doing in school. So then I got a job. My first job out after college was as a advertising copywriter at Josie bass publishers in San Francisco and then I moved up to the marketing director eventually became an editor, then moved over to the executive side became executive vice president and president of Josie bass publishers in San Francisco. I left there in 1991, and founded Berrett Koehler publishers in 1992. And I’ve been at Americolor ever since.

Alan
And, you know, the how big is spirit Kohler today?

Steve
Well, we have 26 employees, we publish about 35 to 40 new books a year, we’re what would be called a midsize book publisher. And we’ve, we’ve been a very successful publisher.

Alan
And what year did the company start

Steve
1992? We were founded. So we’re almost finished with 22 years in business.

Alan
So what does it take to publish a book today?

Steve
Well, of course, it begins with an author who has a manuscript who has an idea, but book publishing is a very complex business, because there are so many different moving parts in creating a book, from the the editorial side, the design and production side, the printing, sales and marketing, creating marketing channels, you have to do pretty much everything you have to do on any other product introduction in any industry to bring a book out into the marketplace. But yet books don’t have as much revenue, as most other kinds of products, that typical book might have 100,000 or 200,000 $300,000, of revenue, and you do all of those other things that you do in launching any other kind of a product.

Alan
So first and coming, you say, Hey, can you publish my book, it’s not that easy.

Steve
No, we get about 1500 book projects proposed to us a year we only publish 35 to 40. And so we have to be highly selective. Because most of the ideas that authors bring to us with books, either they’re not a good fit with our list, or the the market for them would not be large enough to make it a profitable project for us to publish. And so we have to be highly selective. And then we have to work with authors to shape and reshape the book so that they’re going to succeed in the marketplace.

Alan
So essentially, in the in your business model, what’s happening is that your company once you select, but you making a tremendous investment into the production and release of the book.

Steve
Yeah, every book that we publish, we make an investment editorially, in terms of time and an effort of shaping the book, we we hire outside manuscript reviewers who are prospective readers of the book to help make the book better. We bring in professional copywriter, and then our staff provides coaching and guidance to the authors. And and then we’ve got the design, investment of designing the cover designing the interior production in terms of creating the the page proofs and the indexing, grading, doing the proofreading and preparing for the printer, the printing of the book, and then many investments on sales and marketing side.

Alan
Now I want to turn this back to you as the leader of the company, the visionary, what is your leadership style? And how do you manage the company?

Steve
Well, Barrett color is well known within the book publishing world for being one of the more author friendly book publishers and so our whole culture whole approach is to work very collaboratively with authors to have authors participate in many aspects of creating their books in ways beyond what is the norm in book publishing, such as in selecting the title in the cover design, in the marketing plans to the marketing campaign. And within the company. We have a very participative management style Though, in that all of our staff are involved in major decisions concerning the company, as well as other stakeholders, our our basic philosophy is that our company needs to be operated in the interest of all of our stakeholders and by stakeholders, I mean our employees, our authors, our service providers, or suppliers or customers, or sales partners, the communities around us. And so we’ve set up the company so that we can involve all of our communities or stakeholders.

Alan
And visiting here today with the C Prasad as he is the president and the chief publisher of Berrett Koehler, publishing up in San Francisco. See, we need to take a quick break, and we’ll be back after these messages. I love fishing with my family. I think it’d be easier to use a net it was so much fun. The times when we are together, it makes it all all the more worth it. Having dad teach them how to like cast a fly rod and as long as we’re doing stuff together, we’re having fun. Some people see a father and his son fishing together, while others see a succession plan. Welcome back and busy here today with Steve Asante. Steve is the president and the chief publisher at Berrett Koehler publishers up in San Francisco. Steve how to selling books door to door earlier in your career help to prepare you for running your own company.

Steve
Well, I think it was one of many jobs that actually helped to prepare me. I mean, when I was eight or nine years old, I had a lemonade stand at the only service station, the little town where I lived. And so I had many different jobs. I don’t think that selling books door to door particularly helped me more than just teaching me salesmanship and teaching me how to how to go out and really pound the pavement and make things happen.

Alan
And were you working for a publisher or who you’re working for at the time.

Steve
It was a company that had a sets of illustrated scripture stories. And so it was a summer job basically trying to earn money going through college.

Alan
Not easy to do door to door.

Steve
No, that was tough.

Alan
But I’m sure you’ve helped with life’s experience there.

Steve
Right meaning they’re just teach him a different sales approaches sales techniques, I learned a lot of the basics of of salesmanship.

Alan
So what is colors, current life and business initiatives?

Steve
Well, so our mission bear colors mission is creating a world that works for all. And we believe that in order to create a world that works for all we need to have change, positive change at the individual level, at the organizational level and at the societal level. So therefore we have three publishing agendas. One is called BK life, which is about positive change at the individual level. One is called BK business, which is about change at the organizational level. And one is BK current, which is about change in communities in nations and society.

Alan
So when you organize your organization basically is broken down into it at a team. Could these be called different teams within the organization are?

Steve
No, they’re more just publishing agendas, we publish books, those are the kinds of books that we publish. And so our staff actually works on all three kinds of books and our editors work on all three. But but they’re more how that how it’s reflected in the marketplace. Within bookstores, the different books will go into different sections of bookstores, within publicity contexts each have their own sets of magazines or newspaper editors or journalists that are more interested in personal development or in business or leadership or in current affairs.

Alan
How has technology changed the landscape of your industry today?

Steve
Well, technology has been huge. And of course, the big news in the last five or 10 years has been the growth of digital publishing. Bear color was one of the early movers in this area within book publishing. When Apple launched the iBooks Store, we were one of the seven publishers that had books there on day one as they opened it. We were one of the first publishers to create a digital community builder function. It now represents about 20% of our revenues, which is very high for nonfiction book publishing. So it’s been a major part of our business.

Alan
The the, the time to market I guess I you know, when I when I talk about or think about the industry. You know, I see a lot of the consolidations of the bookstores and it just seems that digital is really you know, the way people act today’s more getting in on the iPad or the Kindle, rather than going into physical store.

Steve
Yeah, well it looked for a time as digital was just rocketing up in sales over the last several years it looked like it was going to push print out. But actually what’s happened now is this year, digital has kind of flattened, it’s kind of plateaued. And so and so print is not going away. We’re moving into a market where there are many different formats of books, including hardcover, paperback, digital, and all coexisting and different people like different formats and many people buy both. They buy both digital and print and so that’s good for the industry.

Alan
I’m visiting here today with Steve Persanti. Steve is the president and the chief publisher at Berrett Koehler books, Steve, we need to take a quick break. And we’ll be right back after these messages talking more about the state of the industry with the book publishing.

Alan
Welcome back. I’m here with Steve Persanti. Steve is the president and the chief publisher of Berrett Koehler books. And we were talking about the state of the industry for the publishing and you know, see what was a little surprising to me, because I’m probably not as close as I think I am to the industry of you know, I see the Kindle come out, I see the iPads command, I think everything is going digital. And then and then you brought the point out that it went up digital to a point but now the paper that the hardbacks and paperbacks are really coming back in style again. What do you see for the future? Where are we going to be three to five years from now? How are people going to get through the get the material that you publish?

Steve
Well, for the last nine years, I’ve been updating a document each year called the 10 Awful truths about book publishing. And now this document has been viewed hundreds of 1000s of times. But what it tells us is that the book industry has been in very challenging times. Because revenues in book publishing peaked in 2007. And they’ve gone down since then. But the number of products being published, the number of new books being published as mushroom has doubled or tripled over the same period of time, particularly with the growth of self publishing. And so what you have within book publishing, is evermore books being published, while the revenues of either flattened or gone down. And so what that has meant is that it’s harder and harder to sell any particular book. So the upshot of that is that authors have become much more involved in marketing their books than they used to be. And that’s how publishers have basically survived is that authors are doing much more of the marketing. So that’s, that’s going to continue going on, it just becomes so easy to publish books, to through desktop publishing, through Amazon, through other means that anyone can publish a book. And so the challenge for book publishers is, is to create more brands and to distinguish what they’re doing from from the huge numbers of self published books and other books coming out in the marketplace.

Alan
So when when you publish a book, The require the author to make a certain amount of appearances or showings with their books to promote them.

Steve
Every publisher today pays a lot of attention to what does the author bringing to the table for marketing? Are they speaking? Do they have regular speaking engagements? Do they appear on the media? Do they have lots of social media context? Are they very active on social media? Do they write articles? How are they what are they going to bring to the table to help get the message to the book out there? What other communities how do they connect with their communities? We do that also we that’s an important consideration for any book publisher and we probably go beyond most and and really working with authors to help leverage those connections that they have.

Alan
You know, in. In your industry, as you see this change the technology constant changes. Are there things that keep you up at night or do you see obstacles that stand in your way of a hurdle? Yeah, we got to get through that are things that you you know, the basic the challenges of the industry. I guess what I’m asking.

Steve
I think the challenge is is just the all the other media that are competing for people’s attention besides books today. people get their information from the internet, they get their information from their iPad, they get their information from so many other sources. And, and so trying to continue to just stay ahead of that. And you know, what’s the role of the book and all this. Thankfully, what’s happened is that books long form content is continue to hold its value. Unlike what’s happened, for example, newspapers, we’re not seeing the same thing happen in book publishing. That’s the good news. The challenge, though, is that there are so many competing sources of information for people to have and so you really have to make books even better and and work harder to get them out there to compete in this in the cities marketplace.

Alan
How does that audiobooks play into your your company? Are you doing that also are?

Steve
Yeah, most of our books, or many of our books are also available in audio formats, we sell audio rights to companies that specialize in audio books. And that’s an important source of revenue. For us, it’s an important way to get the messages of the book out there. And of course, what’s happened in recent years is digital audio has become bigger and bigger, as an as an area of people how people are getting listening to books.

Alan
You know, I noticed that Siri will even read you the your, your emails, me I didn’t realize she did digital books also are.

Steve
We’re continually doing new experiments on publishing. So for example, one of the experiments we’re doing now is is what’s called enhanced eBooks, where they are what’s embedded within the books or video clips, video segments, or audio clips, audio segments, we have a book, for example, called full voice, which is about the different voices that people use. And that that has clips of demonstrating the different voices right in the book. And so there we embed self assessments in books there lots of new ways of enhancing books.

Alan
You know, what advice would you have for budding author?

Steve
Well, the most important thing is, is to build a community. A lot of people think that you publish a book, and and then you try and get people interested in the book, you first have to that isn’t the way it works, you first have to build a community that that’s interested in the work you’re doing that you have connected, you’re connected to them, you’re speaking before them, you’re and then once you built your community, then you can publish the book. It’s almost opposite of what many authors think.

Alan
What is so many the favorite books that you publish over the years.

Steve
But one of our favorite books is called stewardship. It was a book we published in 1993, year after we were incorporated. And it still guides our company very close, unusual in that we eat our own cooking, we try and learn from the books we publish. And Stewardship is a major part of how we run our company to two. We run the company in the interest of all of our stakeholders. And that’s the the the idea of stewardship, that we’re trustees accountable to everyone who is the author to do that. But Peter block and we’ve gone on to publish several other books by peer blockades if we try and continue to work with our our best authors over and over again.

Alan
Steve, we need to take a quick break. And we’ll come back after these messages.

Alan
Welcome back. I’m here today with Steve Persanti, he is the president and the chief publisher of Berrett Koehler book publishers in San Francisco. Thank you for all this good advice in the background with the company the book publishing today. Steve, what what does it mean to you to be successful?

Steve
Well, within book publishing, you’re successful in one way just by being financially sound by meeting all of your obligations by earning a profit by running a fiscally sound business. In another way book publishing, you’re successful by the the impact you’re having in the world. Are your books making a difference in people’s lives? Are they in our case are the books helping communities, nations societies, deal with social justice or economic justice or become better helping leaders be better leaders helping organizations be more effective? helping individuals live true to their values. So, so it’s the individual impact of different books. That is a major way that we measure success.

Alan
And how when you’re measuring that success, is it by the number of books sold? Is it by the, you know, the articles that you know, third party, yet the news media’s are picking up? How do you measure that?

Steve
Well, it is by the number of books sold, it’s also by how those books are bringing about change in the world. So for example, we have a book called Future search, which is about a powerful way of helping communities organizations plan for the future. And this book, over 4000, people have been trained to use the principles methods in the book. And indeed, those methods have blessed the lives of 10s of millions of people around the world in all parts of the world, because of of using the methods in the book, and so that that’s the kind of way that we want to make a difference in the world.

Alan
Of all your accomplishments, which what are you most proud of?

Steve
I must proud of the fact that bear color has stuck to our values, our principles, our commitment, even during tough times. So for example, in 2008 2009, during the Great Recession, it was tough times for book publishers and we like other publishers, our revenues declined, something like two thirds of book publishers, laid off employees, we didn’t lay off any employee. Instead, we, as we worked with our whole company, our whole staff decided together that we would take an across the board salary cut 10% For most employees and lower amounts for the lower compensated employees. But instead of doing layoffs, and we stuck to our, our publishing plans, we didn’t we didn’t curtail what we were doing. We didn’t shortcut our ways of working with authors. So it’s been this, this commitment to our values or principles or ways of doing things even in tough times that I’m most proud of.

Alan
I’m visiting here today with Steve personick is the president and the chief publisher at Berrett Koehler publishers. As Steve, you have a number of books that are out there today at Barrett color. How does a person find you on the web?

Steve
Well, we have a website, a very active website, BK connection.com. B is for Barrett, KS for color, BK connection.com. And it’s easy to contact. It’s there on the website or instructions of how to submit a book proposal and of course, on our websites, information about all of our books, all of our authors and a lot of our distinctive practices.

Alan
good stuff, and I know that you have a lot of great content also on leadership in there too, and lots of relevant books that can help in a person aspiring to improve their leadership skills and run their own business. As Steve, thank you for joining today’s show. Thank you

 

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This transcript was generated by software and may not accurately reflect exactly what was said.

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Steve Persanti on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
Steve Persanti

Steve Piersanti is president and publisher of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., a leading independent publisher of progressive books on current affairs, personal growth, and business and management. Berrett-Koehler pursues its mission of “Creating a World That Works for All” by publishing groundbreaking books that promote positive change at all levels – individual, organizational, and societal.

Steve received the “Champion of Workplace Learning and Performance Award” from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) in 2003. The five previous annual recipients were Jack Welch of General Electric, Thomas Stewart of Fortune Magazine, Robert Galvin of Motorola, John Chambers of Cisco, and Fred Smith of FedEx.

In October 2013 Steve received jointly with Berrett-Koehler Publishers the “Organizational Excellence in OD Award” given by the Organization Development Network. Steve was the third individual and Berrett-Koehler the fourth organization in the world to win this award since it was inaugurated in 2011 to recognize organizations and individuals that have demonstrated a sustained commitment to organization development and organization effectiveness.

Steve has served as the keynote speaker at a variety of different book industry conferences sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, PubWest, the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Prior to founding Berrett-Koehler in 1992, Steve served as president of Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, a publisher of books and periodicals on business and management, education, health care, public administration, the nonprofit sector, and the behavioral sciences. He began his career at Jossey-Bass in 1977 as a promotional copywriter, then served as marketing director, editor, editorial director, and executive vice president before becoming president in 1989. He founded the Jossey-Bass Management Series, which became the company’s largest and most profitable publishing program, and he helped develop the Health Series, Nonprofit Management Series, and Public Administration Series.

Previously, Steve worked for short periods as a magazine advertising sales representative and door-to-door book salesperson. He graduated with Highest Honors from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in University Studies. While in school, he founded, published, and edited a university student scholarly journal.

Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
Alan Olsen

Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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