The Parable of the Pumpernickel Baker


1106 Design

February 13, 2011

Once upon a time, there lived a talented baker named George. Long before dawn each morning, while most people slept, George arrived at his employer’s successful bakery. The boss was demanding and grumpy, always telling George what to bake and when to bake it. “The customer is always right,” the boss said.

George would just shake his head and get back to the work he loved, crafting the tastiest varieties of bread, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies that the neighbors had come to expect. Each afternoon, when he left for the day, he said to himself, Someday, I’ll open my own bakery, and I’ll bake whatever I want. He saved his money and waited patiently for that day to arrive.

At long last,  the perfect building for George’s bakery became available. It was located on a busy street, near a bus stop, a school, a factory, and many homes. This is wonderful, thought George. I’ll have customers all day long, and maybe during the factory’s night shift, too.

For weeks before the grand opening, everyone in the area eagerly anticipated the breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies they’d be able to buy. The factory workers and tired commuters looked forward to a savory, ready-to-eat dinner; the schoolchildren waited for a sweet after-school snack; everyone looked forward to their favorite varieties of breads and rolls.

George was more nervous than he expected, so he played it safe. On grand opening day, customers streamed into George’s bakery, but curiously, the only item for sale was pumpernickel bread. Dozens and dozens of loaves of pumpernickel bread. Nothing else. Oh, well, they thought, it’s only the first day. Maybe tomorrow there will be more breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies. Some customers bought a loaf  of pumpernickel bread, because they had waited so long for George’s bakery to open, but most customers decided to return the next day.

The next day, and the next, and the next, they gave George another chance, but again they found only pumpernickel bread. Each day, one or two people bought a loaf. Finally, an exasperated customer asked George, “This is a bakery! When will you offer white bread, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies?”

“It’s expensive to bake those things,” he replied.  “I want to make sure my bakery is a success first.”

“Oh,” said the disappointed customer.

Gradually, the flood of new customers slowed to a trickle. After a few visits, the factory workers went back to brown-bagging it and the schoolchildren realized they would find no cookies at George’s bakery. Everyone else reluctantly accepted that George would only offer pumpernickel bread, no matter what they wanted.

Finally, the day came when not one customer showed up. George was puzzled. Isn’t my pumpernickel bread any good, he wondered? So he walked out front and stopped a gentleman on the street. “Why don’t you come in to my bakery,” he asked?

“Because I don’t like pumpernickel bread,” the man replied simply. “I buy quite a lot of white bread, cakes, and pies.”

“Oh,” said George. “But I can’t afford to bake those things. At least not until I make some money from my pumpernickel bread.”

“Very well,” said the gentleman.

We know how this parable ends, don’t we? Poor George’s bakery failed. He went back to work for his grumpy, demanding boss who understood that it was necessary to give customers what they want.

New publishers who decide to test the market with only an eBook are making exactly the same mistake that George made. They rightly offer their eBook on Amazon and other online retailers where millions of customers can see it 24/7, but then fail to offer the book in other formats that customers want to buy.

It’s undeniably attractive to publish only an eBook. The costs are minimal and it’s scary for any new publisher to invest in cover design and typesetting when they don’t know if their book will be a success. But guess what? Plenty of people still prefer a printed book, no matter how much eBook devotees bend and twist the statistics. No business owner can lock out a significant portion of their potential market and hope to succeed.

Today, publishers are not just book providers, they are content providers. Consumers want to receive information in different ways at different times. Some people buy printed books to read at home, a welcome change from looking at a computer screen at the office all day. Others buy Ebooks to read at the airport. Others listen to audio books while driving. Some consumers buy the same book in multiple formats. It’s risky to provide content in only one form. Publishers may sell some books in that format, but it’s impossible to count the number of sales that were missed.

My advice? Offer that eBook, but also print POD at Lightning Source. Yes, there’s the one-time charge for cover and interior design, but at least  you will be offering your book to everyone who may want it. If and when the day arrives that you are selling only eBooks, you can always stop printing.

As Dan Poynter, The Book Futurist, says: “Some writers plan to publish digitally only—to save money. This is a mistake. If you publish an eBook, you are perceived as a writer. If you publish a pBook (paper), you are regarded as an author. Paper books are retained; PDFs disappear in a click. Self-publishers should offer editions to fit any lifestyle: Paper, eBook, LARGE PRINT for the visually impaired, audio book, etc. Give the buying customer what he or she wants.”

Just like George’s very smart boss.

1106 Design works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards. Top-quality cover design, beautifully designed and typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert advice. All available from one convenient source. All offered with our most important service, hand-holding. Prompt, personalized service. Satisfaction guaranteed. We’ll take better care of you and your book than any “self-publishing company.” How may we help you? Post your comment here or email us using the Contact Us page.

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