Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Small Press Story #10: Bestsellers One Laugh At A Time

Being on a top-ten bestseller list would make a publishing house of any size proud. But a small Washington state humor publisher with only eight titles has managed something of a sales coup during a tough holiday season, proving that depth can be as good as height.

Basho Press
, based in Mukilteo, Washington, is the producer of the Haiku for Life® series of humorous haiku gift books. Billed as “witty, insightful, inspiring, and sometimes just plain weird,” each book is filled with 100 seventeen-syllable poems aimed at the funny bone. From Haiku for Coffee Lovers to Haiku for Catholics, the series adds a new target market every other month or so.

“We’re trying to make enough titles to fill just about anybody’s gift shopping need,” says poet and publisher David Ash. He even wrote Haiku for Christmas in case customers needed something generically festive and fun for the holidays.

Book buyers seem to agree. The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) has crunched the holiday sales numbers from the premier independent bookstores in its five-state region to see how the 152 titles in its annual Holiday Catalog fared. Taken individually, Ash’s books did respectably. But from the beginning, Ash has believed that the product line’s strength lies in the diversity of the series. “People ask me which book is my favorite, or which one I hope will sell the best,” relates Ash. “I tell them I really don’t care which title they like most. I hope they will buy the one most appropriate for their friend or loved one.”

And that’s what pulls the Haiku for Life® series up into bestseller territory. PNBA reported that when sales of the eight titles are combined as if they were one book, the series comes in at #7 on the Holiday Catalog bestseller list. Coming in so high is even more impressive when one considers that:

  • Five of the six books that ranked higher were being advertised nationally
  • PNBA Holiday Catalog is the only marketing promotion to customers that Basho Press has ever done
  • Only a fourth of the stores initially ordered Ash’s books in November for the catalog promotion (others were slow to order; some never did)
Ash is very pleased overall, and hopes those who passed now recognize they missed a sure seller. “I was very pleased with the results that PNBA’s catalog provided,” Ash states. “It was our first time launching an advertising campaign. The sales bolster our reputation and give us a solid foundation for future growth. Our exposure on the back page of the mailer was essential to our success. The books will be in this spring’s Leafing Out Catalog as well and we look forward to continuing our relationship with PNBA and its member stores.”

In preparation for supporting the spring catalog, David Ash will be appearing at more than a dozen stores and events in the Northwest between March and May. You can enter his name in the search bar of BookTour.com to find details. For more information on the books, go to BashoPress.com or call (206) 200-9525.