At Bookmobile, we were first Sue Petrie’s book printer in 1994, when she was a publicist at the State University of New York (SUNY) Press. She left SUNY in 1996, but in 2012 she came back to work with Bookmobile again, when she became director of a start-up press. With more than twenty years in the book business, Sue has been involved with printing, university press publishing, textbooks, production, design, publicity, marketing, and self-publishing. She’s done practically every task there is—from bookseller to press director.
Sue is now at Hudson Whitman, Excelsior College’s Press, a publishing venture that “straddles two worlds—the larger reading public and Excelsior College’s ‘core community’—comprised of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”
We started printing bound galleys as well as some short runs for Hudson Whitman. Sue was doing POD with Ingram at the time, with Bookmobile printing short runs for authors or events from time to time. However, Sue was not satisfied with the quality or service at Ingram, and she felt she had to make a choice.
In the summer of 2013, Sue was in Minnesota and came out to pay Bookmobile a visit (her friend took the great photo above, in front of our archive library). She mentioned the quality issues to me, and concerns that returns were happening and she had no way to figure out why. I told Sue about Itasca Books’ distribution services and walked her next door to introduce her to Mark Jung, the manager. Within a few months, she switched everything over to Bookmobile and Itasca—we now print and distribute all of Hudson Whitman’s titles, and Sue says she’s seen sales grow as a result. She describes how she made the decision to switch:
If I was a self-publisher doing one book, Ingram would be great. Or if I was a corporate publisher that could coordinate my automated processes with their automated processes, and have access to superior customer service because of the dollars I spend, then Ingram might be the right option.
But, I’m a small press, a staff of one, and in business just three years. That means I’m big enough to need all my titles to print well, and small enough to suffer as a business if they don’t.
For me, it comes down to 1) managing returns, 2) quality, and 3) service.
1. Returns are costly, whether it’s via a distributor or Ingram. If I can’t anticipate quality, then I am vulnerable to unexpected returns, potentially the result of something printing poorly. If my titles are being returned for poor printing, it’s a cost I can’t afford to absorb.
2. Because I publish serious nonfiction, books people choose to read because they want an immersive experience, I don’t want that reader disappointed or frustrated because it doesn’t look right. It doesn’t matter if they know where the book came from—I don’t assume they blame the publishers, I don’t assume they even know who the publisher is! What matters is that disappointment can lead to a diminished reading experience, which might discourage potential future sales. It may even cause the reader to start turning away from print because it’s sloppy, or hit or miss (although eBooks have their own quality issues!).
3. Bookmobile and Itasca handle printing and distribution with capable, industry-smart people. They get back to me quickly to resolve the inevitable questions and problems that accompany printing.
I can’t help but wonder if automation will make this a luxury in the not-too-distant future. While I still can, I vote for smart, capable people. As a staff of one, I don’t have the time to worry about everything. Working with Bookmobile and Itasca offers peace of mind in a few critical areas. Plenty of other fires to put out!
Want to hear more from Sue? She posts great articles on the Excelsior Commentary Page, like Good Enough vs Better — Considerations for Developing a Print Strategy for Your Book or Printed Books Tell Two Kinds of Stories, two among many that I’ve enjoyed.