Why do some Publications Fail?

Many publications fail to meet commercial expectations. Here are a few reasons why some publications fail:
  • Faulty editorial judgement – producing a book or publication that is poorly written or too long or short; poor copy editing; breaching copyright or causing defamation
  • Faulty publishing decisions – misjudging the market; producing an unattractive or inappropriate design; producing a publication in an already over-crowded market; over-spending on a publication; producing too large a print run
  • Poor marketing – not distributing widely enough; weak promoting campaign; selling at too high a price
  • Legal problems – some things simply cannot be legally published. Publications might be legal in one country but illegal in another, which could restrict the potential export market. If a publication contains illegal content, it can be ordered to be withdrawn from sale or, even worse, the publisher and/or author may face heavy fines or drawn-out litigation. Such situations may be due to plagiarism, slander, or restricted sexual, violence or political content.
  • Poor production – nowadays readers expect a high quality production. Unclear printing, poor binding, lack of colour, poorly designed cover, lack of an index, are all reasons why some books fail.
  • Timing – even when everything is done right, some magazines, books or other publications simply do not succeed because they appear at the wrong time. A specialist topic magazine will do best when its area of interest is in vogue, and competing publications are few and far between. A new newspaper will be more likely to succeed in a locality with rapid population growth, than one with declining population growth. A biography will sell best when the subject being written about is in the news. A biography that appears just after the death of a famous person will tend to sell better than one that appears when the same person’s popularity has been going through a period of decline.


Remember, the bottom line is always the money!

Despite the passion and high ideals that many authors and publishers aspire to, the final judgement of success or failure of a publication is always the money it makes or loses. If it makes money, it remains available, offered for sale. If it loses money, it almost certainly disappears from sale.

Without financial success, a publication is unlikely to be distributed very widely, or read by many people.


Manage the Money
Don’t over extend finances. Only do what you can afford, and always keep some money in reserve.

Businesses should be tailored to the financial capacity of the owner. Many owners make a fatal mistake of leaving no margin for error in their planning. You should always hold something in reserve; if not cash, at least the ability to borrow against some tangible resource (eg. an office or factory). 

It is one thing to develop a business plan that requires £100,000 to get started, based on a projection that you will be generating a sustainable income before the £100,000 runs out. In reality though, many businesses encounter unexpected expenses, or delays in start up; and would be far better to be developing a business plan that requires £70,000 to get started, with an expectation of the business generating a sustainable income before the £70,000 runs out (and keeping £30,000 in the bank on fixed deposit as a contingency fund for use in only the most extreme situation).

Keep the Cash Flowing
We have just talked about discount vouchers and special offers. These can mean that your profit is reduced, but it can also mean that cash continues to come into the company. Sometimes you may have to cut your losses. If you can sell your 10,000 bottles of shampoo and only make a penny profit on each one, you have still made some profit.  If they sit in your storage facility, you make nothing.  Sometimes you may have to reduce prices to sell products. Sometimes you may have to cut the price of the service you offer.
If the economic climate is bad and people businesses cannot afford your publication, it may be that you have to reduce your rrp or perhaps offer less pages. Instead of a large cover price for a big magazine; you might need to reinvent the magazine as a smaller publication with a reduced price.
In the long run, or even in the short term, any business has to make money to stay afloat. Keeping money flowing in the short term can help a business survive until things improve. Also, you should see it potentially as an investment. That person who has come to you and bought the cheap shampoo may come to you again.  That person who you offer an hour’s consultancy to may become a successful business person themselves and recommend you to other businesses or use your services more in the future.

Make sure you also price products suitably.  Profit is not just the gap between the cost of the product and how much you sell it for. There are also other costs that you need to take into account – staffing costs, delivery costs, storage costs, transport costs, accountancy costs, tax and so on. They should all be figured into the amount you charge.  It is always best to overestimate expenses and underestimate revenue.

You know the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? This is definitely the case with business. 

Businesses do not always go as planned and sometimes a certain amount of trial and error is required before someone establishes a successful business. There are many stories told by some of the world’s most successful business owners about failing (even going bankrupt) then re-organising and re-establishing themselves in business.

Learn to accept failures as par for the course, and plan to have enough resources to absorb some failures.

If something does not work, try something new.

The key to success though, is to learn from failure, and not make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Do Market Research
Test the market before jumping in boots and all. Putting all of your resources into an untested idea is often high risk, and unnecessary risk.

Keep Changing
Business never stands still. Conditions around you will always be changing. If you don’t keep adapting and accommodating to those changes, you will suffer.

You need to watch the market place and be prepared to change what you are doing, quickly, and whenever the conditions change. 

Watch politics –changes in laws can have big impacts and do not delay changing to accommodate changing political situations. Such delays have killed off many otherwise old, well-established and profitable businesses.

Focus on Sales
If you do not sell your product, your business will never succeed. We often see businesses spend thousands getting their product right, then never generate any sales.  It is the sales that count!  It may be better to offer a less sophisticated product and sell it, whilst continuing to develop the product, then wait months and not sell anything at all whilst you are in the development phase. Larger companies may have time for this - they probably have their own research and development departments. With smaller companies, however, this may not be the case. We are not saying offer a shoddy product, but if you can offer a less sophisticated one, then why not.  Wouldn’t it be better to offer a smaller product or service than nothing at all?

Be Different
Even if you are starting a business that provides services or products that are already being provided; you can still have a different product mix, or a different way of delivering the goods.

Niche Publications
Niche publications may only sell in relatively small numbers; but the buyers are generally people who are passionate about their area of interest. While mainstream publications can often be difficult to sell, because you have so much competition; specialist titles can sometimes be very successful for a smaller publisher.
With the global market today, niche marketing can still make good businesses and good profit.

Imagine you were a business specialising in selling books on diseases found in pigs. At one time, before the internet and telephones, there may only have been a certain number of customers for your books. You probably would not have made very much money, or you would have had to diversify and sell other books. Today with the global market, there may be thousands of potential customers interested in your books and they may realise that you are the best person to come to for books about this; so you get a reputation for being the person to go to for information on this topic. You fill the niche in the market.

It is not always so easy to find a niche in a market. There are so many different businesses today, and so many run online that it seems as though all of our needs and wants are already filled. But the world is rapidly changing and we want new products and services, and new versions of products and services all the time.  So a niche market can still be found.  If you decide to try for niche marketing, it is important to do your market research beforehand and see if anything else similar is available.  It is not good preparing this product or service that you THINK is a niche product or service, only to find hundreds of other businesses offering the same thing. 

Even if you find that there are similar products and services to what you offer, you can still have a niche within that market. If your products are slightly different or better quality or cheaper etc. 

Or Find out more about our Business Courses. 
The following ebooks written by our principal (John Mason) and staff, are excellent supplementary reading for our courses. Click on a title for more information about contents as well as purchasing details through the school's online bookstore.

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