ASBPE asks for help in determining new association tagline

In its nearly 40 year existence, ASBPE has been well known for its Azbee award program and positions on editorial ethics and editorial quality. The association started out as the professional association for full-time and freelance editors and writers employed in the business, trade, and specialty press; however, as time as gone by it has become more evident to our members that we are more than magazine writers. Our membership is made up of freelance writers, online editors, community managers, art directors, designers and more.

The association is making a shift to embrace all of those who contribute to the B2B content landscape. At a Fall board meeting, the National Board of Directors made the decision to adopt ASBPE as our official association name. No longer thought of as solely editors or working on publications, the name change ushers in a breadth of new opportunities for our members.

Because we’ll be known as ASBPE going forward, we believe it’s important to have a tagline that best represents who our membership represents and what we do. Below you will find several options you can vote on. The winning tagline will be adopted as the official tagline of ASBPE. Be sure to vote early. The polls close on February 1, 2012.

Follow the money: How to decipher financial reports and better cover your industry

Two sessions at this year’s ASBPE national conference in Chicago dealt with foreign languages – that of corporate financial statements.

Ceci Rodgers, a business and economics lecturer at Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, walked editors through the nuts and bolts of financial reporting and sorting through the often confusing (sometimes on purpose) world of 10-Qs, 10-Ks and 8-Ks.

“If you can read a nutrition label or a stock quote, you can read this,” Rodgers said.

She recommends editors skip past the “PR garbage” and go straight to the tables on the forms, highlight the lines of information they need, and only then go to the PR/analyst section for explanations from the company.

BREAKDOWN. Rodgers broke down the three most common financial reports journalists and editors deal with:

10-K – annual report

  •  Offers some MD&A (management discussion and analysis)
  • Focus on the footnotes, especially anything listed as “other liabilities” or “special entities”
  • This is the only audited report; the 10-Q isn’t

10-Q – quarterly statement

  •  Income statement – measures profitability
  • Balance sheet – financial health
  • Statement of cash flows – focus on the cash from operations line

8-K – disclosure of information material to the company

14-A – deals with executive compensation

STORY IDEAS. Think there’s nothing in that mass of numbers, percentages and analyst double-speak? Here are some story ideas you can easily pull from a company’s 10-K or 10-Q:

  • How much income tax does the company pay?
  • How much cash does it have on hand?
  • Does it face any pending litigation?
  • What’s the status of its pension funds?
  • What are its “other” liabilities or assets?
  • Is the company “channel stuffing” – moving a lot of product to retailers or distributors and listing it as sold on their books?

WHERE TO LOOK. The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley law mandates companies follow GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) that allow journalists and analysts to make apples-to-apples comparisons of companies in the same industries/segments. That doesn’t always make it easy, but Rodgers recommended b2b editors focus on three areas when quarterly and annual reports are released to the media:

  • Income statement – how profitable is the company?
  • Balance sheet – What is the financial health of the company?
  • Statement of cash flow – How much liquidity does the company have?

I – income statement

  • A company’s top line is its total sales plus revenues.
  • Operating income focuses on profit without interest or taxes and tells you how the company is doing in its everyday business.
  • EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, debt and amortization) “takes the noise out,” Rodgers said, so analysts like it as a metric to judge the company’s performance.
  • The cost of goods sold (or COGS) shows the impact of commodity costs on business.
  • Sales and G&A expenses – compare this to the same three-month period from last year. If this rises too fast, cost cutting and layoffs might be imminent.
  • Gross margin = revenue minus COGS divided by revenue

II – balance sheet

  • Assets are cash and short-term (three-month) securities. Look for a trend here; are they building cash or not?
  • Goodwill should be less than 20% of total assets?
  • Liabilities are long-term debt (one year or more).
  • Market capitalization = stock price x shares

III – Cash flow

  •     Good ratios of operating cash to net income are 1:1 or 3:1

Author Chuck Bowen is a 2011 ASBPE Young Leader Scholarship award winner, and editor and associate publisher of Lawn & Landscape magazine. You can email him at cbowen@gie.net.

14 Ways To Build Top Value Into Your Next Statistical Article

Howard Rauch

Submitted by Howard Rauch

One of the most important values a publication or Web site can deliver to its readers is articles based on high-quality editorial research.  High quality does not necessarily mean that you retain the most expensive research service to conduct a national study for you … although quality certainly is implied as being present if you do use an outside agency.  High quality does mean:

1.    You addressed a topic of considerable importance;
2.    You asked significant questions;
3.    You obtained a decent response;
4.    Your conclusions were highly instructive to readers;
5.    Whenever possible, the information reported clearly was ground-breaking.

Even the smallest magazine staff should plan on publishing a continuous flow of original statistics. So … how do you organize a research effort?  How do you exploit it? What are some do’s and don’ts along the way?  Here are 14 responses that fill in some of the blanks.

1. If you’re planning a major project, seek input on the questionnaire from your readers.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find how responsive people are when you’re not contacting them for the conventional reason of conducting an interview.

2. Follow the established principles of making a questionnaire easy to answer.  Have plenty of check-offs and multiple choice, but also include several open-end questions.  Also include historical questions; otherwise you lack a frame of reference, especially in terms of sales data.

3. Random sampling is for the birds.  Perhaps saying so is heresy to devout researchers.  But if you leave things strictly to Nth name response, you run the risk of winding up with lots of non-authoritative responses.

4. Watch questionnaire length. When a questionnaire is especially complex, offer an incentive to respond.

5. Establish a written timetable and stick to it.  Allow for second and third mailings. Provide adequate time for your art staff to develop graphics that are easily followed by your readers.

6. Plan on conducting some interviews personally so you can confirm whether the tabulations you are seeing actually make sense.  Try to do this early in the game, before the questionnaire is mass-mailed, so you can get the bugs out via some final revisions.

7. Beware of interpreting results based on straight averages.  This caveat applies particularly to salary studies.  “Median” is the magic word implying proper use.  An additional thought about salary studies is to present results by region as opposed to reporting a single national average.

8. You don’t need a high quantitative return if you draw a high quality response.  Just remember to say that results reflect only the experience of the sample and are not projectable to your industry’s universe.

9. When you write the article based on survey results, interpret rather than recite.  It is absolutely unpalatable for a reader to wade through a series of sentences of the “60% said this, 30% said that, 15% said the other” variety.

10. Proofread your charts and insist on seeing a final color key.  For example, the technique of using varying shades of a single color to reflect different response segments can backfire if all those shades appear identical.

11. Don’t be guilty of publishing research that has no foundation.  If the overall response is bad, or certain “cell” groups did not furnish adequate data, clearly you are in hot water.

12. Don’t rely totally on the mail. Plan to supplement the response with telephone and/or face-to-face interviews.

13. For best results, always cross-reference your data. There are many significant gems left languishing because hasty decisions were made that cross-tabulation would be too time-consuming.

14. Variety is the spice of editorial research.  Depending upon your field and your budget, you can mix trade and consumer projects.  One way to get mileage from reader studies is to gather enough information that can be reported in monthly doses without diluting the timeliness factor.

I would be remiss if I ignored the elusiveness of statistical math.  To illustrate the possibilities, here are two questions excerpted from a test I’ve used during editorial research workshops:

  • In 2010, there were 11.6% more hospital P.T. units than in 2009.  In 2011, there were 14.7% more hospital P.T. units than in 2010. Based on this data, is it true or false that the increase reported for 10-11 was 3.1% higher than the increase reported for 09-10?
  • The following facts were reported in a survey of lawncare firms:  (1) Of 1,000 firms surveyed, 18% responded; (2) 48% of respondents also provide pest control services; (3) 27% of those offering pest control services consider the business to be unsuccessful; (4) lack of success was attributed to high cost of service by 8% of respondents; dissatisfied customers – 4%; diminishing customer base – 4%. What common statistical problem does the data reflect?

Everybody ought to ace this two-question exam. However, be assured that variations of the above snafus do get published from time to time.

Adam Tinworth on The Rise of New and Social Media

Adam Tinworth

Adam Tinworth

For more than eight years, UK-based trade-press editor Adam Tinworth has chronicled on his blog the rise of new and social media and how they have shaped both his personal life and his career. Though change can be unsettling, Tinworth told John Bethune in a recent interview that the best strategy is not to resist it, but embrace it. Journalists, he said, must not only acknowledge, but learn to enjoy, “publishing into a more crowded, noisy, dynamic, and swashbuckling public sphere than ever before.”

As part of the interview, Tinworth offered some specific advice to business-to-business journalists, and suggested that they are well-positioned to take advantage of new media:

As you’ve noted, journalists today need to work with and produce not just text, but audio, video, and images. What can they do to develop and improve these kinds of skills?

Two things. The first: continue experimenting, including in their spare time. My video skills grew leaps and bounds by pulling together videos for my friends and family. I’m fond of the musician comparison (but I have a nasty feeling that I nicked it from Emily Bell): musicians don’t only play music when they’re on stage performing. And journalism, as a profession, shouldn’t only happen to deadline, for your main publication. Play, experiment. Enjoy the acts of reporting, creation and publication. If you don’t—or can’t—you’re in the wrong profession.

The other, of course, is to resist what Paul Bradshaw calls the Flying Zombie Laser Shark problem—editors or publishers pushing journalists to do everything. They should be aware of the potential of everything—but also be aware where their strengths lie. I’m mainly a words and images guy, with a little video, but no audio to speak of. That’s just my skill set. Every journalist needs to be aware of where their own balance is.

Compared with other types of journalists, do you think that trade journalists have any particular advantages in adapting to new media?

Yes—they do. The internet is a medium that is hard on generalists and kinder to niche specialists. B2B journalists aren’t trying to build communities—they’re serving communities that already exist. That gives us a head start over (say) national newspapers, whose audience is slowly being eroded by the million nibbling bites of more niche publications. We have a closer relationship, usually, with our audiences, because the people we’re reporting for are often the same ones that we’re reporting on. It’s therefore not so much of a stretch to take those offline networking skills and relationships, and bring them into the online space. It also gives us a faster and more personal feedback loop as to what is working and what isn’t.

However, we need to be prepared to get even more niche online than we were in print. Forget farmers, think livestock breeders. Forget the aviation industry, dive down to in-flight entertainment or defense.

You can read the rest of Tinworth’s interview on B2B Memes, where he describes how he developed his view of new media and both the opportunities and challenges it poses for journalism.

The Opportunities and Challenges of B2B: Q&A with Paul Conley

For trade press journalists, Paul Conley has long been both inspiring and controversial. Since the debut of his blog in 2004, he has been a tireless advocate for new media and the importance of digital training. Though his intolerance for journalists who resist new media alienated some editors, others have cheered his battles against unethical editorial practices by major trade publishers.

In the following interview with John Bethune, publisher of B2B Memes [http://www.b2bmemes.com], Conley recalls the mentor to whom he credits his new-media success, and describes his frustration with the ethical challenges that continue to dog trade publishing.

How did you come to develop your view of the post-print era? Was there some eye-opening or transformative experience? Or just a gradual understanding?

When I was very young man in college, I met a television executive. He was enormously successful and remarkably bright in the sort of dogged and cunning way that I admire. Here was a guy who had been a railroad hobo in his teen years, then joined the Army in WWII, and later made a fortune.

I asked him the secret of his success, and he told me. After the war he became interested in technology, reading science and mechanical magazines at the local library. But he recognized that he had no aptitude for tech. So instead he looked for new technologies that he liked and then looked for unusual ways they might change the world.

He settled on two technologies and two approaches to gaining from them.

One was television, which he thought could change journalism. So he enrolled at the University of Missouri’s journalism school, studied the craft, and became one of the first TV journalists.

The second was air conditioning, which he thought would change where people were willing to live. So he borrowed money from everyone he knew and bought cheap land in the downtown area of the tiny, too-hot-for-anyone community of Phoenix, Arizona.

Because of his influence, I’ve been sort of hypersensitive to how new technology opens up opportunities in old worlds.

So it was almost inevitable that years later, when I was working for a daily B2B newspaper that was delivered–often days late–to readers around the globe, I would see opportunity when the Internet arrived.

So I did what my old mentor would have done: I started thinking about what the Internet would do to other parts of my life. In particular, I started wondering what Internet journalism might look like. Eventually I started a little Internet news services of my own. It failed, but I parlayed that into job a few years later at CNN’s fledgling Web unit.

In the past decade, what have you felt was the most important new-media issue?

Ethics. It’s been very discouraging over the past decade to see the Web used as an excuse for unethical behavior in business journalism. Publishing-company executives have claimed that the “Web is the Wild West,” and that anything goes. Traditional journalists argued that the Web wasn’t real journalism, so what happened there didn’t matter.

What we’ve wound up with is a mess–product placement, selective facts, doublespeak and bias,  privacy violations, ads within stories, plagiarism disguised as aggregation, publishers investing in companies their staff write about, and so on.

What issues are most important now for people in media? 

Ethics and professionalism are still important to me, as I suspect they are to many of us in the business. But I recognize that it’s particularly difficult at this point in journalism’s history–particularly in B2B journalism–to preserve our integrity. Here’s an example. I did a quality audit recently for a B2B publisher.  I found that among the company’s problems were that one-quarter of their brands were engaged in unethical behavior (selling coverage, selling text within stories, etc.) and that it was having an obvious, pervasive, negative effect on the senior editors. Those editors hated their jobs. And as a result, they didn’t work particularly hard at them.

But as I talked about this issue throughout the company, I found that most members of management fell into one of two camps. There were an astonishing number of managers who had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of the ASBPE or American Business Media ethics guidelines. These folks tended to be newer managers. The second group of more seasoned managers understood the ethical issues—but they just didn’t care anymore.

You can read more from Paul Conley’s interview on B2B Memes, http://www.b2bmemes.com/2011/12/06/paul-conley-has-the-content-marketing-dream-become-a-nightmare where he discusses the potential and challenges to content marketing as a career path for business journalists.

5 Tips for Repurposing Content for a Book: Part 4

Publishing consultant Ally E. Peltier continues her series on repurposing and promoting previously published content. She began by explaining how to properly choose and assemble content for a successful, cohesive book. This was followed by a post identifying the three main sales venues for your book.

In the previous post, we examined the primary print and digital formats  available for books. But none of that means anything if you don’t have good content to publish and a plan for getting that content into your target audience’s hands.

How to Choose Professional Help for Your Book

The advice below assumes that, as the editor of a business publication, you have developmental editing skills and the ability to select, organize, and assemble your client’s material into a coherent and engaging book appropriate for your target audience. But you probably don’t have all the skills it takes to successfully publish a professional, commercial-quality book.

Deciding What You Need

What skills do you have in-house? How generous is your budget? The obvious list of steps includes: line and/or copy editing; interior layout and cover design; proofreading; and marketing and publicity. But you may also need someone who can convert your files to EPUB or Kindle formats, a web developer to set up an online marketing platform, and a social media expert to help you create a promotion strategy.

At minimum, plan to hire a good line editor/copyeditor with experience in nonfiction books, preferably in your category. This shouldn’t be expensive if your repurposed material was carefully copyedited the first time around, but now that it’s reworked into a book you’ll want to catch any introduced errors and ensure new content is clean. If you’re on a shoestring, you can likely get away with doing the interior design yourself or tapping your client’s design and layout team, but don’t skimp on the cover. Hire a designer.

There are many guides available teaching ebook formatting, but there’s a learning curve. With services costing as little as $100, it may not be worth your time or your client’s cash to figure it out. Try eBookAdaptations and BookBaby. If you do have the time and cash to get educated on performing this task yourself, check out the instruction offered by Digital Book World.

Your client probably has a marketing budget covering staff or freelancers you can task with developing a marketing plan, but books require a somewhat different approach than periodicals. If there’s room in the budget, hire a publicist or marketing strategist who specializes in nonfiction books. If your client has a tech team, maximize their experience by partnering with a strategist who particularly understands marketing books online.

Deciding Who You Want

It’s important to ask for specifics when interviewing a potential vendor so you know exactly what you’re getting. I wrote an article on this subject for The Writer magazine (get it here).

With so many choices, you may be tempted to ask candidates for a free sample. There’s nothing wrong with asking, but consider this: If you were interviewing contractors to build you a porch, would you ask for a free shelf before deciding? Would you ask a dentist to do one free filling? There are other measures of experience and value, and many excellent professionals will provide pre-existing samples rather than doing a portion of your job on spec. Look for pros with a recognizable client list, glowing testimonials (ask for references, even), and positive Google results. Trust your intuition: When you speak, if the chemistry isn’t right or the contractor seems less knowledgeable than expected, move on.

Some Considerations

  • If your website isn’t optimized for book promotion, talk to an Internet marketing expert or web developer and revamp before you publish. Search engine algorithms and other promo tools change rapidly and pros are (or should be) in-the-know. Your website is the hub of your online promotion and sales, so focus limited marketing dollars here.
  • There are dozens of social media tools to choose from. Most are free, and some offer low-cost advertising that, when used properly, can be highly effective. Determine where your target audience hangs out online and focus on those platforms to promote your book.
  • Not all pros are created equal. Editors and designers in particular come in a vast array of shapes and sizes…and by that I mean talent and experience. Be sure to match up said talent and experience with your category (and don’t forget to read my article on hiring freelancers for more tips).
  • Don’t be cheap, but spend wisely. Don’t get talked into a $4,000 cover if you just need something that looks good as a thumbnail on-screen. Consider the likelihood of a book like yours attracting mega media attention before you splurge on a publicist with a high-profile contact list.

In the next and final installment, we’ll take a look at how a book functions as part of your publication’s platform, and what that means for your or your client’s business.

Ally E. Peltier is an editor, writer, and publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than a decade of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at www.ambitiousenterprises.com and www.allypeltier.com.

5 Tips for Repurposing Content for a Book: Part 3.2

In her previous post, publishing consultant Ally E. Peltier examined the primary print formats available. Today she’ll discuss e-book and audio formats.

How to Choose the Right Digital Format for Your Book

The wealth of information about digital formats available online can make any non-techie’s head swim. And the technology changes every day, so this post will probably be outdated before you read it!

Below I’ll present a brief overview of the most recommended formats for e-books and audiobooks to give you a starting place, and to help you bypass the bulk of confusing material out there. Check out the resources suggested below for further detail and don’t forget to research the latest options.

E-books

In the early days of the digital book gold rush, every e-reader on the market had a proprietary file system, requiring publishers to offer books in multiple formats. Today e-readers (and publishers) increasingly use EPUB—a semi-universal format developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, an industry consortium.

However, not all e-readers work well with EPUB, most notably the Kindle. Here’s a handy reference chart from Gizmodo that shows which e-readers use which formats:

  •  Amazon Kindle: Kindle (AZW, TPZ), TXT, MOBI, PRC and PDF natively; HTML and DOC through conversion
  •   Apple iPad: EPUB, PDF, HTML, DOC (plus iPad Apps, which could include Kindle and Barnes & Noble readers)
  • Barnes & Noble Nook: EPUB, PDB, PDF
  • Sony Reader: EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF; DOC through conversion

Prepare yourself by accepting that, at least for the near future, your best bet is to release your e-book in multiple formats.

Which e-book formats should I start with?

If your e-book is heavily illustrated or has a complex layout, PDF will probably be best despite its reflow limitations because it will preserve your design elements. For books with simple running text such as a novel or self-help, EPUB is best.

For most, starting with a PDF, EPUB, and a Kindle-friendly version should suffice. These will allow you to target the most popular e-book markets. You can “publish” your e-book directly into these markets, or use third party distributors, some of which help with formatting and take a cut for “distributing” your e-book to sales outlets.

Smashwords is the most popular portal for multiplatform e-publishing; it uses a “meatgrinder” tool to turn your Word document into up to ten different formats (including those necessary for the Kindle and iPad). However, it can take untold hours to remove invisible format quirks embedded by MS Word (Smashwords’ helpful guide shows you how).

Also, Smashwords currently doesn’t have a distribution deal with Amazon (rumor has it they will this fall), so though you can create a Kindle-friendly version of your e-book for direct sale on Smashwords or your own website, you’ll still have to go through Amazon’s process to get your e-book into their Kindle bookstore.

PDF: The simplest, fastest way to convert your manuscript to an attractive file read easily by nearly all devices, including computers. Because this format locks the text in place instead of allowing for page reflow, PDF e-books can be difficult to read on smaller screens. Best for e-books you deliver via your website but not ideal for wide distribution through third-party outlets. Angela Render gives great tips on creating PDF e-books.

EPUB: This near-universal format is quickly becoming industry standard. It’s robust enough to handle color, hyperlinks, and even multimedia enhancements (probably a contributing factor to Apple’s choice of supporting EPUB for its iBookstore). Popular resources for creating EPUB files include Smashwords’ Meatgrinder, Calibre, and Stanza. Adobe InDesign, popular amongst book designers, can also be used to create EPUB files.

MOBI/AZW/PRC (Kindle): These can be read on any Kindle device as well as any device running a Kindle app. Because it still reigns as the most popular place to buy and download e-books and for the same reasons you’d want your print book listed with Amazon, at least one of your formats should be Kindle-friendly.

Currently, the Kindle is black and white only and its multimedia capabilities are limited, so if your book requires color images or embedded hyperlinks, videos, or other pyrotechnics, don’t even bother with MOBI/AZW/PRC. You can still sell your e-book on Amazon.com as a PDF. Also, if your e-book is DRM-free (DRM=digital rights management—see below) there are many accessible resources that easily convert EPUB to various Kindle formats, so going with EPUB doesn’t necessarily mean no one using a Kindle can read your book. Just remember that you most likely will need to upload files directly to Amazon if you want to sell your e-book in their Kindle store.

Some Considerations

Each format of your e-book requires its own ISBN. Find out more here.

You must decide whether or not your e-book will support DRM. I say forget it. Check out this detailed discussion of DRM and e-book piracy for reasons why.

The online market is trending toward “micro-niches” and seems to prefer tailored content, meaning a shorter e-book with a narrow focus may do better than a longer, generalized one. Some retailers such as Amazon (through its Kindle Singles program) offer optional categorization for e-books based on word count and other factors.

You can’t control how your e-book will appear to readers (that’s determined by the device used) unless you publish a PDF, which has its own drawbacks as discussed previously.

Your cover should be a high quality JPG close to, but not more than 1000px on its longest side. Electric Book Works says this is the optimal size for most e-readers and e-book distributors.

Know your audience: Young audiences prefer e-books to audio books, while adults enjoy both. Busy professionals—especially commuters and travelers—prefer audio. But a significant portion of audio book listeners get theirs from libraries, while e-book readers tend toward purchases.

 Audio Books

As long as there are multi-taskers, audio books will remain popular: The Audio Publishers Association estimates a one billion dollar industry. As with e-books, there are many formatting possibilities, but CDs and MP3 downloads are the most popular.

CD: Despite the accessibility of digital downloads, CD sales currently represent 72% of the audio book market. CDs are easier to loan and resell, which may account for some of their popularity. Abridged versions=fewer CDs=cheaper packaging, but with audiences overwhelmingly preferring unabridged editions, this isn’t the place to skimp.

MP3: There’s no doubt the world is going digital; the latest statistics from the APA reveal an increase from 17% to 21% of the market in just one year. MP3 files can be played by the widest variety of devices out there and those using proprietary formats often make it easy to convert your files for playing on their devices, so if you can offer only one digital download, make it an MP3. Ultimately, though, offering multiple digital formats will give you the widest reach.

 

In the next installment, we’ll discuss what kind of professional services you should consider and why they’re crucial to your book’s success.

Ally E. Peltier is an editor, writer, and publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than a decade of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business.