Case Study: The Hybrid Publisher and Greenleaf Book Group

Today, anyone with access to the Internet and a credit card can publish a book. It is as easy as sending your PDF or Microsoft Word file to Amazon’s CreateSpace, where it will be available to the public within a matter of days, without any requirements for marketing support, editing, design or quality control. Meanwhile, traditional publishers are competing to get their titles discovered by readers alongside the rising number of these self-published titles. In comes the hybrid publisher, an author-subsidized model where publishers are positioning themselves as experts in specific fields.

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Greenleaf Book Group (GBG)

Hybrid publishers who can establish a clear market niche are invaluable in helping authors reach their target audiences because of their agile ability and expertise in building brands and communities around their titles within that specific market. This paper will use Greenleaf Book Group (GBG), a hybrid publisher based out of Austin, Texas, as a case study to demonstrate how hybrid publishers are successfully finding markets for their books. GBG’s market niche will be discussed, alongside how they serve their market and position themselves in the broader publishing landscape. Some of the pros and cons of the hybrid model will also be discussed in order to contextualize GBG’s commercial success as an independent publisher.

What is a hybrid publisher?

To start this discussion, a brief overview of the hybrid publishing model is required. The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) clearly articulates that hybrid publishers should act in all ways like a traditional publisher except in their revenue stream, which comes from both book sales and the execution of publishing services.[1] The nature of this model means that authors will benefit from a higher royalty than they would with a traditional publisher since they pay for the services and take on most of the financial risk. Hybrid publishing sits in the middle of self-publishing and traditional publishing, allowing authors more control over their content, while having access to a full-service team of industry professionals.[2]

The upfront costs for authors is one of the major downsides to hybrid publishing,[3] but more importantly author Lizabeth Meredith notes that authors need to consider if the hybrid model is right for them since the books success will partially rely on the work that they are willing to put in.[4] GBG partners with their authors, providing them resources including a podcast and online “Learning Center” to help them at every stage of the publishing process.[5] According to Forbes Books, “Hybrid publishing means a shared responsibility between an author and a publishing company,” therefore both parties will be invested in the book and need to work together to make it happen.[6]

GBG and the business book category

GBG operates within this hybrid model, publishing titles across many categories aimed at improving the lives of their readers in some way, but their focus is on business books, both in the volume of titles they produce in the category as well as the number of awards the company receives for those books.[7] For the purpose of this paper, the focus will be on GBG’s success in the business category. Publishing consultant Jane Friedman feels that a key aspect of the hybrid model is the idea of curation[8] and GBG has worked on vetting submissions to publish a list of high preforming authors including CEO’s, co-founders, presidents, investors and consultants, becoming an authority in business book publishing.[9] GBG’s strong business list attracts thought leaders and brings credibility to their expertise in this area with over 35 of their titles making the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.[10]

Market focus

A focus within a market that has the means and desire to spend money on hybrid publishing has been a successful model for GBG. GBG positions themselves as a leader in business book publishing, serving a niche group of business people, entrepreneurs and thought leaders who want to level up their careers, build credibility and increase their audience and brand reputability.[11] GBG’s hybrid model is perfectly situated to attract these authors who are looking to use the books that they produce as tools to land them speaking engagements, consulting gigs or workshops.[12] GBG serves this market by customizing the approach for each author and bringing in freelancers who specialize in various topics.[13] Author “Success Stories” found on GBG’s website are used as case studies to prove their value proposition by highlighting how the books have helped enhance the author’s careers.[14] The very nature of these case studies alongside author testimonials signals to any visitor to the GBG site, that they speak in the language of business and leadership. The audience that GBG is targeting with their books differs for each author, but the aim is to reach a niche market to help that author reach their goals. Not every author needs to be a bestseller, but the authors audience needs to see them as an authority in their respective industry in order for them to win them new business.[15] This could mean targeting a specific association or network of professionals in a specific area, but whoever the audience is, a campaign is successful when GBG is able to tune into the needs of that audience, utilizing customized marketing tactics.[16]

Marketing strategy for authors

GBG’s mastery of national distribution and ability to get their authors books into all of the necessary channels is sought after, but it is their marketing strategy that drives business and creates brand awareness for their authors. Traditional publishers promote their books through marketing and publicity efforts whereas GBG takes it one step further by helping their authors build strong brands. For an established author, this can be a defining factor in choosing one publisher over another.[17] Anna Carroll, author of the Feedback Imperative said, “The Greenleaf strategists were knowledgeable and empathetic brand coaches who helped me get started on social media, choose blog topics, launch a newsletter that preforms better than the industry average, and identify and leverage valuable assets.”[18] GBG looks at their author’s projects holistically and determines how they can expand their businesses which can include, “…ancillary products such as corporate training programs, workbooks, webinar series, audio downloads, etc.”[19] GBG’s expanded services offering enhances their core value proposition and priority of building author’s brands and creating a complete community around an author and their book. They aim to go wherever their author’s audiences are and work, “…to provide today’s innovators with the tools to get their ideas to the public.”[20]

Expansion to service customer needs

GBG now has four imprints that they funnel their submissions through. Greenleaf Book Group Press only accepts about 10% of their submissions and has a focus on larger print runs and wide distribution for authors who have accumulated quite a following already; River Grove Books focuses on digital-only titles that need to get to market quickly; An Inc. Original is the publishing division of Inc. magazine; and lastly, Fast Company Press is the publishing arm of Fast Company that focuses on innovation and technology-based authors.[21] These imprints create a strong partnership with recognizable brands that already come with their own audience and platform.

Sticking to a niche

Figure 1 Publishing provides an example of how this model can work in Canada. Figure 1 focuses on publishing books by people who are leaders in their field who hire them to create beautifully designed books in order to help further their careers in one way or another.[22] Page Two Strategies in Canada also operates in a similar manner with a mandate that states, “Authors and corporate communications specialists need professional support, and we deliver transparent, customized publishing plans that leverage your unique assets to share your story, reach your intended audience, and grow your business.”[23] It is clear that this model is working as more publishers turn to niche marketing and figure out ways to gain access to the influx of self-publishing authors by helping them produce and market books in a way that they simply could not do on their own.[24] These publishers also find success by focusing on authors who already have an audience such as those who are consultants and public speakers.[25]

Greenleaf Book Group has been able to solidify their reputation as business book marketing experts by helping authors enhance their careers through book publishing and strong brand awareness. They successfully reach and utilize their author’s communities, allowing them to operate within a market subset that is quite different from the traditional trade book landscape at large. Hybrid publishers need to be masters of market niches in order to be successful. By using agile marketing techniques, they can reach targeted audiences directly, breaking through the clutter and bypassing the same marketplaces where traditional and self-publishing efforts produce hundreds of thousands of new titles a year.


Notes

[1] “IBPA’s Hybrid Publisher Criteria.” IBPA, 2018, https://www.ibpa-online.org/page/hybridpublisher. Accessed 4 Nov 2018.

[2] Woodward, Gail. “What Is Hybrid Publishing And How Does It Work?” Dudley Court Press, 25 Sept. 2017, https://www.dudleycourtpress.com/hybrid-publishing/ Accessed 10 Nov 2018.

[3] Meredith, Lizabeth. “3 Reasons Why You Might Not Want a Hybrid Publisher.” Jane Friedman, 31 Oct. 2017, https://www.janefriedman.com/3-reasons-not-to-go-with-hybrid-publishing/. Accessed 4 Nov 2018.

[4] Meredith, “3 Reasons Why You Might Not Want a Hybrid Publisher.”

[5] “Learning Center.” Greenleaf Book Group, https://greenleafbookgroup.com/learning-center. Accessed Nov 11 2018.

[6] “What is Hybrid Publishing?” Advantage: Forbes Books, https://advantagefamily.com/blog/what-is-hybrid-publishing/. Accessed 4 Nov 2018.

[7] Bronson, Ariel. “Greenleaf Book Group.” Independent Publisher, http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=1660. Accessed 4 Nov 2018.

[8] Spector, Nicole Audrey. “The Indie Author’s Guide to Hybrid Publishing.” Publishers Weekly, 20 May. 2016, https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/70446-the-indie-author-s-guide-to-hybrid-publishing.html. Accessed 8 Nov 2018.

[9] “Success Stories.” Greenleaf Book Group, https://greenleafbookgroup.com/our-work/success-stories. Accessed Nov 11 2018.

[10] “About Greenleaf.” Greenleaf Book Group, https://greenleafbookgroup.com/about. Accessed Nov 11 2018.

[11] “Ideas Thrive.” Greenleaf Book Group, page 32, https://greenleafbookgroup.com/assets/general/Greenleaf-Full-Brochure-2016.pdf. Accessed Nov 11 2018.

[12] Miller, Jennifer. “How Every Entrepreneur Has Seemingly “Written” A Book.” Entrepreneur, 29 Mar. 2017, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/290535. Accessed Nov 8 2018.

[13] “Ideas Thrive.” Greenleaf Book Group, page 27.

[14] “Success Stories.” Greenleaf Book Group.

[15] Miller, “How Every Entrepreneur Has Seemingly “Written” A Book.”

[16] “Ideas Thrive.” Greenleaf Book Group, page 28.

[17] Friedman, Jane. “A New Age of Discovery.” What Editors Do. Chicago, Page 400, The University of Chicago Press, 6 Oct. 2017

[18] “Ideas Thrive.” Greenleaf Book Group, page 28.

[19] “Ideas Thrive.” Greenleaf Book Group, page 3-4.

[20] Bronson, “Greenleaf Book Group.”

[21] “Ideas Thrive.” Greenleaf Book Group, page 25.

[22] “About Figure 1.” Figure 1 Publishing, https://www.figure1publishing.com/about-figure-1/.  Accessed 8 Nov 2018.

[23] “Page Two: Strategic Publishing.” Page Two Strategies, http://www.pagetwostrategies.com/ Accessed 11 Nov 2018.

[24] Serebrin, Jacob. “A new wave of Canadian book companies taps in to the popularity of self-publishing.” The Globe and Mail, 13 Apr. 2017, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/a-new-wave-of-canadian-book-companies-taps-in-to-the-popularity-of-self-publishing/article33995331/. Accessed 5 Nov 2018.

[25] Serebrin, “A new wave of Canadian book companies.”