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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Building a Brand (Pt. 2)

In 1996, David Woodbury and I decided to head in different directions. David continued to work on some projects for us, but the company named changed to Savas Publishing Company. Ostensibly, the branding thrust remained the same: find and develop quality original Civil War titles.

But was it time to change that thrust?

Our new titles included some real blockbusters for us, including (those that leap readily to mind): Last Rays of Departing Hope: The Wilmington Campaign, by Chris Fonvielle; My Life in the Irish Brigade, edited by Kevin O'Brien; Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, Vol. 1, by Terry Winschel; The War in Kentucky, edited by Kent Masterson Brown; Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion: The Petersburg Campaign, by A. Wilson Greene, Last Chance for Victory: Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign, by Scott Bowden and Bill Ward (winner of 7 awards), and many, many others.

By 1998-1999, it became obvious even to me that there was a larger military-history market out there waiting to be tapped. Was it time to broaden our horizons? I decided the answer was yes, and we placed a large toe and part of a foot into the Indian Wars with Journal of the Indian Wars based upon the style and format of Civil War Regiments). Our new books included one by our good friend and indexing guru Lee Merideth called 1912 Facts about Titanic, and another by friend Deborah Petite called 1836 Facts about the Alamo. A final triumph was the appearance of Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders of World War II, by Theodore P. Savas (editor).

Thankfully, every book sold well, some sold more than we expected, and some sold exceptionally large numbers given our limited marketing abilities. Titanic continues to sell strongly, edging its way toward 100,000 copies, thanks to Lee's indefatigable efforts. When our distributor called the book "dead" several years ago, we crafted a deal for Lee to pursue sales under his own imprint, retaining an interest in the title.

In 2000, Combined Publishing in Pennsylvania decided to make an offer to purchase the company. An arrangement was reached and a deal struck. It was almost as difficult, from an emotional standpoint, as selling my law practice in 1998. Combined, however, was almost immediately acquired by Perseus Books Group, which pulled in the Savas line, but was not interested in either journal. Left without a base in book sales, I reluctantly decided to stop publishing them.

Both journals had a strong base, and I often think about resurrecting them.

The die was cast, however: the last incarnation of Savas Publishing had successfully peeked above the breastworks without taking a bullet through the forehead. We had dabbled outside the Civil War arena, and had done so successfully.

The years 2001-2003 were spent writing and ghost-writing, editing, consulting, teaching, and coaching little league. It was a period of rejuvenation that only in hindsight makes sense to me now. I needed that time to think about how to advance the cause of history I love so deeply.

Throughout that period I worked up ideas on how to roll out a new company. What would I do differently? What had I learned? What worked and did not work? Given the radical changes taking place in publishing, was it even viable to consider reentering the business? I decided the answer was yes, but I wanted to do it on a larger scale.

The questions were how, when, and what the branding goal would look like--should the right opportunity come along.


1 comment:

markwilensky said...

I am reading with great interest your blogs on branding. Businesses have become so streamlined and homogenized over the years, they have seemingly become carbon copies of one-another. Only the names and catch phrases change. True independents are tragically and exceptionally rare. I had an independent video store in the midst of Blockbusters, Hollywood Videos, among others, and survived for 14 years before I sold it and became a teacher. Surviving was all about identity, and I loved that part of the business. And now, I love reading about your company's strategy to remain unique.

Mark Wilensky