Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category
Back in the day, it was easy for unethical businesses to pop up and disappear quite quickly. A number of years ago, I was interviewed by the local TV news when I discovered that a kiosk in a shopping mall was selling Livestrong wrist bands at a gross profit ($4 for bands purchased from the Livestrong Foundation for $1) and in contravention of the Livestrong Foundation’s agreement.
When the kiosk owner was nowhere to be found in the mall, the staff claimed ignorance and referred the reporter to the owner, and … things just passed over. Flea markets or other public events were popular places for people to show up with fake merchandise, bootlegged music or video, and make a quick buck.
But with social media, things can’t stay submerged for long, as brands like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 have learned to their chagrin. Bot those large companies were discovered (sometimes repeatedly) to have been copying the designs of small designers without permission and selling those designs.
Now, there appears to be a local example.
Two Ottawa men created and began selling promotional t-shirts with the message “Don’t F**K with the Walrus” during the NHL playoffs. The phrase refers to Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, who sports a rather outrageous moustache, and was referred to as a “bug-eyed fat walrus” by Montreal Canadiens player Brandon Prust.
The men, Jamie McLennan and Eric Chamois, made two shirts to wear to a playoff game, and found the market for them rabid and enthusiastic. They began making the shirts, selling them, and then donating $1 for each shirt sold to the Ottawa Senators Foundation.
But then they discovered that Ottawa Sports Experts stores were selling a design that was essentially identical to theirs.
Here’s the two. On the left is the original design by J and L Ink; on the right, a photo of a Sports Experts store display from the Senstown blog.
Looks to me as if the design on the right has slight variation in the font used and has had the F**K removed (making it a bit nonsensical — don’t moustache with the walrus?!) but is otherwise identical.
The creators of the original shirt are adamant that no deal is in place; I’ve reached out to Sports Experts for comment, but have heard nothing as yet.
Sports Experts has no active Twitter account, but they’re receiving dozens of angry messages on their Facebook page (which is showing a last update a day before the angry messages started.) They haven’t responded to any of those messages either. I’m at least the third blogger to find this, after the Senstown blog and the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.
What’s the lesson here? At this point, it’s that sometimes, even people with great ideas and generosity can do things that small-minded people then rip off. Or… if you are selling retail and you get an idea to use someone else’s design… maybe you should think again. But let’s wait and see. Maybe Sports Experts will make this good. Hey, FGL Sports, owners of Sports Experts and other brands — it’s your move.
UPDATE: At about 10:50, Sports Experts posted a response on their Facebook page:
“Hello everyone, we are aware of your comments and concerns regarding the Walrus T-shirt. Details concerning the situation are presently being investigated and we will keep you updated as soon as we know more on what exactly has happened. Thank you very much for your understanding.”
Look forward to more information as it comes.
UPDATE, 2:45 pm: Sports Experts has an apology and explanation up on their Facebook page:
Dear concerned customers,
The sale of the Walrus t-shirt in the Ottawa Sports Experts stores was a local initiative and in no way was meant to harm the artist. The Sports Experts franchise owner sourced the T-shirts from an Ottawa supplier and asked to modify the design (removing the obscene language) not knowing that the supplier didn’t own the rights to the graphic. As soon as he became aware of the problem, the store owner decided to stop selling the t-shirts and removed the unsold t-shirts from all locations. After discussing the situation with the local artist, the owner of the stores will donate all the sales revenues to the Sens Foundation. It was a misunderstanding between the artist, the supplier and the Sports Experts stores owner.
We, as a national team, are truly sorry for this mishap and look forward to your continued business.
Thank you for your understanding.
The Sports Experts team
The story goes like this:
A financial planner from Burnaby went to Mexico on a family vacation. While there, he had switched his smartphone to “Airplane Mode” to avoid roaming charges. All was well until his son got sunburned. What then? The boy spent a lot of time in the family’s hotel room, playing already-downloaded video games (cool). However, he also took the phone out of “Airplane Mode” and … streamed something like 12 hours of video from Youtube. That resulted in a $22,000 bill by the time the phone provider Fido(owned by phone giant Rogers) cut off data service.
Apparently, the bill was cut to $2,200 and then to $500 by the provider.
A couple of points here:
- The roaming rates for Fido are apparently higher than other providers.
- At least one other provider has a $200 cutoff point for data charges.
- Canada’s roaming rates are among the world’s highest.
So now that we’ve set out those provisos, let’s look at the question of responsibility. The dad in question admits that had he removed the SIM card from his smartphone, this couldn’t have happened (of course, if he had told his kid to read a book it wouldn’t have happened either). Another important point:
“Buie is a financial planner from Burnaby, who said he is paranoid about roaming charges. Before his family went on vacation in January, he said Apple store representatives advised him to switch his iPhone to ‘airplane mode’ to prevent roaming.” If you’re that “paranoid”… you give your kid your smartphone?
Possibly the most interesting part of the CBC story that piqued my interest in this is the comment section. Sure, media story comment sections are where you go to forget that humanity has potential. But even here, the number of comments that are critical of the user are significant. I would have expected an almost 100% anti-Rogers comment section.
I’m not absolving Rogers / Fido of blame here. And maybe their policies or rates need work. But at the same time, it’s difficult to look at this case and not think of the actions of the owner of the phone in this case as they contributed to the problem.
When consumers run into trouble, sometimes they run into it on their own two feet.
This week, I’m going to give you a few tips about how to deal with online criticisms of your business.
No business pleases everyone. And now, displeased customers can complain in public. Sometimes with lots of people watching. And when that happens, what do you do?!
Shockingly enough, many companies are choosing to ignore online complaints. Look at this blog post by Jay Baer, based on research published in September 2011. According to that research, less than a third of complaints on Twitter were responded to by the company being complained about. According to Baer,
Brands must look at these new channels as the “social telephone” and ignoring these 140-character cries for help is a flawed decision.”
There are a few options. First thing is to assess the validity of the complaint. If Jane Bloggs is saying you screwed up the delivery and the product was broken when it finally got delivered… is she right? If so, did you know about her dissatisfcation and attempt to make things right? You need to have as complete a picture of what happened as you can get, so you can know where you stand and decide on a response.
It might be that this person is not a customer at all. And that’s good to know too. It might be rare, but some people do enjoy causing trouble by making up stories.
Assuming Jane Bloggs is real, then reach out using the same means she did to voice her complaint. Did she tweet it? Then @ her. Did she use Yelp? Then comment on her post, and try to engage her.
Use neutral language. Acknowledge her feelings. Show that you’re listening. And try to move the discussion into a more private place, like email, or even better, the phone. Human contact trumps electronic contact when it comes to resolving conflict.
If you’re able to mollify her and resolve the issues which got her mad, then thank her for being reasonable and promise to do better in the future. And do.
If you aren’t, do your best, and explain why you can’t help any more than you can.
I’ve adapted this chart from the US Air Force’s chart of how they respond to bloggers. And thanks to Jeremiah Owyang, we’ve all had a chance to see that classic piece of work.
Don’t ignore complaints. You’re only hurting yourself.
I was watching my local newscast the other night when I watched a story about a local — and legendary — butcher shop.
Aubrey’s Meats is over 100 years old, and located in the Byward Market, one of Ottawa’s oldest areas. This may be one of its problems, actually. The Market, as it’s known to us Ottawans, is usually packed with a combination of tourists in search of the right tchotchke to take home to a coworker or maiden aunt and young revelers heading to The Heart and Crown or the Chateau Lafayette to get their drink on. If I’m gonna buy some steaks or a nice roast for the grill I’m not going to head to the Market.
But I digress. Aubrey’s Meats, according to its own “About” page, found itself in a serious bit of difficulty recently. The death of its owner and his declining health meant employees were running the shop. And not too well.
…in December 2010, Catherine Davis, the store’s bookkeeper, was made ad-hoc manager of Aubrey’s. When she took over, certain employees had run our store, between rent to the city and money owed to the suppliers, into a debt in excess of $300,000. Though it didn’t appear so, Aubrey’s was a sinking ship that some might not have tried to save. Out of a respect for Brian and his work, and an undying faith in this store’s potential, Catherine set about to keep Aubrey’s afloat.
So they were in trouble. Like some on a sinking ship, they grasped at anything that looked like it might help them float. And what they grabbed were Groupon and Kahoot.
They embarked on a number of different offers. One offered $200 in value for $89. They sold over 1000 of those. They offered others at $55 for $175 worth of meat. They sold thousands of those.
The hammer started to fall for the people running Aubrey’s when they realized that they couldn’t fulfil all the orders placed. So they limited it to redeeming $50 worth of meat at a time. Now they’ve suspended all redemptions until May 1.
What went wrong here? I think it should be obvious. The cash crunch they found themselves in made them decide to try this for an immediate cash infusion (even though they only get a portion of the revenue — according to the butcher who is the spokesperson for Aubrey’s right now, each $55 coupon resulted in $24 in revenue to Aubrey’s). But they didn’t look even one step down the road to figure out what to do if they SUCCEEDED with the offers. I feel for Aubrey’s employees. It sounds like they’re in a tight spot. But they’ve done themselves no favours by pursuing this strategy.
The companies which marketed their deals? I’d wager that they’re in no way suffering the way Aubrey’s is.
This isn’t a new story. Others, including my buddy Anne Weiskopf, have written about some of the challenges of managing daily deal sites for small businesses. Don’t just dive in. Think about the risks AND the potential benefits. If you’re new to doing that sort of thing, get advice. And if you’re considering a daily coupon site, you need to not only ask what will happen if your offer goes nowhere, you need to think VERY carefully about what the implications of SUCCESS will be. Dying of popularity is not any better than dying of neglect.
UPDATE, January 23: Three of the four companies which issued coupons for Aubrey’s meats are refunding those coupons, according to CBC Ottawa. Those are: Team Buy, DealFind and Groupon. CBC is reporting that Ottawa-based company Kahoot told its customers:
“We have been made aware of these unfortunate circumstances regarding Aubrey’s. Unfortunately we are unable to refund vouchers outside of seven days after purchase. If interested in a refund, we suggest going directly to Aubrey’s as they are now liable for their commitment to honour all vouchers sold.”
I wonder if Kahoot has thought about the several thousand people who bought through them rather than another of the coupon sites, and how likely they are to return to Kahoot to purchase.
UPDATE, JANUARY 24: I’ve asked Kahoot a couple of questions:
1. Can you provide the statement sent to customers who purchased Kahoot deals for Aubrey’s?
2. Is Kahoot concerned that its decision to not refund coupons will cost it brand loyalty when compared to the decisions of Teambuy, DealFind and Groupon to refund the coupons?
I’m hoping for a reply more substantive than this one from them:
The Consumerist is one of my must-read blogs. But I don’t necessarily read it for solid marketing and communications advice. Until this morning, when I opened up my feed reader and found a post called “The Silly Hat Shop.”
It reminded me of a cool furniture store in my neighbourhood in Ottawa. They sell the sort of furniture that funky condos would have, as well as custom design services for furniture.
On their door, they trumpet that they’re on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What’s that mean? For Twitter, they’ve posted 76 tweets in two years, with less than 50 followers. Most of those tweets are for sales on their products. On Facebook, a page with 133 friends and an unending series of sales. And on LinkedIn? Well, they have some employees there.
What does their online presence say to me? I’m NEVER buying full price from them, and they aren’t that different from a Leon’s, a “The Brick”, or other furniture stores. In short, Ben Popken needed a hat and bought one at a new hat store. They then subjected him to a variety of marketing and loyalty techniques that, in his opinion and mine, don’t fit a hat shop. A frequent buyer card? Really?
I’d also wager that neither the hat shop nor the furniture store have put a second of thought into how they are going to evaluate the success of their frequent buyer club or their Twitter account.
Being a great buyer / retailer of hats, of furniture, of whatever, does not make you a great communicator of what you’re REALLY all about. If you sell great funky furniture that deserves premium treatment — and prices — why not treat it that way? And act as if you’re a trusted advisor rather than a salesman? If you sell hats, don’t treat them like they’re a cappuccino.
And if you can’t think this through because you’re too close to your store, too much in love with what you do — hire someone with a clear vision and trust their insights to do it for you.
(Photo CC licenced from Flickr user Slimmer_Jimmer)
I shouldn’t need to write this post. But somehow, I think I do.
On July 18, in Gatineau, the city across the river from my city of Ottawa, someone recorded this:
So not surprisingly, this bus driver was quickly up for discipline.
It’s the job of the driver’s union to represent him. So, Local 591 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (French site) did so, with both his employer, and with the media.
The CBC story about the ATU response says:
“Felix Gendron, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Gatineau, said the driver’s privacy rights were violated after a passenger shot video of him and posted it on YouTube…’I think that the person who makes the video, if they don’t like the way the driver’s doing that they should go tell the driver. Not go put that on TV,’ said Gendron…Gendron said the union asked STO to ban passengers from being able to record drivers.”
Here’s the part that I can’t believe I’m writing:
- If you’re a bus driver responsible for the lives of dozens of riders and other motorists around you, don’t fill out paperwork while driving or steer the bus with your knees.
- If you get caught doing something that stupid, accept the fact that you were caught doing something that stupid. Focus on serving your customers (by not endangering their lives) rather than shoot the messenger. The person with the camera wasn’t the one in the wrong.
A Toronto company named EasyDNS has become a potent case study of two things: crisis communications and the limitations of journalism in the Internet age.
EasyDNS provides domain name servers for clients all over the place and is also a domain registrar. Until early December, there wasn’t much reason for an average person to know much about them.
But that was before a misunderstanding catapulted them into the middle of the largest news story of 2010. Someone, somewhere, confused EasyDNS in Toronto with EveryDNS in New Hampshire. EveryDNS had terminated its servicing of Wikileaks. This ticked off the supporters of Wikileaks, and when someone mistakenly identified EasyDNS as the villain, things went wrong.
Valleywag was the first major site to make the mistake, posting “Wikileaks loses its domain” on December 3rd. Within two hours of finding the Valleywag post, EasyDNS has gotten the post corrected and put up a blog post of their own explaining the situation. After that, the Financial Times(registration required) the New York Times “The Lede” blog, the Associated Press, and The Guardian all — independently — ran stories perpetuating the idea that a company who until now had no dealings with Wikileaks had struck the organization a blow.
And in the meantime, EasyDNS’s team, led by CEO Mark Jeftovic (left), who seems a savvy and smart guy, were eliciting corrections and trying to keep their site and blog up to provide correct information. Aaaaannd… they were approached by Wikileaks to be one of several companies providing DNS services. By December 6, EasyDNS was providing service to Wikileaks.
You can read the full timeline in quite some detail in Timeline of an Epic Fail, the company’s blog post trying to compile all of this information. I’m more interested in teasing out some of the implications.
First: you are always at risk. I’m sure that if Mark Jeftovic at EasyDNS had someone tell him in November that his company would be misidentified as a “villain” in the biggest story of 2010, he’d have chuckled (or “chunkled”, as he writes in his timeline). But he was. One of my rules for crisis communication and response is that even things that are HIGHLY unlikely sometimes happen.
Second: as an organization, you need to be flexible enough to devote ALL your resources to resolving organizational crisis. At one workplace a few years ago, my team and I were running flat-out on a crisis that threatened customer service standards, financial damage, and public embarrassment. A few office doors away, I don’t think the response would have been “Crisis? Is this a crisis?” You need to have your whole organization be aware that a crisis state exists (not necessarily an EMERGENCY) and that action has to be quick, decisive and significant.
Second-and-a-half: Just because you’re totally focused on the crisis, don’t forget you have other business. EasyDNS was sending out e-mails to its customers as well as updating its own blog, as well as keeping feedback channels open on e-mail, twitter, and phone. They seem to have done a good job of keeping their existing customers informed and addressing their concerns.
Third: Be politely persistent with media who get something wrong. It’s shocking and disappointing that EasyDNS were badly served five separate times by media both blog-based and mainstream. It’s certainly made them more cynical about the quality of journalism. Who can blame them? But they did things right. What’s also interesting is that some media noted the error, while others simply corrected it in their online versions.
Fourth: Don’t be shy. EasyDNS was tireless in chasing down rumours and being proactive. Particularly if you’re “in the right” as they were, don’t just hope for things to “blow over”, be quiet, and wait for eyes to pass you over. You’re already part of the story. You might as well be a FULL part of it. I don’t know how “human” the company’s voice was before this, but their tweets, blog posts, and e-mails had a great voice, correcting errors and portraying emotion without coming off like ranters or bullies.
Fifth: recognize that in crisis lies opportunity. Jeftovic was already thinking this way when he wrote his blog post OK, so would we take on Wikileaks at this point? Now is there business benefit to EasyDNS actually doing this? Probably not directly. But my impression of EasyDNS has gone from zero — until yesterday when Jeftovic appeared on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” (you can listen to an interview with Jeftovic there) I’d never heard of ‘em — to “this is a company that has its act together and has some principles.” That can’t be bad.
Are there other lessons to be learned from this incident? You tell me. And attention Craig Silverman! There’s likely a whole chapter of “Regret the Error Volume 2″ in this story.
UPDATE: The 92nd Street Y has apologized to Martin and Solomon, and posted the apology on its blog. Here it is:
We know there have been a lot of stories in the media over the last couple of days about our evening at 92Y with Deborah Solomon and Steve Martin and our decision to offer gift certificates to our audience.
Put simply, we didn’t handle this situation as well as we could have done.
We received numerous complaints from audience members about how the interview was conducted and responded quickly by offering the gift certificates. Although our gesture was made out of respect for our patrons and with the best of intentions, we know now that it came across to many as a criticism of our guests. We deeply apologize for this.
We realize now that offering a refund, especially without consulting with our guests who graciously gave of their time, was disrespectful. We have learned our lesson, and this will not happen again.
For what it’s worth, this is good apologizing. It’s specific, it doesn’t weasel, and it’s not too long. Well done on that front.
I’m watching with train-wreck fascination as New York’s 92nd Street Y seems to tick off every party involved in a recent event.
For those not in the know, the 92nd Street Y, or 92Y, is not a Y like we Ottawa folk might envision, with a small pool and a weight room and an aerobics studio and a couple of change rooms. Like most things in New York, it’s a LOT bigger. It’s got annual revenues approaching $100 million. Their speakers list includes names like Salman Rushdie, Carol Bartz, Tony Blair, Dan Rather… It’s a giant-sized cultural centre, performance space, and a health centre TOO.
So. One recent event at 92Y was a public conversation between Steve Martin and New York Times Magazine writer Deborah Soloman, held November 29. Soloman does Q&A interviews for the Times, and is a frequent target of satirical website Gawker for her style.
The conversation, held in front of 900 people who paid $50 a head to attend, apparently went off the rails. How badly? It’s hard to judge, since there’s no video available (yet), but badly enough that an organizer brought out a note to Soloman halfway through. One twitterer (The COO of Newsweek, not that that matters for this purpose) wrote:
The note asked Soloman to move the conversation away from art (the subject of Martin’s novel An Object of Beauty) and towards his movie and entertainment career. Neither was happy, apparently, and likely a bit embarrassed. Especially when Soloman read out the note and the audience cheered.
And the Y folks apparently weren’t happy to boot. The executive director of 92Y sent an e-mail to ticketholders the next day, saying (according to reports): “We acknowledge that last night’s event with Steve Martin did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect from 92nd St. Y. We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening. We will be mailing you a $50 certificate for each ticket you purchased to last night’s event. The gift certificate can be used toward future 92Y events, pending availability.”
That move displeased both Soloman and Martin. Martin tweeted:
When twitterer @Brilliantbooks noted to Martin that “Y billed it an evening with a star. Not a talk about art” he responded “Then they lied to the audience. They knew what it was.” He’s since moved on to making jokes about interrupting sex with his wife with “book chat” and her demanding a refund.
And like most things in the fishbowl of celebrity and New York, it’s a media story. To my mind, it’s the biggest interview-fiasco story since the 2008 Lacy-Zuckerberg kerfuffle (credit to Holtz and Hobson)
So what’s to be learned here?
- Know what you’re getting before you go public. Martin says 92Y knew what they were going to get. And it was he, not the Y, who asked Deborah Soloman to be his conversational partner. Yet the Y billed the event as: “Steve Martin with Deborah Soloman. Steve Martin is a celebrated writer, actor and performer. His film credits include Father of the Bride, Parenthood and The Spanish Prisoner, as well as Roxanne, L.A. Story and Bowfinger, for which he also wrote the screenplays. He’s won Emmy Awards for his television writing and two Grammy Awards for comedy albums. In addition to a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, he has written a best-selling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel and a best-selling novella, Shopgirl. His most recent novel is An Object of Beauty: A Novel.” I have no idea whether the organizers knew what Soloman and Martin were planning to discuss. And I have no idea whether Martin saw the promo copy for the event. But there was a disconnect, and it hurt.
- When you’re in the middle of an event, don’t try to pull a 180. A number of years ago, I was at a “Newfie night” fundraising event for a church-related fundraising project at a church in Ottawa. The headliner for the evening was Greg Malone of CODCO fame. Malone came out and did some humour that was sharp-edged, dark, and a bit blue. Halfway through his routine, people started leaving. Then someone stood up and heckled him. And then an organizer came out and whispered in Malone’s ear. “I guess I’m done,” Malone said, and stalked offstage. It was, to put it bluntly, a disaster. Would it have been worse to let Malone finish? Was the best course of action for the Y to have sent out the note? Ummm, no. In a Stephen King novel, a character says “done-bun-can’t-be-undone.”
- Be careful with your apologies. I’m not convinced the refund was the way to go. I’ve been to some stinko plays in my time; I’ve attended boring readings. But how bad does something have to be to offer a refund? Again, it’s hard to know how bad THIS was without having attended live or via satellite, but jeez. Was it THAT bad?
So now the 92nd Street Y has a disappointed audience and offended presenters, one of whom has 399,000 Twitter followers. Let’s go over the lessons for event organizers once again:
- Make sure EVERYONE involved in an event knows what the event is.
- Even if it goes off the rails, it’s almost always too late to try and pull it back onto the rails in the middle. You have to rely on the people on stage.
- If it has gone wrong, be very careful how you make amends.
There was a time when I pointed to the Transportation Security Administration as an example in social media, like this:
Hey, if the TSA can start a blog, what’s stopping other government agencies?
But I have to say that they’re fumbling badly with the introduction of their new Advanced Imaging Technology machines and the “advanced patdown” – also known as the “Don’t touch my junk” patdown.
I don’t need to tell you how much attention all of this is getting and how many gaffes and incidents are getting attention now.From women being asked to remove breast prostheses to children being patted down to an amputee having to run her prosthetic leg through the luggage x-ray machine to a woman doffing her duds and trying to be patted down in lingerie to (and this one hit home for me) a bladder cancer survivor having his urostomy bag broken by the pat-down and having to board his plane with pants soaked with his urine.
And tomorrow seems like it’s going to make things even worse, with “National Opt-Out Day” encouraging US travellers to opt out of the scanners and allow themselves to get groped.
The TSA’s response? In part, this video:
Ouch. The lameness burns.
TechCrunch has pointed to the mysterious “Blogger Bob” as having the most unenviable job in social media — that of running the TSA’s social media presence. He’s at the former “Evolution of Security” blog and he’s running the one official TSA Blog Team twitter account. And man, he takes a lot of heat.
But the problem with TSA isn’t their social media activity. It’s that their social media activity isn’t matching up with their real-world actions. Blogger Bob is trying to do his best in the time-honored Dell model, but it doesn’t feel like TSA is doing what Dell did to re-engineer their business and to better meet their customers’ expectations and demands.
If I use TSA as an example in a future, it is going to be more along the lines of:
Don’t start down this road unless you’re willing to actually CHANGE based on what you hear. Just saying you’re listening only gets you so far.
So to Blogger Bob, I wish a happy and stress-free American Thanksgiving. To all those travelling, I hope your trips are free of horror stories.
To the TSA, I hope that you’re soon better able to balance the need for security with basic human rights.
And finally, if that video by TSA administrator John Pistole has left you with a bad taste in your mouth, here’s something that’s about airport security, but also a bit more entertaining: webisodes from the Gruppo Rubato production of “Airport Security”, starring buds Kris Joseph and Nancy Kenny, among others.
She gave a moving acceptance speech, thanking her late father for information, and then started to prepare to rejoin her mother on a vacation in the Middle East. A great story! But … that’s where the trouble started.
Skibsrud’s novel, like her previous volume of poetry, was published by Gaspereau Press, a small publisher based in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Gaspereau describes itself as part of: “a unique but traditional publishing model that brings printing and publishing together under one roof [whose] publishing program stresses the importance of quality across the entire process, from editorial and design to the manufacturing stage.”
In realistic terms, that meant that The Sentimentalists could be produced at a maximum rate of 1,000 copies per week. That was fine for the roughly 800 copies it had sold since its release. This was not going to work for a Giller winner. For example, last year’s winner The Bishop’s Man sold about 75,000 copies. Even if you halved that number, Gaspereau was facing a bit of a problem. They had demand that was far outstripping supply. It could take the better part of a year to produce enough to meet the immediate demand, and this is the time of year — as Christmas shopping ramps up — when the vast majority of books are sold.
So let me lay out the issues that faced Gaspereau as I see them:
- They have a principled commitment to quality production
- They have a book in demand far beyond what they can supply (Amazon is selling ONE copy for nearly $900!)
- That demand is partially time limited
- Printing by someone else will likely reduce the quality of the physical book
- Printing by someone else will generate additional revenue for the business
- Printing by someone else will generate additional revenue for the author
Today, it appears that Gaspereau has found a solution. They’ve sold trade paperback rights to another publisher, Douglas & McIntyre. This means that their editions will still be the beautiful objects they are, but that many more people will be able to buy paper versions. There will be 30,000 copies available in about a week, and if they need more, they can do another 20,000 pretty easily. Douglas & McIntyre will also make e-reader editions available for all the popular e-readers. Previously, you could only buy it for Indigo’s proprietary Kobo e-reader. There’s a certain irony in a book published by a craftsmanlike press being primarily available for e-readers, I think.
All that is good news, and I wish Gaspereau and Ms. Skibsrud much more success in the future.
But the story of The Sentimentalists made me think. On one level, I admire Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfeld of Gaspereau Press for their dedication. But I’m led to believe that most of the time, when a book is shortlisted for a Giller Prize, the publisher prepares for a possible win by making printing arrangements.
So perhaps what the folks at Gaspereau did was to neglect to prepare for success. It’s easy to think about failure. It’s easy to disaster plan (even though we often don’t do it!). But do we prepare and plan for success in the same way? I think it’s worth thinking about.