April 1, 2014, marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of Human Kinetics, and we did a fair amount of looking back at those years in the months leading up to that day. A lot has changed over the decades, but the commitment to our authors has not wavered since Rainer Martens, HK’s founder, entered into a contract with Brian Sharkey to write our first book, which is still in print today as Fitness and Health, Seventh Edition.
Back then, though, Brian submitted the manuscript for what was then titled Physiology of Health and Fitness, which he’d typed on his manual typewriter. It was painstaking work and Brian admits to being reluctant to make changes given the ordeal of inserting a new paragraph into a typed page. “You would think twice before making an insertion—not like today, with the beauty of today’s technology,” Brian offers.
Rainer’s late wife, Marilyn, had typed Brian’s dissertation, so their relationship even predated HK’s formation. “I recall reading Brian’s book over a weekend and knew immediately that this was a book we would want to publish,” Rainer remembers. Julie Martens was the book’s developmental editor. (She was Julie Simon in those days and would become Rainer’s wife after Marilyn passed away.)
Today, HK’s U.S.-based staff enjoys working in a 121,000-square-foot facility, but in those days, the business was located in a house, and Julie lived and worked on the second floor. “The majority of the work was done over the phone and in the evening when the phone rates were the cheapest. We didn’t have assistant editors to do the various functions that they do now, so I dealt with everything, including editorial changes, art, and copyediting,” Julie remembers. “It was a great learning experience for a new PhD, and I think a good beginning for Physiology of Fitness.”
A good beginning, indeed! The title has sold close to 200,000 copies through the years.
From that humble start, HK has gone on to publish thousands of books, journal articles, videos, and online courses. Today, HK has 1,638 active authors in 26 countries. About 80% of our authors live in the United States. Canada is home to 113 authors; the United Kingdom, 76; and Australia, 46. In the past year, HK paid authors $4,156,398 in royalties.
Our history was on my mind some weeks ago when a former Human Kinetics author was telling me about his new work of fiction. “I’ve got a website for it so I can sell it online,” he explained. “I just need to find a publisher for the print version.”
Well, it’s really not that simple, as the author soon realized. That initial exchange was followed by a flurry of questions from him over the next week as he tried to navigate the multiple e-book sales channels, e-book formats, and rights-related issues (language rights? audio editions? large-print editions?).
It is easier to publish a book today than it was 40 years ago. Amazon makes it simple for authors to sell a book in print or digital form. Placing a title on Amazon’s site is just the first step. Getting it discovered among Amazon’s 12 million titles takes effort and expertise, and publishers have both. For example, affinity marketing plays a critical role in a book’s success on Amazon. The more copies a title sells, the more times it will pop up in other places on the site, such as in best-seller category lists and next to similar titles. Publishers have the know-how and systems to send customers to Amazon and other sites so an author’s book can be discovered.
Direct marketing and social media tools play critical roles in launching and then sustaining the sales of a title. Readers will be looking for a book in many forms—digital as well as print—so it is critical that an author’s book be available in all formats when a publisher’s promotional efforts launch. Owners of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, or other tablets will be disappointed and unlikely to buy a title if it is available only in print.
Amazon is only one sales channel. For HK, that site represents about 13% of our U.S. sales. What about Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, and the publisher’s own site, just to name a few other e-book channels? Each requires its own e-book editions. HK currently works with more than 21 e-book partners around the world and recently contracted with an e-book channel in China.
Publishing a work of text-driven fiction across multiple formats is one challenge; publishing HK titles, which are often heavily illustrated with video clips and sometimes accompanied by online ancillaries, is even more daunting. Today, the role HK plays with its authors is more complicated than it has ever been, and it’s more valuable.
Our products are very different from that first book we published with Brian Sharkey 40 years ago, and our editorial and production processes are, too. Our sales channels are evolving. Our marketing methods are more complex. Yet, our staff still strives to serve our authors with the same commitment in today’s rapidly changing publishing world.