Flagstaff, AZ – Northland isn't selling because of poor sales. In fact publisher Dave Jenney says they're doing better than ever. But CEO Brian Billideau has had some health issues and Jenney says it was his decision to sell. Twelve employees have been laid off. A few remain this week packing boxes and cleaning out desks and shelves.
JENNEY: We had been flying below the radar in the publishing business for years. And in the last 10 years we've done very well and we're no longer below the radar. Over the last three years Northland's children's book sales have doubled. The Three Little Javelinas and the Do Princesses? line of books are their most popular. Northland's marketing director Eric Howard says online booksellers like Amazon have helped their sales. HOWARD: What you find is people's ability to go online and order books that even a big box couldn't stock that kind of inventory. For a small press there's opportunity in that. And we've realized that.
Other independent publishers in the southwest haven't done as well. Dave Jenney says publishers like Arizona Highways have had a difficult time in the last six years. JENNEY: I know publishers that have been in chapter 11 after 9/11. I know publishers that have pulled out of chapter 11 and I know a lot have had a tough time of making it a go. Yet they still do it because they love books and they love the business. But the big guys have gobbled up the successful small publishers in the last 10 years and I don't think that trend's going to stop.
Jenney says since Barnes and Noble bought their own publishing company that's had an impact on independent publishers like Northland. He says that hasn't made their job easy. So they've had to get creative. Jenney says the secret to their success has been quality craftsmanship and finding a niche that sells. Jenney says when one niche fades they choose another. They started with western art and culture and when that became unpopular they moved onto Native American art and culture. Tina Jordan is vice president of the Association of American Publishers.
JORDAN: Many independent publishers do quite well when headquartered in their geography of focus. Niche markets are really very much a profit center for independent publishers. In fact larger publishers have learned from them and turn to them for acquisitions because of their certain niche categories.
The publishing company that bought Northland Rowman and Littlefield most likely won't sustain the southwest categories Northland's developed. They're based in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Rowman and Littlefield's sister company National Book Network will be handling the distribution of Northland's children's books. Jordan says National Book Network is the second largest book distributor in the country so the Northland titles are in good hands.
Northland publisher Dave Jenney
JENNEY: I hope our books have a good life through their marketing machine and the power they have as a big company. They get a seat at the table with the Barnes and Nobles and the Borders and the big players so it could be really good for our titles. Children's book author Jennifer Ward hopes so. Northland published six of her books. She says she was shocked to learn of the sale.
WARD: I wasn't quite certain what the ramifications of the sale would mean for my books. All my books with them are still in print and popular and doing well. So they've been like a family to me so I considered them my lifelong publisher even though I work with other publishing houses.
Ward and other Northland authors will now be shopping for new publishers. She says with her next book she plans to work with a bigger publishing house.
For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.