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Author Joe Jackman with Heather Reisman at his book launch with boutique publishing firm Page Two.

When marketing guru Joe Jackman set out to write a book about his day job – reviving tired retailers such as Old Navy – he turned to his wide network of contacts for publishing advice.

A business acquaintance at one of the big publishers warned him that he would inevitably lose some control of the message if he went with a major publishing house. Yet another business contact suggested he seek an alternative, more collaborative option: boutique publishing firm Page Two. It’s run by two veterans of established houses, and gives the author more leeway to shape the product.

“That appealed to me,” rookie author Jackman says in an interview about his new book, The Reinventionist Mindset: Learning to Love Change and the Human How of Doing It Brilliantly, published by the Vancouver-based Page Two. “I obsess over the details of things.”

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Just as Jackman’s consulting firm rushes to reinvent troubled businesses, Page Two is among a small but growing band of publishing concerns that are racing to do their bit to reshape the challenged publishing world in a fast-changing digital age.

Page Two and some other startups are “hybrids”: a cross between self-publishing and providing authors with specialty services such as editing and design work. Still others are beginning to focus on crowdfunding to raise money for writers.

Business consultants, including Jackman, and other experts increasingly are signing up with an array of these alternative publishers rather than their traditional rivals as a way to have more say over the finished product and timing of its release. Consultants are writing books to use as something of a calling card to raise their profile and lure clients – whether or not they make money from it, says Maggie Langrick, chief executive of LifeTree Media in Vancouver, another hybrid publisher. And they appreciate getting the help of veteran editors and other specialists.

For many business advisers, a book is the “price of entry,” she adds. “You have to have a book if you want to be taken seriously as a consultant.”

Hybrid publishers tend to focus on non-fiction books because their authors are experts who are adept at marketing their own products, she says. The publishers are drawn to business books at a time when major publishers are producing fewer of them.

Greg Ioannou, founder of hybrid publisher Iguana Books in Toronto, says his and other hybrids can be more nimble, producing books in as little as six months compared with two to three years at the major publishing houses.

Iguana Books now sends some of its authors to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise money for their would-be tomes. Later this year, Ioannou plans to launch PubLaunch, a crowdfunding site tailored specifically to raise money for authors and their suppliers.

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Crowdfunding can be a good test of whether a book will have a potential market, he says. London-based crowdfunding publisher Unbound is starting to sell some books in Canada, industry insiders say. (An Unbound official could not be reached for comment.)

“Page Two and other companies like them have elevated the standards, if you want to call it, of self-publishing – that term has evolved,” says literary agent Rick Broadhead, who represents authors such as Howard Green (Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-Time CEO Hunter Harrison), who have used Page Two and another Vancouver-based firm, Figure 1. “The options are much more sophisticated now.”

Figure 1 teams up with art galleries and chefs to produce high-end illustrated tomes, says co-founder Chris Labonte, another veteran of established publishing.

Still, Labonte warns that while some hybrids are thriving, other alternative publishers have floundered. “Successful book publishing remains very challenging,” he says. “Those who have found success in new models tend to be seasoned publishing professionals, often having cut their teeth in traditional trade publishing.”

Broadhead cautions the alternatives are not for everybody. They work for authors such as Jackman who are well connected and can help spread the word of their new book. He’s a regular on the speaking circuit, where his book can be sold at healthy profit margins.

But authors such as Jackman take on more risk and upfront costs compared with working with a traditional publisher, which assumes the risk and control, Broadhead says. For one, traditional publishers often pay writers an advance fee of between roughly $10,000 and $1-million or more for signing on to write a book.

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Jesse Finkelstein, co-founder of Page Two, says Jackman’s entrepreneurial bent matched up well with her six-year-old publishing firm’s aim to serve authors who want to break out of the conventional mould, but still get support from a team of seasoned specialists. She even learned from his business insights. “I’m part of a young, very disruptive and very innovative company and yet we have to stay on our toes all the time …

“There’s something that is really key to the kind of authors we serve, including people like Joe,” she adds. “They’re entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovators, people who in every other aspect of their work do have control or a great deal of control.”

LifeTree, for example, has two types of authors: those who are business consultants or other experts and do a lot of public speaking where they can drum up interest in their book; and writers who have a strong online following – especially bloggers – and write on food, parenting and other lifestyle issues, Langrick says.

The authors want to influence everything from marketing to compensation. Page Two’s authors can make twice as much or more as those at traditional publishing houses, Finkelstein says. For example, while writers usually get an advance from their publisher, plus roughly 8 per cent to 10 per cent (in royalties) of retail sales of print books in conventional publishing, Page Two authors take in about 30 per cent of retail sales (and 100 per cent of bulk sales, minus discounts for the purchaser and shipping costs, at speaking events.) But those authors pay Page Two a fee-for-service.

David Swail, president of the Canadian Publishers’ Council, which represents major publishers, says fee-for-service compensation is relatively uncommon in the industry, with firms such as Page Two bridging the gap between self-publishing and a firm of seasoned publishing experts.

Swail says Page Two gives Jackman final say on the finished product while letting him tap into his marketing savvy to tout his book in an era when even established publishers have scaled back on promoting authors. “He has all the chops to know where he needs to go with that,” Swail says. On YouTube alone, Jackman already has had tens of thousands of views of the video he posted on Jan. 15 about his book.

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Jackman says he wrote his book to pass on insights to his own staff and others. He says he didn’t write it specifically to lure more consulting clients, of which he says he has plenty. But he adds: “Would I like additional opportunities? Sure.”

He says he originally had thought of writing a textbook. But his editors at Page Two felt he could do more. “My publisher said: ‘You write stiffly, but you speak fluidly. So just write the way you speak.’ And that’s what I started to do,” Jackman says.

He also sought advice from Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music, the country’s largest book chain, and one of his many contacts. She encouraged him to do it and had a tip for him. She suggested he incorporate his company’s signature colour – hot pink to denote boldness – in the book’s cover design “because it will cut through,” he recalls her saying.

He took her advice, and didn’t have to get the nod from his publisher to do so.

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Jackman's consulting work calls on clients to constantly re-evaluate how to serve consumers’ shifting needs.

Joe Jackman’s consulting firm, Jackman Reinvents, has advised about 40 ailing companies over 12 years about getting back on their feet, ranging from clothier Old Navy to office-supplies chain Staples and drugstore specialist Rexall.

His advice to clients applies to almost every type of organization, even publishers, and has never been more critical: If businesses stand still, they risk being overtaken by the swift pace of change in today’s digital age.

His consulting work calls on clients to constantly re-evaluate how to serve consumers’ shifting needs. His team identifies what made a business – usually faltering retailers – successful in the first place and seeks to update that DNA to lure back customers. Move quickly, he advises, and be bold; set “big, hairy audacious financial goals” and keep checking the results.

In the case of Old Navy, Jackman’s team found that the chain, a 1990s destination for affordable, casual fashion, had gone stale by 2008 after rivals had copied its strategy. But what had made Old Navy stand out was its fun approach to shopping, he says.

Jackman pushed for a more lighthearted tack. The chain introduced new yoga wear and store prototypes, dropped business and evening fashions and launched a buzz-generating marketing blitz based on a family of plastic mannequin characters.

Staples is a more recent client and a work-in-progress. Customers – many small business operators – could purchase office supplies at Amazon and other rivals, Jackson’s firm found, but they hankered after something more: a community of other people to learn from. His fix: remodeled stores with a speakers’ corner, work-sharing space and low-priced, high-margin private label products that are unavailable elsewhere. Sales in the renovated stores jumped in the double digits, he says.

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Still, Jackman is candid in the book about his setbacks. In those cases, particularly at retailers Vitamin Shoppe and David’s Bridal, new top leaders had arrived in the midst of Jackman’s work and weren’t on board with his blueprint. Or the company hadn’t got employees up to speed on the changes, resulting in confusion and poor communication with customers.

Jackman got inspiration for his consulting firm, which he started in 2007, from his time as an executive at Loblaw Cos., helping the grocery titan a year earlier spearhead a massive restructuring.

In his book, Jackman called the Loblaw makeover process “messed up,” “ugly” and “demoralizing.” His takeaway is that companies going through big shakeups fail to tell employees what is happening and why, resulting in “cultural toxicity.” When he left Loblaw, he resolved to do it better.

Yet when it came to his own consulting firm, he neglected to see early signs of a slowdown in his business after almost a decade of robust sales gains. Ironically, he stalled in making changes. It was precisely what he advises his own clients NOT to do. He finally got around to reinventing Jackman Reinvents a few years ago and, he concedes, “it was painful.”

Jackman found that his firm had become too top heavy, slowing decision-making. He cut as much as 30 per cent of his staff of about 110 – some of them friends and close colleagues – and put more control in the hands of mid-managers. People from different disciplines stopped working “in silos” and joined together in their initiatives for clients. He says he went about the revamping in a more human way, carefully explaining his moves to staff. The firm is now back to about 100 employees and this spring is moving to new custom-built offices in the hip Liberty Village district of Toronto from downtown space.

Reinventing his own firm and many others made him realize that he had some lessons to share in a book.

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