“We’re seeing a contraction in soft crafts books by many publishers,” says C&T’s publisher Amy Marson. Earlier this year C&T did what she calls a “corporate reset” examining every aspect of the business as a way to set strategic priorities. One change that resulted from this process was to pare down their warehouses from three to one and to consolidate sales and distribution within single company, National Book Network. “They able to call on accounts we couldn’t reach previously,” Marson explains.
Another change was to reduce the total number of book titles C&T publishes in a year by 20% bringing it down from 50 books to 40. About five percent of those titles are published under the kid-friendly imprint Fun Stitch Studio with the rest divided between C&T and the more modern Stash imprint. In order to do this the company cancelled several books that were already under contract. “We had to draw a line in the sand to say from this day forward we’re only doing 40 books,” Marson explains. “If there were any doubts about a title we had to cut it. It was incredibly hard.” She estimates that about five books under contract were cancelled.
C&T is a mid-sized family-owned publishing company founded in a 1983 by Carolie and Tom Hensley, owners of The Cotton Patch, an independent quilt shop in Lafayette, CA.The Hensley’s sons, Todd and Tony Hensley, purchased the company from their parents in 1990.
This week during the company’s annual strategic planning meeting Marson presented a state of the industry report which included a competitive analysis of publishers in the field who had scaled back or stepped out since 2014, the year the company first began to notice a decline in sales. “We discovered there’s room for growth in certain areas,” she says, pointing to YouTube in particular.
The company has also decided to shutter PatternSpot, their digital pattern marketplace launched four years ago. The site, which allowed designers to upload their own patterns and sell them to C&T’s audience, was built on the Ruby on Rails framework and the web development company that built it is no longer willing to maintain it. “It was a white label site and we thought they were in it for the long haul, but they’re not. They’re changing direction,” Marson explains. At the end of December when the contract is up rather than hire another Ruby developer C&T has decided to close the site entirely. “We talked to a few people to see if we could find a buyer, but had no luck,” Marson says.
Although it would seem that digital distribution would be a natural new focus for a print publishing house, C&T has decided to focus their resources elsewhere. Excitement for PatternSpot started out strong at launch, but had waned over the years with several employees who were dedicated to the site moving on to positions outside the company. “It requires resources within the organization. It was a really good idea and I wish we’d had the internet savvy resources to put into it to make it as good as it could have been, says Marson.
C&T has reduced the size of their workforce somewhat. “We did some rightsizing,” Marson explains. When some employees retired or moved on they chose not to fill those positions. Still, Marson says she has made several new hires since August.
Going forward Marson says that C&T simply has to be more selective about the authors they sign. A winning author must have a robust profile meaning either they’re traveling nationally to teach, have a large following on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or a large email list, and have a willingness to collaborate as a marketing partner. “We need people who are educators, people who are enthused about what they do and want to share that with others. We need people with lots of ideas.” Still, writing a craft book can be a financial sacrifice for designers and today’s authors are facing shrinking and often non-existent advances making it harder to justify. “The days when an author would get a $7K or $8K advance for a quilting book are gone. Permanently,” she says. C&T generally doesn’t offer advances.