Updated: Dec 20, 2020
It’s been a year of great challenges for Pointa Publishing. How did the team tackle them?
by Marie Barvínková
We launched Pointa, an online publishing service, in 2018, bringing a truly disruptive startup to the Czech market. It enables both up-and-coming and established authors to publish books exactly as they’d like. They’ll put together a team of professionals, set up a crowdfunding campaign to finance the whole thing, produce and launch their book, which is then distributed both in stores and online. All with the continuous help of a seasoned team.
The year 2020, disruptive in itself, brought along challenges that were universal for all publishers, but also a few distinct ones for Pointa. Let’s dive right in and see how they managed to overcome them.
COVID-19: the first wave
It’s March 2020 and the world is… Alright, no need to delve too deep into how the world turned upside down just as we were making the jump from Q1 to Q2. A worldwide lockdown, the closing of brick-and-mortar shops, economic uncertainty, a common lack of liquidity. All of that naturally affected the publishing business. Pointa included.
“We were looking for ways to support the stagnating book market in Czechia, which is why we decided to offer our crowdfunding platform for use to other publishers who had been forced to suspend their book production,” explains Veronika Mahdalová, CEO of Pointa. “Unfortunately, the processing wasn’t as fast as we’d hoped, and we were ‘outrun’ by a similar program called Linka 451, which took place on the Startovač.cz crowdfunding website.”
Empowering the authors
While the Czech publishing industry was looking for ways to solve their across-the-board issues, Pointa was facing yet another obstacle, specific for their business model. They had to encourage “their” authors, who understandably began to worry about their scheduled crowdfunding campaigns. They needed reassurance in the first place. People would––hopefully––still want to support new books even under those unprecedented and unpredictable economic conditions.
To make sure said authors wouldn’t throw in the towel, Pointa extended the runtime for crowdfunding campaigns from 30 to 40 days. They found new, online ways to give them a helping hand and kicked off the “Píšu v karanténě” (“Quarantine Writing”) campaign on their blog and social media to engage and motivate future book authors.
It worked. 45 new campaigns launched during the first wave and 32 were successful. In May, the most successful campaign yet was completed––financing the memoir of London-based composer and journalist Alexander Goldscheider. In quick succession, 3 records of a different kind were smashed: Milan Peterka only took 4 days to raise money for his book, Barbora Brůnová managed to do the same in 2 days, and blogger Veronika Lechnerová broke the record in just 4 hours.
Going even more online
So, how do you offer a helping hand remotely? “In our case, it was moving our customer service and expert advice from mostly offline to fully online. Before the pandemic, many authors were fond of our real-life workshops on various aspects of the crowdfunding and publishing process––from marketing 101 to how to work with editors, graphic designers, or typesetters. So we turned these into regular webinars,” explains Veronika Mahdalová.
“We also came up with weekly ‘consultation hours’ held on Microsoft Teams,” she adds. “We started livestreaming on Instagram, inviting book pros and authors who’d already succeeded. Even more than before, we focused on building a strong online community, especially in our closed Facebook Group where the authors can share experience and advice.”
Similarly, the team re-thought their advertising and PR budget to fit the new conditions. Instead of OOH advertising or handing out leaflets at (suddenly non-existent) events, they turned their attention to online native ads, sponsored posts on Facebook and Google, even alternative collaboration models with local lovebrands like Doller.
Transition to Albatros Media
If you thought all that was overwhelming, brace yourself. Coincidentally, 2020 is also the year Pointa was scheduled to transition to the original investor, Albatros Media. This is the case with all Creative Dock projects––they are usually developed with a concrete client and target audience in mind, then undergo testing and MVP phase, after which they get “pimped up” for varying periods of time, only to be handed over to the investor in top form.
“Unfortunately, we had been forced to make staff cuts due to the first wave of the pandemic. This is never an ideal situation, but it was especially demanding right before the handover,” remarks Veronika Mahdalová. As per usual, the remaining team members were able to choose if they wanted to stay with Creative Dock or transition to Albatros Media. It was 50:50 in this case, which meant new people had to be hired and trained, stat.
“Of course none of this stopped us,” says Veronika. “We also got help from our new mother company right away, deepening our cooperation when it comes to book production and printing as such. Additionally, they have been helping us distribute some of the new titles to people who have pre-paid them. Although the whole process here is quite different. Since we’re one of many publishing houses under the Albatros Media roof now, we need to undergo the same procedures as all the others.” These include sending a monthly publishing plan to the sales team or nominating newly published books to be given special attention in terms of PR.
The second wave: a nightmare before Christmas
Since moving in (both literally and figuratively) with Albatros Media this summer, Pointa has been settling in well, shifting their focus to the brick-and-mortar stores a bit more and planning for the holiday season. This yearly “golden time” of book-selling is the reason why many money-savvy authors aim to launch their books in late fall. It begins in the end of October, going through November (see: Black Friday, Cyber Monday) to the very last hours before Christmas Eve.
Only this year, it didn’t happen.
In the Czech Republic, the second wave of COVID-19 hit much harder than the first one, leading to another nationwide lockdown and closing of brick-and-mortar shops on October 22. “This was a very real issue for all publishers, since most book sales are the result of emotional buying, decisions made on the spot. This rings especially true before and during the holiday season,” explains Veronika Mahdalová.
In late November, the government decided to re-open the shops, starting December 3. “We have been pushing both our online advertising and traditional PR to get people to buy our books online. We’ve also been working closely with the authors, teaching them how to promote their own work without crutches like book launch parties or store displays. But the shops re-opening is still a bit of a Christmas miracle for us,” she adds.
“Otherwise, we can only guess what happens next. But whatever it is, there’s a whole new year and a new set of challenges ahead.” And once again, Pointa’s ready to face them.