Since I’ve self-published five books at the time of this writing, I was interested in the large sign I saw for BookBaby. I was in Nashville, TN at our NSA (National Speaker’s) Conference and asked if BookBaby was somehow related to CDBaby, which has been one of the top sites for independent artists to release albums. I’ve released a number of them through that organization. Sure enough, CDBaby was related to BookBaby as well as a company called DiscMakers, all a part of the DIY Media group. To make all this less confusing, the DIY Media group is the umbrella over all these organizations. I thought it would be very interesting to create an interview with the head of BookBaby and was fortunate to interview the CEO and president, Tony Van Veen.
Tony has spent the past three decades of his life helping independent authors, musicians and filmmakers publish, distribute and promote their own books, music and films. My first guess as to his background would not be that he used to be a punk-rocker. He looks anything but that, currently. Tony started at the ground up in the company, and stayed with the same organization, rising through the ranks to become the current CEO. He even went through two rounds of private equity ownership and took the company private again. He still loves what he does after thirty-five years, somewhat of as an outlier as he has not jumped to work for another organization. I wanted to find out why he stayed and a little about his journey! Here, we cover four principles that contribute to his staying power.
One: Be a Lifelong Learner
Tony saw the value of getting out of your comfort zone, no matter what stage of life. The attitude of becoming a lifelong learner has been instrumental in not only Tony’s growth, but the growth of the company he now heads. He gives a strong focus on the importance of goals. (get your free downloads here) It doesn’t matter if you are at halftime of life or later, you still have choices on what you’re going to do next. In today’s workforce, the ability to work remotely has made a huge difference in job satisfaction. It’s not just about the money and prestige, but lifestyle and freedom. For those with an artistic bent, it’s about the ability to keep creating in some way or another.
DiscMakers has answered the question, Why? They’ve been around for 76 years at the time of this writing because artists nowadays still need product to sell at engagements. Artists make very little money from streaming alone. CD Baby was started in the early 1900’s by Derek Sivers. It became the largest digital music distributor for independent artists. They distributed content first to Apple with iTunes and eventually Spotify and Amazon. Though they used to also sell physical product, currently they only sell downloads through their large distribution channels. In August of 2008, CD Baby was acquired by Disc Makers. Tony started to see the writing on the wall that artists were starting to write books. They needed distribution, thus establishing Book Baby in 2011.
Two: Have a Great Support Group
Tony meets with eight CEOS one morning a month and has for the past fifteen years. This keeps him grounded with trusted colleagues talking over ideas and business principles. Every week he hosts a short YouTube video he puts on the Disc Makers Channel. While the technology is completely different today than years ago, the fundamentals of being an artist, how to get the word out and how to write a great song are exactly the same as thirty to thirty-five years ago. Tony can still offer some valuable advice. He found much of the same advice applies for authors as musicians.
Even with more bells and whistles available in technology, the basics are still the same. Technology can only do so much. A good song or a well-written book will stand up over time if you can get the word out.
Three: Identify a Need
Part of what CDBaby and DiscMakers provided for many years was the printing of CD and LP album covers. When artists started putting together larger booklets and books, Tony knew they needed to expand the business. They were already a media company, getting music out to the world. With the addition of Book Baby, expanding the addition of books and audiobooks, these products were just another form of media they could add to their offerings.
A musician’s calling card, or business card, is a recording of their work. In the same way, to prove your legitimacy as a speaker is to be a published author. A book conveys rightfully or wrongfully that you are a deep enough expert in that topic to have written a product to distribute. Additionally, if you're in the business of creating content, whether it's music content, video content or written content, you know that ownership of that intellectual property is what ensures that there's some kind of revenue stream down the road.
For artists, if you make a traditional publishing deal or label deal, you give up your publishing rights for your composition. All those revenues, even some of the artist revenues, go to the record label. That may be worth it for new artists who need a big promotion machine and even for some established artists. It’s a business decision. Authors make the same decision and independent publishing is growing, with some authors even buying back their rights. 30-34% of eBooks sold on Amazon are self-published.
Four: Make it Easy
Time is not only our most valuable resource, but time is also money. One of the main goals of Bookbaby has been to make it as easy as possible for artists and authors to launch their products. No one can predict sales unless they have a million relatives and friends who will all purchase their product on the same day and push it to be a best-seller. Some businesses have a formula for creating a best seller. But the mere title of best seller doesn’t verify its quality or endurance. The goal should be creating a quality product for a specific audience. But the process of compiling material, writing, editing and then actual production and distribution can be daunting. You need someone to trust through this process.
Integrity and the question of who to trust is huge in our world today and is lacking in so many areas. When you can work with a company that’s been around for a long time and has a great track record in multiple areas, that fact makes it easier to trust your product with them. When you’re an artist or writer, your product becomes similar to having another child. It’s your baby. That’s why so many have been attracted to the name CD Baby and even Book Baby. They take good care of our kids! Make sure you check them out!
- about TONY van veen
Tony van Veen, as CEO and president of DIY Media Group, the parent company of BookBaby and its sister company Disc Makers, he has spent the past three decades helping independent authors, musicians, and filmmakers publish, distribute, and promote their own books, music, and films. After college he started entry level at the company, and rose through the ranks to CEO, went through two rounds of private equity ownership, took the company private again, and started and grew multiple brands, products, and services for independent content creators… and is still having fun after 30+ years. BookBaby offers book printing, eBook publishing, design, and distribution services to thousands of independent authors and publishers while paying 100% of distribution revenues back to them.
When you’re an artist or writer, your product becomes similar to having another child. It’s your baby.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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