The 80/20 Rule

November 02, 2020 4 min read

When I was growing up, adventures in the outdoors were so liberating, so life-affirming, and so positive that I find supporting others to enjoy the outdoors to be a continued fulfilling employment for me. Books were always a first source of inspiration: from Swallows and Amazons to the first guidebooks I ever bought – The Eastern FellsFRCC BorrowdaleNorthern Caves – to maps such as Malham and WharfedaleOL sheet 24, as well as first ever narratives like Savage ArenaTouching the Void and Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage.

That’s not entirely true. It may come as a surprise to people who know me, but it isn’t always all about me.

We publish books, yes to inspire in others a lifetime of adventure, but for other reasons too.

There are fifteen of us at Vertebrate and for each of us, this job is a career. The company is there to give each of us a fulfilling and rewarding job that is something to be proud of and something each of us can feel secure about. So while it’s great if you all get some inspiration to embark on a new walk, a wild swim or a three-star rock climb from one of our books, it’s far more rewarding for me to see one of the team buy a house, get married, or have a baby. It makes us feel that bit more permanent, more real.

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable by the whole ‘getting bigger’ strategy. Books have a certain longevity and I like to think a criterion at commissioning is to consider the value of a book to its recipient. I don’t expect you to read one of our books twice or even three times, but I am happy that we make sure we produce books that warrant being kept, referenced and lent (although don’t go mad with the lending … don’t overdo that). We also strive to run an operation as environmentally conscious as we can, using FSC papers, controlling waste and printing lean.

I like to think of us as a global company (I’m not going there with the B word, don’t worry) but we do work with a number of publishers around the world, including Desnivel in Spain, Les Editions du Mont-Blanc in France, Mountaineers Books and Rocky Mountain Books in North America, plus many others. It helps us understand our place in the world and to get well-rounded feedback. We are also a very local company and it is at the very heart of why we publish books to stay connected and be a part of our community. Whether it be in Sheffield working with local cycling, walking and climbing advocacy groups like Ride Sheffield, or nationally being an active member of the Independent Publishers Guild, British Mountaineering Council, or working with our network of independent bookshops like Stanfords, Simply Books, Sam Read, Rhyme and Reason, plus many others. It is very rewarding and satisfying to be part of something.

We also have a responsibility to keep literary traditions alive. When we started publishing, mountaineering books were somewhat in the doldrums and rock-climbing books were unheard of. Many guidebooks (with respect to all our peers here) were, let us say, becoming dated, especially mountain biking guides. I like to think we published a few titles to just get a bloody book out where only rubbish ones had gone before.

So that’s it really. Yes, we want to inspire adventure and all the mental and physical health benefits that come from that (don’t blame us if you break a wrist piling off your bike). But equally so we want to pay our taxes, keep people’s careers moving forward, not screw up the planet, and yes, receive the adoration from our friends and partners.

However, I haven’t come here today to tell you that. I’ve come to tell you about the 80/20 rule and how it applies to publishing. Typically, in life and particularly in commerce, 80% of business will come from 20% of your customers, or 80% of your hassle will come from 20% of your hassle generators. For publishing, 80% of our sales come in those two months before Christmas. They come from the events we do in the dark winter nights, they come from the shops, the bloggers, the passing customers, from a visit to the climbing wall, or from going for a run with your mates and one of them banging on about how good Ally Beaven’s new book Broken is. Mainly they come from Amazon. Everywhere goes bonkers just before Christmas but Amazon is on another level.

But if I’m honest again with you, I haven’t even come to say that today. The simple truth is Amazon won’t be there for independent businesses this Christmas and everywhere else is severely restricted or plain old cancelled. Amazon can’t just quadruple its capacity to deal with the demand (although it will have a bloody good go). Something will have to suffer, and it will be the smaller independents. It started this morning; our usual Monday morning order from them was down 75% from last week, whereas at this time of year we would have expected it to be up 30% at least.

So, with that in mind, I’ll finally get to the point. Please do your Christmas shopping early, as many places simply won’t be able to deliver or have stock closer to the date. Don’t rely on Amazon, as we’re expecting a lot of our top books to simply not be available. Instead, please get out and support your local shops this week while they are still open and online when they are not …

…and please have a look around our website – we’ve kept the free shipping and we’ve made everything 25% off.