Posted 20 December 2007 - 01:51 PM
This is a question for all the small business owners selling maps. I was wondering what marketing methods were being used and if there was a general consensus on what would be the best methods for marketing map products. I have looked into web based marketing (PPC) but it doesn't look like the most practical method for a small start up. Any thoughts or general advice on this topic would be appreciated. I also think this forum needs a dedicated section on the business of GIS and cartography.
Thanks and Merry Christmas
Posted 20 December 2007 - 03:02 PM
I would think that the best advice that I might be able to give would be to either find and join OR potentially create some type of "consortium" for selling one's map designs with other mapping firms. Inevitably, any smaller, independent map shop is going to have a limited selection of titles...and the more limited the number of titles, the less apt consumers will be to find the exact type/style of map they are looking for. If they don't find what they are looking for, they will be less likely to come back to the site in the future...even if you might have other maps that they might want/need.
Related to sales and marketing, there is serious strength in numbers. Find or form a larger group that you can retail your titles with, and I think that hits and eventual sales will inevitably follow. Hope that helps!
Posted 20 December 2007 - 06:53 PM
I realize that map marketing and distribution is not what attracted most cartographers to their business. That said, a good friend in the industry recently told me that marketing and distribution are the two most serious issues that he sees facing the map industry today. If you look at IMTA, there has been a tremendous amount of consolidation in the industry with only a few companies controliing most of the mass distribution. In addition to this observation, my friend has observed that there are just too many products chasing too few slots at the mass merchants. This may be true more or less depending on where you're located, but it speaks to what I've witnessed as one of the most effective ways to market and distribute small-maket, regional maps; local servicing of many small stores. Sure it's labor intensive at first, but then as you build your customer base you are not putting all your "eggs" in one basket. If one store decides to no longer carry your title, then your distribution is not too terribly disturbed. Also in scouting your market/area, you can do field-checking of your map in the process! Who knows, you may even find a small distributor that you weren't aware of. There are a few left, and they tend to keep low profiles (and smaller discounts) due to their paranoia from watching all the consolidation in the distribution industry.
For what it's worth, I agree that CartTalk could use a business section as part of the forum. The one thing I've noticed over my years is that most cartographers can always use business advice. Whether they take it or not is a completely different matter as ours is such a labor of love.
Another suggestion is that another part of CartoTalk could become "the consortium" or venue for small publishers to promote/cross-promote their titles. Too commercial?? Perhaps? Just throwing out my two cents...
Posted 21 December 2007 - 12:17 AM
What Derek said about forming a consortium can make sense, but hasn't been done much, for a variety of reasons.
A good relationship with a distributor (or distributors) can be crucial, as Neil suggests. Consider also you don't necessarily need a map distributor. There are map publishers who work primarily through postcard or magazine distributors. In any case, distribution can be a rough game, and it pays to know your partner(s) well... but don't let our grim discussion turn you away. If you have a great product which doesn't compete with an existing proprietary title of the distributor, then the smart distributor will do what they can. And as Neil says, there still are a surprising number of independents out there.
If you aren't making basic street and road maps, then you have a variety of options. Neil's advice on store-by-store marketing has been proven successful for recreational maps especially: for any given title, you will be selling the vast majority of copies in a pretty small radius around the recreational area. Trails Illustrated built their business on deep relationships with National Park gift shops (and Park staff). Tom Harrison does similarly with his titles. I have the sense from others this is also true.
This becomes a challenge if you are mapping somewhere farther from home, and especially if your price-point is comparatively low and you only have one or two titles in the area. We do maps of college towns on both coasts and at $4.95 retail, we're not going to make back the plane fare flying out and selling door to door. We still do sometimes, combining that work with other business in the area. Otherwise we work remotely via a variety of means.
If your title is of national or international interest, but to a narrow thematic audience, then getting to know the relevant interest groups at trade shows, and/or through special-interest media is the way to go. Here web sales can be a more natural fit, and advertising/marketing materials will get a better rate of return.
Hope this helps.
Posted 21 December 2007 - 03:59 PM
Thanks in advance
Posted 22 December 2007 - 11:50 AM
I like Derek's idea of joining a consortium of small publishers with the sole purpose of marketing their maps. It seems to me that without going through a large established map publishing company, the independent's best bet is to mass market through smaller niche stores that target your customer base. I'm a bit nieve in this but can an independent approach larger map publishing houses to market and sell their maps and if so, how effective is that? Another question I have is with respect to sales forcasting. I am not asking for specific numbers (I know these things are confidential) but it would be nice to get some ballpark numbers for established (I know this won't hold for start-ups) small map companies with respect to sales volume. Maybe just a rough estimate of numbers per title (on average)? I may have to look into creating a consortium.
Thanks in advance
Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:35 PM
Posted 22 December 2007 - 06:28 PM
I'm not quite so dumb now. I've learned a great deal (at great cost) from the experience. Unfortunately, I can no longer afford to throw my wealth and health and sanity into trying to do it all on my own (I have precious little enough of all three left) - but I still have lot's of dreams and schemes for making good maps and selling enough of them to make it worthwhile. I still think there are good markets for good maps out there.
I like the 'consortium' idea (and am interested in any proposals along these lines), but I think there may be other means to help the little guy to build a decent living self publishing maps.
One idea I've tried is to set someone up with a part time home based business to take orders, package, and ship maps, to keep up with customers needs, and to work the internet/email/phone and occasionally work the roads to find new customers. A reasonably motivated person can make a decent extra income, or even perhaps a living (in time, with enough titles) or if they offer similar services to other local artisans.
I have also explored opportunities for partnerships with related local businesses - such as other small publishers, graphic artists, and retailers - that could take off some of the load and offer synergy and economies.
Something else I've toyed with is selling sponsorships to local business to help front load the payback period. I would not want advertising all over my maps, but a business card sized blank on the back cover where each sponsor's 'sticker' can be applied (or something like that) would be o.k.
Another idea (I'm working on) is to do a 'piggyback partnership' with someone who is already doing a sales route - for example selling newspaper/magazine advertsiing.
Of course, what ends up working depends on a lot of things (Luck certainly being one of them), but I think there are a lot of microenvironments within which small self publishers can survive.
Regarding Bruce's query about sales volume. One rule of thumb I've used is that if you don't think you can sell 3,000 maps in the period of time before the map should be updated (say, 3-5 years), it won't pay. This varies of course. With low enough costs, you might could justify sales of 1,000 maps.
With very limited and mostly inept marketing, - and for titles that had real interest in only a handful of rural counties - I've had first year sales of around 1,000 maps, with 500-600/year after that. With no marketing at all, I still sell a few hundred maps a year of titles that should have already been updated (if I had the wherewithal).
With a pretty decent marketing effort and a wider market, clients of mine have sold 5-6,000 maps and were ready to reprint after only two years.
Posted 23 December 2007 - 04:11 AM
Charles, I have looked at the IMTB web site but have not contacted them directly to see if there was any interest and what the terms would be. Me feeling on that route (and I may be wrong) is that if you are dealing with a generic country, state or city road type map, this would probably be a good route to go. If you are dealing with a very specific target audience I think you would just get lost in the shuffle. I would view the big publishers as a secondary distribution route.
Beaver, I agree, GPS in automobiles is pulling huge market share from map companies. Personally, I like the big picture of a paper map as well as the wealth of other information they usually provide. There is also the souvenir aspect of paper maps. I still think you will get many people buying maps this way (Franko's Maps, Neil's Raven Maps series and WorldSat just to name a few). I know where ever I travel too I always buy a map as a souvenir.
Eric, these are the kinds of numbers I have been looking for, thanks. I have been trying to put a business plan together and sales forcasting was hard to determine. I know it all depends on alot of other factors but just ball park numbers from small independents was hard to get. I would very much be interested in looking into a consortium of cartographers employing someone out of their home to market, package and ship products. The maps I am developing are more the large format wall map, similar to Raven Maps but more specialized and localized. Do you think the volume estimate holds true for wall maps?
Posted 23 December 2007 - 09:51 AM
the numbers I gave reflect experience with several wall maps and with a folding trail map (but pretty enough to put on the wall) and with scenic driving tours maps
glad I could help, but others might have different results
Posted 23 December 2007 - 11:17 AM
Posted 23 December 2007 - 04:59 PM
1. One's primary competition is most-often the maps or other map-related tools that are available to consumers for FREE. As map makers/designers, almost all of us tend to prefer maps in print and/or maps that show us the "larger picture," as opposed to some of the other mapping applications that have been discussed. However, we HAVE to remember to take off our "map-maker" hats at least occasionally and remember that if we adopt a common-yet-flawed "if we build it, they will come" type of approach in our marketing efforts, we're going to get CRUSHED (or at very-least not realize our business potential). Designing and DELIVERING maps the way that *WE* want to <> with designing and DELIVERING maps the way that *THEY* (consumers) want us to. I'm not suggesting that we all sell-out and design to the lowest common denominator. Over my dead body! However, if folks aren't going to do a great deal of market research and/or make user-centered design a priority, then we'd better have some incredibly good "niches" defined, or we'll be in trouble....either individually OR as a group.
2. If consortiums were easy, everyone would be doing it (as Nat has previously eluded to). What kills them more often than not, in my experience, is struggles over power and $$$. If folks can get past those issues though, the economies/efficiencies of scale are enormous! When it comes to "retailing" maps, a consortium could probably survive and thrive if you can develop a really strong brand for a web presence and supporting marketing materials. You also really need someone who knows "retail" very, very well. That's been one of the main reasons our firm has tried to steer-clear of retail sales...since it is NOT my expertise (nor is it something that our other nine team members are experienced with as well). The only time we dipped our toes into "retail," our firm lost $30,000. I've been tempted to give it another crack again....but ONLY if there was someone like Nat or other "retail experts" within CartoTalk who were handling the retail side of the house. Marketing and operations? I think I'm very good at it. Retail sales? It is a whole different animal...and just about every industry on the planet is littered with the carcasses of people who saw potential $$$ to be made, only to lose their shirts in the process.
Some LONG-winded thoughts, but ones I wanted to share. I would LOVE to be a part of any type of "consortium" you guys might want to develop...related to the marketing, web and "tech" side of things (electronic apps to compliment people's print-map sales). Related to retail though, you need 3-4+ REALLY good retailers in our industry (or related industries) if it were going to fly.
My $1.50...Canadian, since the US Dollar continues to struggle at the moment.
Posted 23 December 2007 - 08:18 PM
"We make maps for the [insert name here] industry. We have a sales arm which has deep connections in that industry, and a range of services that are lined up to meet the specific needs of that industry, so that we can act as a one-stop geospatial shop for players in the industry who don't want to do geospatial stuff in-house."
"We specialize in [insert name here] genre of map, for which artistic style is a major feature. If you want that kind of map, we offer a range of specific styles from which to choose. We're like an artist rep, except we can give you pricing a lot more efficiently."
"We make maps for [insert publication type here]. We have a variety of efficiency-increasing, cost-reducing tools, and because we have a stable of production people able to ramp up quickly, we can guarantee good turnaround."
What I have a hard time imagining is "We publish similar retail maps for complimentary but non-overlapping geographies, and are all of about the same size, and only one of us is really interested in selling to retail. So mapmaker A is handling the sales/distribution end for all of us from [insert home base here], and is doing a better job than we did separately. It works in part because most of the retailers in our market segment buy on a national basis, so there's not much contect with individual retail locations."
Not saying its impossible, just less likely.
Posted 23 December 2007 - 10:46 PM
Posted 24 December 2007 - 12:36 AM
If mapping firms out there are positioning themselves as only "good at street/road/trails maps" and "good at print," then my assumption and fear is that tough-times lie ahead. We all love print...but if folks hold fast to "print maps are king" types of mentalities when they are making decisions related to sales/revenue, that is going to be a tough, TOUGH spot to be in with chronic downward pressure on price points.
If you design beautiful maps for print, what's stopping you from also offering titles as part of online applications, cell phone displays, etc.? If it is a lack of expertise, expertise can be acquired. If it boils down to stubbornness or "the way we've always done it," then times are going to get much worse before they get better. M&A in our industry is almost inevitable...UNLESS folks can work together, retaining a bit of "independence" while sharing more of the costs associated with doing business while also capitalizing on the strengths and expertise of other team members.
As for the comment:
...if you aren't willing to sacrifice at least a good part of your personal life to make your venture work, then folks are probably best-served keeping your independent ventures as a "hobby job" and letting another organization pay you for your 9-to-5. I started our design firm in the Summer of 2000 (though I had been freelancing since 1994), and I can honestly say that I haven't worked UNDER a 60-hour work week since around 2002...frequently working 70-75 hours/week. If I rest for even a week or two, I give up ground to other competitors out there and let them off the hook.
Do you intend to sacrifice your personal life to get your product to work?
Independent map design is a lot like farming (my only employment from ages 12-18), and consortiums are our "co-ops." The "cows" ALWAYS need milking...and if you take a vacation or miss a milking here or there as a solo operation, you're either paying through the nose for hired hands or are losing thousands in revenue. My goal (hope) is that our firm will someday get over the hump...so that I can get back to working 50 hour weeks down the road while letting others in our company cover more of what I do! If you want it to work as an independent though, be prepared to work twice as hard as you ever did working for a paycheck from an employer. Our firm doubled in size from 2004 to 2005, then doubled again from 2005 to 2006. 2007 saw about a 50% increase over 2006...but I've worked myself to the bone to accomplish that, and it is a vicious cycle...as the bigger you grow, the harder you need to work to maintain and not give up ground.
Anyway, another novel from Yours Truly! Seriously though, if there is one lesson to learn related to this discussion, let it be this: Unless you are willing to work H-A-R-D to see your independent venture through, try and keep it small and/or just be happy freelancing while earning benefits and a paycheck from another employer. It's TOUGH out there on your own...so my theory is to find any ways that I can to not have to "go it alone" anymore. Partner, partner, partner....along with the occasional merger/acquisition.
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