October 30, 2020

BIG SKY ENTERPRISE: Can Small Town Prices Give Entrepreneurs Room To Grow?

(Franklin/Times-Journal) — In a struggling economy, small business owners can find it difficult to cover their operating costs. One solution? Decrease expenses by moving into rural areas.

Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown, co-founders of Trash Dogs Media, LLC, a publishing house in Franklin, Georgia, first moved to farm country for the lifestyle.

Erin Sky

“We wanted to be able to see the stars,” said Brown, “and land is a lot cheaper out here than in the suburbs.”

But that applies to business property too. Sky and Brown had been writing as a hobby for years, they reported, but it wasn’t until they moved to rural Georgia that they could make a publishing company work financially.

Not all expenses are affected by rural moves, but cutting back on costs like rent can make the difference between profit and loss.

“The investment in each book is roughly the same everywhere,” Sky admitted. “Things like cover art and interior design don’t change. But the rest of the overhead is more manageable. The office… the general cost of living.”

Businesses that depend on strong foot traffic for sales can’t always survive in rural areas, where the lack of population density has a negative effect on income. But online sales and remote distribution networks make relocating a viable option for publishing companies, Sky reported.

Publishing has traditionally been centered around New York City, but according to a 2014 Publishers Weekly study, roughly half of the industry professionals surveyed were located outside the mid-Atlantic area. And half of those were located in the South or in the Midwest.

 “Publishing is undergoing a digital revolution,” said Sky. “But that revolution applies to print as much as it does to ebooks. It’s not just about whether the book itself is digital. It’s about the entire marketing chain.”

Sky, who holds an MBA from Georgia Tech and who oversaw the initial development of BellSouth’s internet Yellow Pages as a project manager, describes that chain as including everything from product development to sales.

“It can all be done remotely,” Sky said. “We can sit in rural Georgia and watch a cover artist make live changes on a project, even though that artist is sitting in their own space, hundreds of miles away.”

Steven Brown

According to Sky, live meeting websites have changed the playing field for small publishers. Services such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and appear.in make it possible for entrepreneurs to hire independent contractors across the country and even around the globe.

Once a book is ready, Trash Dogs Media connects to its printer and distributor electronically as well. The books are printed off site and distributed all over the world, Sky reported.

The company’s first title, The Intuitives, a young adult fantasy novel, is slated for release on July 25th. It is available for pre-order internationally, not just on Amazon but on sites like Angus & Robertson in Australia and Book Depository in Europe. And readers are finding it.

“We’re advertising on social media,” Sky said, “because that’s where readers are. They’re online, talking about books. We started by sending advance copies to bloggers here in the U.S., but pretty soon we were getting requests from everywhere. We’ve sent copies to readers in England, Ireland, Australia, and the Philippines, among others.”

The small-town, big-business approach seems to be working. The most recent giveaway on Goodreads, a social media community centered entirely around books, shows 3,719 entrants hoping to win a single copy of The Intuitives, with about 5,000 readers to date having marked the book as one they want to read. But will that translate into sales?

“We have a saying out here in farm country,” Sky said, laughing a little. “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. But we’re hopeful. We’re happy with our results so far.”

“Every time we see one more person talk about the book, we get excited,” Sky added, “but what’s happening in the industry right now is so much bigger than any one book. Or any one company. When you think about the possibilities the internet has opened up for small-town business, it boggles the mind.”

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