An Interview with James Kalajian, President & COO of Jenkins Group Inc.
We sat down with James Kalajian, the President and Chief Operations Officer of Jenkins Group Inc., a publishing service firm that established the first book award contest exclusively for independent publishers, known as the Independent Publisher Book Awards (The IPPY Award), along with five other renowned contests:
The Axiom Business Book Awards for business books and their innovative creators; the eLit Awards for ebooks and digital entertainment; the Living Now Awards for world-changing books, the Illumination Book Awards for Christian titles; and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for exemplary children’s books.
A long-time publishing partner with Audivita Studios, Jenkins Group Inc., creates a wide range of custom-developed publishing solutions for individuals, organizations, and corporations. Their services range from ghostwriting, rights and ownership, marketing and publicity, retail distribution, eBook conversion, and of course, audiobook conversion with Audivita!
As President and COO of Jenkins Group Inc. James Kalajian provides overall leadership and oversight to daily operations, whether customer- related or back office oriented. James applies his skills in finance, information technology, process management, human resources and communication to all teams within the Jenkins organization. He specializes in problem-solving, project planning, change management and quantitative analysis. James ensures the company is constantly improving, both in the eyes of its customers and employees.
Tell our readers about Jenkins Group, Inc. Who are you, and how are your services unique?
Jenkins Group inc. has been active in the book publishing and marketing space for over 30 years. We are an ever-evolving, nimble company that has found our home in a few places.
Our services in book production range from ghostwriting all the way through manufacturing. Additionally, we have services that help individuals with book promotion and distribution, whether they were produced through us or otherwise. That includes some PR services.
We do anything associated with the production of a book. Our services are all custom-developed solutions based on what our clients need.
Then we have the book award contests. The largest of which is called the Independent Publisher Book Awards, which has been running over 25 years. It focuses strictly on small presses and independent publishers. Our five other contests accept royalty-published and Big House books, self-published authors, and one-title publishers.
How did Jenkins Group grow over time?
It’s grown organically. The founder, Jerry Jenkins was involved in the book distribution business. In the early days, Jenkins was called Publishers Design Service. People started asking us to do cover design, editing or proofreading. Out of their requests came those services.
The book awards started over 25 years ago when Jerry recognized that no book award contest catered to independent presses. At the time, The Caldicott, The Newbery and The National Book Award were the most prestigious but never awarded one-title publishers. The big houses always took the crown.
Jerry Jenkins saw the opportunity to have a contest open to everybody.
At that point, desktop publishing and personal computers were just getting their legs. Then, the independent publishing world exploded. We were lucky to be in the right place, at the right time.
Is that the reason you decided to work with Audivita for your audiobooks? Responding to the needs of your clients?
Absolutely. We were getting requests for it. Fortunately, we’ve found a great place to get that done.
You go back 15 years, and the big discussion was, “Are ebooks the death of print?” Obviously, that did not happen. And in fact, print has grown. Now, like ebooks before them, audiobooks are just another medium through which people can consume, digest, and enjoy the content. When we look at the market, any clients interested in making their books available to the broadest audience will choose audiobooks and ebooks.
When we go to the market, they can have their product everywhere, regardless of how people want to consume it.
Would you say independent presses and smaller publishers have gained more power?
I wouldn’t characterize it as power. I would say, what they’ve been able to do in the marketplace has shifted. Online distribution allowed smaller publishers with less strength behind their distribution network to gain parity.
And with control over distribution, their authors can take home the lion’s share of the profits.
How have audiobooks benefited your authors?
With audiobooks specifically, we are traditionally working with nonfiction publishers and authors who do their own reading. This gives them a couple of different advantages.
One, they’re branding themselves.
For our corporate authors, the brand is them and their business. Whatever discipline they’re in, they can’t be everywhere. They can’t get their voice everywhere. We’ve seen requests from independent businesses who want to use audiobooks to reinforce their message. That’s their big advantage.
Lastly, our Books Are Marketing Tools program asks, “What is a client worth to you? What are two new clients worth to you?” The astute business professional recognizes that if an investment gets you that, it’s worth doing. In a lot of cases, books can be self-liquidating.
As the president of a considerable publishing enterprise, what do you think the world of publishing will look like in five years?
It’s worth noting that a lot has changed in the last 10 years. I think for an industry that has been incredibly stable for a long-time, book manufacturing has undergone its most significant changes since the advent of the digital press.
With recent challenges in the paper supply chain (increased demand and decreased supply), the industry was thrown into an ever-rising cost structure. It’s getting more and more expensive to market physical books simply because the raw materials and labor costs continue to go up. They’re still fairly cost-effective to manufacture, but the distribution is not efficient.
Because of the manufacturing constraints, we will most likely see an increase in on-demand printing. This is instead of mass printing projects being stored in a warehouse. A customer orders a book. It gets printed as a singular product, and ships directly to them. That’s great. But only if it’s a product that doesn’t have much tactile value.
We have finished a book where the feel of the book adds to the experience. It’s A History of the Four Winns Boat Company. The author, John Winn, wrote the story of his family’s business trajectory. He chose beautiful, embossed lettering on a matte cover with spot gloss on the embossed raised letters.
You can’t get that kind of thing in a one-off printed shipping. So, despite the distribution challenges, I think there will always be a preference for the artistry and craft of bookmaking.
Books have been around for over a thousand years. I don’t see that going away.
Jenkins Group recently announced the winners of the 2022 Independent Publisher Book Awards, with 100+ categories, and at least three medalists per category. There’s a category for everyone, audiobooks too.) The 2023 IPPY Awards are now officially open for submissions!
So, lookout for those new award-winning books coming off the press! And be sure to submit your books, ebooks, and audiobooks for the 2023 award season!
To learn more about how Jenkins Group Inc. can help you publish your next book, visit jenkinsgroup.com.