“What I love about it is that I’m entertaining people, I’m making their personal lives better, but I’m also helping to create changes in society, because I’m opening people’s minds.”
Amy Newmark – Publisher, Editor-in-Chief and Author; Chicken Soup for the Soul; Transitioning from Wall Street; The art of storytelling; Taking risks.
Segment 1: (Length :04:00) – General Updates; Introduction to Amy Newmark and her journey as entrepreneur and publisher; Transitioning from high finance to becoming a book publisher; Acquiring Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Amy’s finer points:
“Believe it or not, in college, I majored in Portuguese Brazilian Studies with a social anthropology focus. Because, yes, at Harvard, they had two ways you could major in Portuguese Brazilian Studies. I was the only major in the whole college.”
“I did this, and I actually traveled around Brazil during a semester abroad junior year, collecting stories from people. It was so weird that I did that. I didn’t even think about it until after we bought Chicken Soup for the Soul and I was making my resume for the first time in 20 years.”
“In the intervening 30 years, I did go to Wall Street, because I was raised with a Wall Street background. When we used to sit around the dinner table with my parents and siblings and grandmother and aunt, we talked about stocks. That’s what we did.”
“Here’s what happened. I was like 20. I went and got a job. I took a semester off from school, went and got a job at E.F. Hutton. Remember E.F. Hutton, the brokerage firm? I started buying stocks. Listen to the first stock I bought. It was called Bochum Resources. They had uranium. It turned out it was a total fraud.”
That was my first stock purchase. It was, I actually made money on it, because I got out before it fell apart. Then when I ended up going to Wall Street, I was always thinking about, well, which ones are the frauds? I actually ended up becoming a short seller on Wall Street and exposing frauds.”
You know, Wall Street is all about storytelling also. It's just that the main emotions you're dealing with are fear and greed. But it's about telling stories and having people believe or not believe the stories. When you're an analyst, as I was, you're writing reports all the time. You're writing stories. You're writing stories that will convince people to get excited about a company or not.
“When I left Wall Street and got into Chicken Soup for the Soul, it was just storytelling again, except now with the whole range of human emotions, and the ability to convince people, not about a stock, but to convince people about how to make their lives better, or how to make society better. I feel like it’s the same thing, but just on a much larger scale.”
“When we were looking for a new company to buy, we actually looked at a bunch of technology companies also. Then we discovered Chicken Soup for the Soul was available. What I did for due diligence, I mean, my husband did the legal and financial due diligence. I did the content side. I sat down and read 100 old Chicken Soup for the Soul books.”
“I spent three months just reading a hundred books. I found that I was immensely changed at the end of those three months. I was much more understanding of people, way less judgmental. I was more grounded, I was more grateful for what I have in my life, I was more forgiving. I had all kinds of ideas for how to make my life better. I had much better perspective, and I was happier.'”
I realized, wow, I actually all along have been waiting to do this. It was just an epiphany that I was actually meant to be the publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul and I started jotting down ideas for new titles. I've just been running with it for the last 10 years. What I love about it is that I'm entertaining people, I'm making their personal lives better, but I'm also helping to create changes in society, because I'm opening people's minds.
“For example, we never have stories about dogs and cats purchased at stores. Dogs and cats are always adopted from shelters, or purchased at a reputable breeder. We always have stories about gay couples in our books. We have tons of diversity, and we’re very matter of fact about it. We’re not making Chicken Soup for the Gay and Lesbian Soul. We just have everybody together, in our books.”
“There’s no segregation, and we have a book coming out soon called My Kind of America, which is about the true spirit of our country, the country that we actually thought we lived in, where we’re kind and we’re diverse and we’re accepting and we’re tolerant and we embrace our differences.”
“My message, the message underlying all of my books, no matter what the topic, is a message of tolerance, respect, diversity, welcoming immigrants, welcoming the diversity and embracing it.”
Segment 2: (Length :08:00) – Talking with Amy Newmark; The power of storytelling; Building community around their fans; The wide range of businesses attached to Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Amy’s finer points:
“I actually created a labor of love that came out in 2016. It’s called Simply Happy. This was like my gift back to everybody, because this was the book in which I reflected back everything that I have learned from Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, from all of these selfless stories, where people have shared their most revealing epiphanies about their lives and have shared their best advice.”
“I shared in Simply Happy how these stories, and I used the stories to make points, how these stories have changed my own life and changed me as a person, so that was the way that I gave back to everybody.”
“I actually sent copies out to any of our story writers who asked for them. Every one of our story writers was contacted and said, “If you want a free copy of this book, because you contributed to it, I will send you a free copy of my book.” That was the book where I put it all together in one volume, and it’s just the best stuff that I learned to make me a better, happier, more purposeful, more productive person.”
I mean, we've been really lucky. We bought the company in 2008, which in retrospect was really dumb, because it was when Borders was starting to go out of business, it was when hundreds of independent bookstores were closing.
“Barnes and Noble was cutting back, the big box stores were reducing the amount of shelf space for books. I mean, it was just an awful time, and it was the recession. We lived through it, and our book sales have been going up every year for the last few years.”
“We were up a lot last year, and I was saying to the rest of our team, “Hey, don’t expect me to do that again. If I just stay flat, that’s a victory, guys.” But we’re up again this year as well. Of course, I think our books are fabulous and people are recognizing that, but I do think that people are turning to books that espouse the values that they really do believe in.”
“We’re there for them, reminding them that people are basically good and that we do live in a good place and that there is good all around us and that we shouldn’t let what’s going on with the increase in intolerance and people feeling free to say nasty things to each other, we can’t let that make us sour on people. People are still basically good. So I try to point that out.'”
“We are, we really are a community. I’ve made a family out of the people who write for our books. I have about 6,000 of them on an email list, and then there are many thousands whose emails I don’t have anymore. They are, we are like a big family.
Then our fans are another big family. We have tremendously engaged fans on social media. We have two million-plus fans/followers, mostly on Facebook, but also Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. We saw statistics one time about the level of engagement of our fans, and our fans on Facebook were something like 20 times as engaged as the fans of other really big companies that you would think of.
“People are very passionate about Chicken Soup for the Soul and we’re very passionate about our readers and our writers. We really do appreciate them and love them, so it’s, it really does feel like a big family, and I meet people all the time.'”
“They’re like, “Oh, my God, you’re the author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Can I take my picture with you? I have to send it to my husband and tell him I really met you.” I think, wow, I’m not going to take this personally, because this really isn’t about me. This is about how much they love the brand, because people are passionate about Chicken Soup for the Soul. We’re like the world’s favorite storyteller.”
“We have a dedicated team, so we have a webmaster who answers a lot of inquiries from regular people, from all over the world. We have a social media team that works all day long on all of the different social media platforms. When people write to us, we pay attention, like they’re noticed. Nobody is writing to a dead space.”
Everything that is sent to us, we read, we react, we'll get back to somebody if we need to. We respect our fans. I don't know if every company respects their fans, but I respect our fans so much, and so every single one of them is a real person to us. That's just how we view people. We're grateful to all of them.
“Our company is very broad-based. We have my book business. We have a very strong business that sells dog food and cat food. I don’t know if you knew about that. That business shares the same values that we have in the book business. Like that business donates tons of food every year to shelters and to rescue operations for dogs and cats. We have a television business. We have our online business. We’re using storytelling to effect change all over the place, using every medium that is available.”
“For my personal business, for the book business, what makes me really passionate is the fact that I can not only give people a great read and entertain them and enlighten them, but I can actually use these books to do good, and to not only help people individually but to help broaden their minds and make our world a better place, as a result of broadening those minds.”
Segment 3: (Length :10:00) – Two things Amy didn’t expect; Being the face of the company; Taking risks.
Amy’s finer points:
“We want to entertain people and make them happy, and make their lives better. The thing about storytelling, in whatever medium it’s in, whether it’s print or video or audio, is that storytelling is how mankind has shared wisdom and culture and advice for like all of mankind’s history, right?”
“You know when something happens to you. Let’s say it’s something great, you’re getting married. Or it’s something negative. You’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Whatever it is, you turn to someone else who has been through the same experience. You say, “So what did you do?” You learn from people. That’s really what we do with our stories.”
When I look at one of my books, I look at it as a portable support group where you have 101 people giving you their best stories on a particular topic. They're selflessly sharing with you. That holds for our online business and our podcasts and our TV shows, all of that. It's people sharing their best stories to entertain and help other people and create positive change in society.
“There were two main things I think I didn’t see. One was, I don’t think anybody knew that that recession would be as bad as it was. I don’t think going, I don’t think in 2007, even though we knew we were going into a recession, I don’t think anybody knew it was going to be the biggest recession since the Great Depression.”
“The other thing I didn’t know going into this was how I would become the face of the books, and how I would personally be so involved, and so involved with our fans and so much a spokesperson for the brand. That has been a new experience, although not a totally new experience because when I was on Wall Street, I was doing stuff like that.”
“I care more about running the company and creating the product. I’m kind of dragged into being the face of the company. Like I don’t use Facebook. I think I put something on Facebook about a year ago and it said it was the first time I had done it since 2012. I just use Twitter because it’s easy. I did Instagram for a month, and I got bored and stopped, so I haven’t been doing what I’m supposed to do, because I’m so busy creating the books and doing everything.”
“Like I have to worry about how many truckloads of paper we have for printing our next book. I have to do that. I can’t just be worried about how many Twitter followers I have.”
“Don’t be afraid to be unpopular by speaking up. I always speak up, and I did it on Wall Street. I mean, I was the first analyst ever sued, maybe the only one ever sued, by a New York Stock Exchange company, because I spoke up about their fraudulent accounting, which was really scary to be sued by a New York Stock Exchange company.”
“My three books for August of 2017 are all perfect examples of making entertaining books filled with stories that will actually create positive change. “The Dog Really Did That” and “The Cat Really Did That” are both books that support the idea of adopting your pets from a shelter.”
“These books are filled with stories of fabulous shelter animals that changed families’ lives, changed people lives for the better, more than they ever could have imagined.”
“Then a book that I have coming out at the end of August, Chicken Soup for the Soul, “My Kind of America,” is the one that reminds us what the true spirit of our country is, this country that until very recently was all about embracing immigrants for the vitality they bring to us, embracing tolerance, embracing differences in people.”
“This is a book with 101 stories that remind us about the true spirit of America and what we stand for.”
“Segment 4: (Length :03:00) – Hustler Thought of the Day:
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. — John A. Shedd
Amy Newmark – Publisher, Editor-in-Chief and Author
Amy Newmark is publisher, editor-in-chief and author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series.
Amy went to Harvard and started her career in a completely different field, spending many decades on Wall Street and in the worlds of technology and finance.
She has a very popular podcast, The Chicken Soup for the Soul Podcast, with three new podcasts every week.