Publisher shares money mojo

Last updated 05:00 09/02/2014
Julia Marshall
Fairfax NZ
SURPRISE: Julia Marshall makes money from publishing books.

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Publisher Julia Marshall's Gecko Press brings the best of the world's childrens' authors to New Zealand kids.

She set up Gecko 10 years ago after years of working in Sweden and now exports to Australia, the UK and US.

She tells Rob Stock many of life's important financial lessons can be learned from great literature.

How financially savvy are you?

I am a lot more financially savvy than I used to be. I enjoy the money side of things, but getting systems in place at Gecko Press has been harder than it needed to be. I have been working a lot on financial reporting with my advisory board, and I love what we have in place now.

What was your first paid work?

Other than my parents paying me to paint things - an autoshop in Taupo. And kitchen-hand work - my friend used to waitress and I would be put out back to do the vegetables. I sold timeshares for a week for a man who wore a dollar sign on his belt.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

I grew up quite unaware of money, which is extraordinary because I grew up on a farm and there was evidence of activity all around me. I was probably reading my book. We were taught not to waste money, but I didn't really know where it came from. I have never made a career decision based on money - I was encouraged to do what I wanted to do. I didn't realise, growing up, that my father was so entrepreneurial.

What's your attitude to spending?

When my niece was small, she had to write something about someone for school.

In her piece she wrote: "Julia buys the things she likes, and sometimes she doesn't have money for the things she needs." I always thought that was a lovely sentence. I had a neat rule that any time big change happened in my life, I was allowed to buy a painting. I stopped that when I started Gecko Press, because it needed the money more.

I would rather have one good thing than five cheap things. I eat pretty well, and I am susceptible to impulse buying of books and shoes and nice things. I like my mother's advice which is: "A few well chosen things." I can struggle with ending up with slightly too many well-chosen things.

What's the best financial advice you were given?

From my father: "No one went broke making a profit." But also: "You are most likely to regret the things that you don't do." There is a fine line between the two.

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What's the biggest lie about money people fall for?

That making money is easy.

What's your best money habit? And your worst?

My best money habit is that I would rather have nothing than something I don't really want. My worst is that if I do really want something, I might find a really good reason why I should have it.

What would you tell a child is the best way to make money?

Negotiate your pocket money. As I get older I am inclined to think that looking after the pennies is the smart thing, though not as much fun. I might tell that to the child, and expect him or her to decide whether they want to be smart or have fun. (This is obviously the advice of an aunt, not a parent.)

Are you motivated by making money?

I enjoy money, but it is not my main driver.

Some might say deciding to make money by publishing books made of paper was a bit mad. Was it?

As it turns out, no! But plenty of people thought it was at the time. I was told I would meet a lot of nice people but not make any money. My father asked if there were any other successful publishers around, and when I said yes, he said that someone was obviously making some money and that therefore it was possible. It is not an easy industry, because it is low margin, is in a complete state of flux, carries a high element of gambling; and takes a long time to return up front cash investment. Good that I didn't know that when I started!

Arts degrees are sometimes disparaged as a good foundation to make money. What are your thoughts on that?

I did an Arts degree. It certainly didn't teach me about money. It did teach me about people, which is not without merit. I read Dickens, for example, and he teaches a lot about money. "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery." I vote for the Arts degree. In hindsight, I would have done Accounting 101, but I would never have done it at the time, so that was not an option.

Do you trust the money men?

Our grandmother taught us: "Love many, trust few, always paddle your own canoe". I do trust the people I trust.

Many of us like a flutter. Do you? 

Every time we publish a book it is a gamble, and that is enough for me.

- Sunday Star Times

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