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Tampa independent book publisher sees big opportunities in industry

Vid Lamonte Buggs pumps life into an industry some think is on the brink: printed book publishing.


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While Vid Lamonte Buggs Jr. grew up modestly, he says, in a caring family, his neighborhood in Hampton, Virginia, was not an easy one. Most kids ended up either in the military or working in a local factory. 

After a basketball career, Buggs found a different path, in writing, and in growing a publishing business. While ebooks and Amazon, in addition to the rise of audiobooks, podcasts and rapidly changing consumer habits, have decimated the industry, Buggs has found an opportunity with 4-U-Nique Publishing. The Tampa-based company has some 70 published authors on its roster, does around $1.5 million a year in revenue and has multimillion dollar expansion plans in 2023, including acquiring a printing business. “We are not a cookie-cutter publishing company,” he says. 

A pair of experiences growing up helped mold Buggs’ zig when they zag entrepreneurial mindset.  

One was in sixth grade, when Buggs and a friend discovered supply and demand: they bought a bag of Blow Pops for $3 and sold the pops for $.25 a piece. They sold out fast, and made $17 from one bag. “I knew early on I was going to do something entrepreneurial and be in business,” he says. 

Then, while coming home from a school field trip in eighth grade to Gettysburg, Virginia, Buggs says he heard the rapper Nas for the first time. He hadn't really thought much about his career or life after school before hearing that record. But the lyrics, of perseverance through a hard life in the ghetto, resonated. “That was really the first time I saw the power of words,” he says, “and how to tell a story with words.”

Buggs went to Old Dominion University, graduating in 2003. He played basketball, in semi-pro and pro leagues, including with the USBL’s Brooklyn Kings. 

In 2010 Buggs, after encouragement from friends and family, wrote what became his first book, a memoir entitled “You Ain’t Hungry Till I’m Starving: Nutrition for the Soul.” 

The publishing industry was a big obstacle, he soon learned, in terms of having to give up control of his story and all the other facets of getting a book published. So with his own startup capital, he launched his own publishing business. That entity, 4-U-Nique Publishing, is now under the VLB/VBJ Enterprises umbrella, which includes Buggs’ public speaking and business consulting arm. 

The goal of 4-U-Nique Publishing from the beginning, says Buggs, like its name, was to return control of the book to the individual author. His company, while it handles the actual publishing of the book and marketing, works more like a consultant than industry behemoths like Penguin Random House or Simon and Schuster. 

The firm works with the author on the manuscript, editing, book jacket, graphics and more, and also allows the author to keep their publishing rights, which provides higher royalties. It’s the kind of publishing company Buggs wished he had when he wrote his first book. “You have your own story and it works,” he says. “Why would you want to bring that to a publishing house that wants to turn everything into the next Harry Potter?” 

Building an author list was his first big challenge, as it took almost two years to find one. He grew the company from there through “trial and error in a lot of pivoting,” he says, and reaching out to other authors and bloggers. One big assist? Publishing his own book — something he recommends to any entrepreneur who seeks to grow their niche. “Having a published book is the best business card you can have,” he says. 

The company has nine employees, working remotely in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, And,  in a plot twist, 4-U-Nique Publishing is finding growth in the printed word on paper as bigger entities pull back on that front. Some 70% of the company’s revenue comes from fees it collects off printed books it publishes, while 15% is ebooks and the rest in audio-books. Buggs says the pandemic, in a way, helped the company because “people had more time on their hands to want to write a book and more time on their hands to read a book.”

To capitalize on the company’s publishing position, Buggs plans to buy a printer business, in Fort Lauderdale, in 2023. As 4-U-Nique Publishing currently outsources that work, Buggs says “I want to be able to cut out the middleman.” 

Buggs says buying a printer business, and maybe another one after that, in the Midwest, will be a significant investment of at least $1.5 million. But going back to his mission to have more control of the publishing process, he believes the expense will pay off. “I believe everyone has a story,” Buggs says, “and we are passionate about telling stories.”

(This story was updated to reflect that Buggs didn't play youth basketball with Allen Iverson of Hampton, Virgina.)

 

author

Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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