When the Internet bandwagon really got rolling, publishers were quick to jump aboard. Although the
World Wide Web only arrived in 1993, more than three-quarters-78.4%-of publishers have sites today,
according to the recent BookZone survey of publishing Web sites. This survey was sent to nearly 9,000
The vast majority (76.5%) of the responding publishers with Web sites report that they use their
site for promotion, while nearly that many (73.7%) use their sites for sales. As the Internet-and
business owners’ understanding of it-matures, this ratio will very likely shift for publishers, who
stand to benefit from direct sales in a number of ways.
Direct online sales are so important, the term “ecommerce” has been coined. This term is used to
cover everything related to doing business online, but its foundation is fundamental good business:
(1) plan what you want to do, based on purpose, audience, and research; (2) create a presence with
components that help you achieve that purpose; and (3) measure results and adjust appropriately.
Plan, What Plan?
Surprisingly few people sit down and think through a Web site before they begin writing the copy
or designing the graphics. A good place to begin is understanding what you want to do with a site.
Sell books? Promote books? Gather information? Attract new authors? Provide an online media kit? Sell
other products and books? Send updates? Sell information? There is much, much more a site can do for
you than straight-on book sales and promotion, and the potential can both make and save you money. But
more about that in a minute.
Next consider who you want to attract to your site. Retail book buyers? Bookstore buyers?
Librarians? Professionals in your niche? Ask yourself about their interests, their needs, hot buttons,
catch phrases. What colors do they like? What benefits will attract them again and again?
You can learn a lot by researching what your competition is doing online. While doing so, note:
- What do their sites look like (colors, typefaces, style, etc.)?
- What wording do they use?
- What components do their sites have?
- How could you improve on those approaches and ideas?
You Want Me to Do What?
Once you have a handle on who your audience is and what you want them to do, you can begin zeroing
in on how to help them do it. David Gordon of BackYard Books has used his www.imsafe.com site to test
his books with his audience, which helps him shorten his development cycle. He visits newsgroups that
his potential buyers frequent, asks them to come to an unannounced area of his site, and asks for
feedback. This gives the visitors “ownership” of the book, which can translate to word-of-mouth
promotion and sales. John Kremer of Open Horizons has used his site at www.bookmarket.com to test book
covers, asking his audience-publishers-to vote on their favorite. “I got more than 200 voters,” says
Kremer. “Ninety percent favored one cover over the other-the one I was not intending to use. I had to
change covers at the last minute.” The winning cover now graces the fifth edition of 1001 Ways to
Market Your Books.
While these approaches simply require more site pages, Greentree Publishing has added some
programming to its site at www.howtobehave.com to deliver free articles to the press for reprinting.”The first day we put up the articles, editors began downloading them,” says Publisher Tim McCormick.
This saves Greentree mailing and printing costs, and saves time for editors. Greentree can follow up
because editors have to register to get the articles.
Other site components can include “ezines” or electronic magazines like Nuway Products uses on itswww.youth-sports.com site. Ezines are extremely cost-effective marketing tools that provide a whopping
14-22% response rate. Other site components include database-generated sites, which are well-suited
for sites with many titles, like Gryphon House’s www.gryphonhouse.com; instant reports for selling
information like those sold on Dan Poynter’s www.parapublishing.com site; and Web forums, such as theAll About Booklets Discussion Board on Tips Products International’s www.tipsbooklets.com site.
Once you know what you want to achieve, who your audience is, and what others are doing, such site
components become much more obvious.
Put It Here
When it comes to sales, one important aspect of a Web site is how transactions are handled. A
simple “interactive form” may be sufficient, or you may want to opt for “real-time credit card
processing” or even fully-integrated ecommerce systems that feed directly into your invoicing program.
Although the capability wasn’t even available when the Web launched just six years ago,
interactive forms are now a given. They have input boxes that request all the information needed to
complete a transaction, giving publishers exactly what they need to pick, pack, and ship. In some
cases, the information can even be delivered from the online form in an order and format that can be
imported right into an invoicing program by simply cutting and pasting.
Despite additional initial cost, John McKinney of Olympus Press chose to use real-time credit card
processing on his site at www.thetrailmaster.com. “We don’t want to spend our time answering the phone
and processing orders,” he explains. “The more of a virtual enterprise we can become on the Internet,
the better, because then we can stick to what we do best, which is make books and sell the hiking
Fully integrated systems are currently relatively expensive but will become more reasonably priced
and as available as interactive forms are today. BookZone has set up such a system for a large
distributor and is currently developing a similar product for users of the Acumen, the popular
invoicing program for publishers. “ECommerce integration is very high on our agenda,” says Larry Wolf
of Acumen. “Streamlining is just good business, and the Internet is an integral part of business
You Should See the One
that Got Away
No matter how carefully you research and plan, gathering the responses and reactions of your
audiences can provide invaluable insights. Analyzing site activity reports can speak volumes about why
and where people are coming into and leaving from a site. Also, an occasional survey lets your
visitors tell you what they really think-and they will! Giving away a book or two is a small price to
pay to know that they’d like more information on one subject or that certain offers are more trouble
than they are worth.
Finally, don’t forget to include site assessments in your plan. Stepping back once or twice a year
to look at your online efforts or to see what the competition is doing can mean big leaps forward in
Mary Westheimer is President of BookZone, Inc., which serves more than 1,100 publishers with Web
hosting, development, and promotion. For more information about ecommerce, contact Mary at
email@example.com or 800/536-6162 (480/481-9737).
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