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For More Profitable Publishing, Compare Two Major Marketing Strategies

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For More Profitable Publishing, Compare Two Major Marketing Strategies

by Brian Jud


Did you ever wonder why our business is described as the book-publishing industry and not the book-selling industry? In 2011 Bowker issued new ISBNs at the rate of more than 1,400 per day, reflecting the industry focus on publishing more books as the strategy for increasing sales. However, you may find that it is more lucrative to publish fewer books and sell more copies of them.

One way to implement this strategy is to sell your books to people where they spend their working days instead of waiting for them to decide to visit physical or online retail outlets. This means selling in large, nonreturnable quantities to professional buyers in companies, associations, schools, and the armed services.

The dissimilarities between traditional retail book marketing and nonretail marketing are defined in the accompanying chart so you can use the information to craft new sales efforts, sell more books, and increase your revenue and profits.


  Traditional Retail Marketing Nonretail Marketing
Overview Books are sold to retailers, often via distributors and wholesalers, to resell off the shelves in chain, niche, or independent bookstores in physical locations and/or online. Buyers in corporations, associations, the armed services, and/or schools purchase books from publishers in large, nonreturnable quantities. The books are used or given away, not resold.
Publishers’ Selling Strategy


Publishers rely on distribution companies to move product to bookstores, and then promote books so readers will go to the stores to buy (achieving sell-through). There are no intermediaries; publishers sell directly to prospective buyers (achieving sell-to).
Title Churn Publishers’ emphasis is on publishing books. A stream of frontlist titles is deemed necessary for new revenue. Production may be hurried to meet trading partners’ imposed deadlines, or to reach a self-imposed goal of titles to be published annually. Publishers’ emphasis is on selling books. The main criterion is relevance of the content to the needs of the buyer. The concepts of frontlist and backlist are irrelevant as long as the content is current and applicable.
Buyers’ Purchasing Criteria Bookstore buyers seek increased store traffic, inventory turns, and profit per square foot. They choose books primarily because the books meet marketing, rather than literary, criteria. Professional buyers seek books to use for education and training and as promotional items, with a view toward increasing sales, revenue, and profits.
Buyers’ Goals


Retailers depend on individual readers, who purchase nonfiction to satisfy their needs for information and fiction according to their individual tastes, and who may also buy books as gifts. Professional buyers purchase books because they can use the books to reach their goals (increase sales, motivate and train employees, increase membership, educate students).
Concentration of


End-user buyers are consumers who are generally widely dispersed and differentiated by a number of sketchily defined factors. Buyers are professionals in well-defined industry, geographic, or demographic segments.
Publishers’ Acquisition Decisions Decisions about which books to publish are often based largely on the quality of manuscript. Decisions about which books to publish are marketing decisions, based upon the need for the content among buyers in a target market.
Buyers’ Acquisition Decisions Retailers’ acquisition costs are higher because of distribution and setup fees as well as costs related to displaying books and periodically rotating product assortment. Returns further increase costs.


Acquisition unit costs are lower because of discounts on large-quantity purchases. Costs are also lower because there is no need for shelf space, books are not returned, and bulk-shipping discounts lower transportation expenses.
Purchasing Quantities To sell 10,000 books you need to sell one book to each of 10,000 people. To sell 10,000 books, you need to sell those 10,000 books to one person.
Product Forms Content is provided in standard print and electronic book formats. Content is formatted in customized ways to meet the needs of buyers. Formats can include booklet, DVD, or audiobook as well as traditional print and e-book.
Availability of Books Books are broadly available, particularly through Internet retailers.


Availability is controlled since buyers give books to employees, customers, students, or members.
Publisher’s Selling Costs Costs are high because of the need to sell small quantities of books to many different customers. Publishers pay the shipping charges; spend money and time on returned books which must be restocked or discarded; and must pay for promotion, which can be expensive. Costs of sales are lower because larger quantities are sold to fewer customers; promotion is more targeted and efficient; and there are no upfront distribution fees (except perhaps for sales groups, and they can represent books on a commission basis).
Sales Opportunities Sales are dependent on uncontrollable factors, such as the skills of distributors’ salespeople, the position of books on a shelf, and the existence of positive publicity. Sales follow from one-on-one meetings with prospective buyers where publishers can personally deliver intended sales messages consistently, and close sales directly.
Pricing Flexibility Prices must be competitive because consumers can compare them on physical and virtual shelves. The wide variety of books available on a specific topic often creates a price ceiling. Distribution fees and the high unit costs of small print runs may force prices to a point where they are not competitive. The selling price is negotiated and is typically based on the quantity purchased. With no direct comparison of prices of competitive titles nearby on a shelf, more value-based pricing is possible.
Promotion Publishers must rely in part on uncontrollable reviews and publicity to deliver their messages. Blogging and social networking can communicate to large segments of consumers. Advertising is usually cost-prohibitive. The concentration of buyers permits pinpoint accuracy in targeted direct marketing. Communication is controlled through two-way interaction with interested buyers at trade shows and other locations.
Authors’ Impact on Sales An author’s name recognition is important for sales, and it is difficult for an “unknown” author to penetrate the system. The author’s involvement with promotion is also important for sales. The author’s topic credibility is more important than name recognition, since books are purchased because of what their content can accomplish.
Time Frames and Lifespans


Retailers and distributors focus on the short term since they need to show sales results quickly. Books have short lives because retailers want title churn, and publishers cede control to retailers, who get to decide whether sales are sufficient to maintain market presence. Publishers must focus on long-term results because projects using books can take a year or more to plan and implement. Titles have longer lives because copyright dates are much less important than applicability of content to buyers’ needs. Publishers have more control and can extend a title’s growth stage by selling to new markets and buyers and finding new uses for the content.
Seasonality Book sales decrease during slow economic periods and increase during holiday and gift-giving periods. Book sales are stable or increase during economic downturns because companies use books to increase their revenue. There are fewer seasonal variations, which helps level publishers’ income.
Cash Flow Payment for books sold may be received 90 to 120 days from the shipping date, or later. Money due to a publisher may be held in escrow by the distributor to cover potential returns. Payment (including shipping charges) is typically made in full to the publisher within 30 days of the receipt of books. Other terms may be negotiated.
Returns Unsold books can be and routinely are returned, in any condition. The return rate can exceed 30 percent of sales.


Sales to buyers are usually nonreturnable.
Potential for Profitability Profits may be reduced because of distribution discounts ranging from 55 to 70 percent of list price, because of the costs of shipping small quantities of books to many different locations, and because printing books in small quantities can result in high unit costs. There are no distribution discounts, since books are sold directly to buyers. Buyers usually pay shipping charges. Large quantities may be printed economically via offset. And promotional expenses may be minimized because of the concentration of targeted prospects.
Relationships Personal relationships are with people in the distribution channel (suppliers, distributors, retailers), not with the consumer who will—or won’t—be the ultimate buyer. Personal relationships are with the people who make or influence ultimate purchasing decisions.
Duration of Relationships Personal relationships are short-term, limited by the lifespan of a book as traditional channels view it. Personal relationships are longer-term, lasting for as long as a publisher can continue providing quality content that meets buyers’ needs, and creating opportunities for recurring revenue

Next Steps for Nonretail Sales

If nonretail sales as outlined here appeal to you and you’d like guidance on pursuing them, search Brian Jud at ibpa-online.org for earlier articles about targeting, approaching, and dealing with specific prospects. Advice from Jud on negotiating large-quantity nonretail sales will appear in the next issue of the Independent.







Brian Jud, the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books, now offers commission-based sales of nonfiction, fiction, and children’s titles to buyers in special markets. For more information: P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001-0715; 860/675-1344; fax 860/ 673-7650; brianjud@bookmarketing.com; premiumbookcompany.com; twitter.com/bookmarketing.

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