Marketing in Today’s Turbulent Publishing Environment
by Carol White
Book marketing is becoming nearly unsustainable with the pricing and distribution models we’re accustomed to using.
Look at these statistics:
More than 500,000 new titles are now published each year—that’s 1,100 a day.
In 2008 more books were published via POD than traditionally.
20 percent of print, audio, and e-book book sales now occur online.
40 percent of book sales to consumers occur outside traditional “trade” locations.
Bookstores, including the chains, now account for 40 percent of book sales.
E-book sales are growing at more than 100 percent per year.
E-books accounted for 3 percent of all book sales in 2009, up from 1 percent in 2008.
With the universe of midsized, small, and self-publishers growing fast, distributors—and readers—have a difficult time picking the great books coming from smaller presses. And with distribution methods multiplying—think e-book readers, downloads, and the cloud, for example—the reading public may be chasing a nearly infinite number of choices with limited dollars to spend.
So how do we market our books to stand out in this crowded landscape and still make a profit? I maintain that much of what successful smaller publishers have always done still applies: produce a quality product that fills a need; price that product correctly for its market; make sure the product can be found in many places where the reader it’s meant for will go; and finally, once all that is in place, promote it to the markets it is meant to serve.
But we need to change our thinking about the places we find our readers, how we reach them, and what they want to buy. Easy, huh?
Consider these signs of major dislocations:
Roughly 20 percent of e-book users who responded to the Book Industry Study Group’s Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading survey said they had stopped buying p-books in favor of acquiring e-books, either paid or free.
Publishers’ net revenues on e-books reached $18.5 million for October 2009, up from $5.2 million for the same month a year earlier, according to a report in Publishers Weekly.
E-books enhanced with video, author interviews, and social networking applications could be priced higher than current e-books, maybe at $14.99 to $19.99, said Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins.
Online resellers will take over and manage the remaining bricks-and-mortar outlets along with the vast majority of distribution, Peter Lihou , head of sales at the IT company Itex Guernsey Limited, predicted on a LinkedIn discussion group.
As a publisher, writer, and book-marketing coach, I think the changes we need to act on fall into three categories: product changes, distribution changes, and interaction changes, all of which have implications for marketing.
It looks to me as though all books will eventually be released digitally first, with many options available to the consumer and retailer, who will be able to order a “digital file” as a print book (trade paperback, mass-market, or hardcover), as audio, as an e-book (probably in several formats for a while), as a download, as a CD, or in other forms still to come.
If this happens, publishers will have to manage their businesses to cover their costs based on this variable model. Each choice a publisher offers will carry a different cost to the retailer or the end user, depending in part on the perceived value. Retailers will be able to manage inventory more closely, and returns may become a thing of the past. Consumers may look for books in Espresso-like machines in stores, kiosks in the mall, coffee shops, hospital gift shops, cruise ships, and more. And they may be able to subscribe to services that offer limited or unlimited downloads for a fixed monthly fee.
So what will these new “digital files” look like that will make readers prefer them over traditional print books? What if they were interactive, with games, video, audio, links to related articles or other information, cartoons, or social networking apps about a particular book? What if readers could customize them at purchase with their own faces in the illustrations, or choose an avatar to join in the story? And what if—gasp—the files had advertising in them, much like a movie trailer before the main feature, or links to the manufacturers of things featured in the book? The possibilities are endless.
I think most of us would agree that the only companies benefiting from the crazy distribution scheme now in place are UPS and other delivery services. Besides being a huge environmental issue, trucking books back and forth all over the country is costly and inefficient. It is unsustainable and unnecessary in a digital world.
With readers demanding content on the fly and technology able to deliver it, we are just beginning to see what could happen. It seems clear, though, that stores will have to change or die, and that serious issues will have to be addressed. Looking at the music business, we can only hope that publishing finds a better way to keep paying artists.
When all formats arise from the same simple digital file, consumers can choose the add-ons they’re willing to pay for. Want a hardcover book? No problem; it will just cost more and take a few days to arrive. Want the book on a Kindle, a nook, or an iPad? Of course—just a download away. Want an audio version for an iPhone? You bet. Bored on a cruise ship? The Espresso Book Machine has just what you need. Delivery will be wherever, whenever.
But what about Harry Potter, Stephen King, or Oprah’s next pick? Yes, big-box book departments—Wal-Mart, Target, and more—will stock them, but they won’t bother with returns. They’ll just use markdowns for books, the same way they do for that mauve knapsack nobody seemed to want.
What This Means for Marketing
Nobody’s crystal ball ever gives a perfect picture of the future, of course, and I may be wrong about some specifics. But for sure big changes are happening, so how the heck do we prepare for them, and how do we make sure our marketing plans reflect today’s shifting sand?
Marketing always has been and will continue to be an art, not a science. What works for one author and book would fall flat for another. But paying attention to a few principles should help you move your publishing company through the minefield:
Now more than ever, build a following. Start well before a book is published. Write a blog and get it known; become an expert, or make sure your author is one or becomes one, online and/or through speaking. Maintain a Web site people want to visit; think about creating an iPhone app people have to have. Make each book, author, and product area well known, innovative, and needed.
Go where you find your audience. This doesn’t have to mean tweeting five times a day or mounting a soapbox in the town square, but it does mean understanding who wants the expertise and/or entertainment value a book encapsulates, going where those people are, and letting them learn about you. You can probably find some of them online, but you might also find them at quilting shows, at horse shows, at library readings, rock climbing, or RVing.
Once you find them, make it easy for them to do business with you. Have your book available everywhere its readers might be. Having a Web site or blog is important, but people generally won’t buy from those sites. They want to go where they know who they are buying from—and they want to be able to aggregate purchases for convenience (at physical locations) or for cost (online, this means shipping).
Be open and stay current. Watch what is going on in the industry. Know what your plan is as the changes become more dominant. Join organizations like IBPA, and participate actively in industry events
Don’t just jump on the latest fad. Before you do something different, be sure it makes sense for your company, your readers, and your bottom line. Everything has a cost in time or money or both. Think hard about what is right for your market.
And my final piece of advice? It is what I tell all my clients: Do something to market your book every day, and you will be rewarded. Read that e-book article, make that follow-up call, write that blog post, schedule that book signing, research additional new distribution outlets. All this will make us all successful year after year. In short, never close your eyes to the possibilities; never give up; never quit marketing.
Carol White is an author, speaker, writer, and book marketing coach. Co-author of the award-winning Live Your Road Trip Dream (roadtripdream.com), she is a frequent guest speaker at conventions such as the national AARP Life @ 50+ and The Great North American RV Rally, and she has spoken about publishing to groups including IBPA’s Publishing University, the Northwest Association of Book Publishers, and the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. She serves clients in the United States and abroad through her book-marketing consulting practice. To learn more, visit carolwhitemarketing.com