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Publishers and the Internet: Using Technology Well

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(Note: Italicized words are defined at the end of this Fact Sheet.)

What Can the Internet Do for Publishers?

Before addressing the subject everyone wants to hear about (selling books), let’s look at some of the other ways publishers are already using the Internet. Most obvious is e-mail, a low-cost, highly efficient communication method. From simple memos to transferring text, e-mail can cut down on clutter while still allowing you to “have it in writing.” Even graphic images and long text files can be e-mailed, saving time, money, and other resources.

Conducting research is another valuable use of the Internet. Whether you’re combing the World Wide Web by using search engines or “surfing” from link to link, participating in newsgroups on the Usenet, or subscribing to mail lists (another benefit of e-mail), a tremendous amount of information can be gathered without leaving your office, no matter what time it is or what day it might be.

The Internet also offers the opportunity to pose surveys and collect information at a Web site. You can gather this type of information from mail lists or newsgroups as well.

And then, of course, there’s selling books. You can sell both retail and wholesale on the Web and via e-mail and newsgroups.

What Are the Various Ways to Sell Books on the Net, and What Are Their Advantages and Disadvantages?

Some people simply sell books by putting all ordering information in the “signature” at the end of their e-mail and newsgroup messages, while others create interactive Web sites. Actually these two approaches support each other nicely.

The technology that brought us the graphically-pleasing World Wide Web has allowed a dizzying spectrum of ways to sell books on the Net. You can create your own site or work with an existing service, sell books at full price, a slightly discounted rate, or wholesale, or some combination thereof.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of each:

Creating your own site can be fun if you know HTML language. You can create executable forms and enjoy working with the site to keep it fresh. Many Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, provide some Web space at no extra charge when you sign up with them for dial-up access. Although some of these sites have limited capabilities, monetary cost is low. Time investment depends upon the complexity of the site and how it jibes with the creator’s knowledge.

Sites created especially for publishers are traditional bookstores in a new medium, advertising-order capture vehicles, or hybrids of these options. The bookstore model usually buys at wholesale and sells at retail, while other sites ask publishers to pay for space and design but do not take a percentage of the sale. Pre-established sites usually ask more of your pocketbook, but less of your time. Too, you can take advantage of built-in traffic as well as each company’s expertise. Like any business arrangement, make sure you understand what you will receive and what you are expected to do.

How Many Books Can I Expect to Sell from a Web Site?

There are just too many variables to answer this question effectively. Depending upon the subject matter, price, marketing support, site awareness, site ease-of-use (not to mention the magic that makes one title sell while another may languish), titles can do very well or not sell at all. What is “very well”? Some publishers are selling hundreds, even thousands, of books a year over the Web. Those who do are undoubtedly making a concerted marketing effort (see “The Biggest Mistake” below). Some publishers, however, are not selling many copies but are getting international exposure and positioning themselves for the future as the technology develops.

What Is the Average Cost of a Dial-up Account? A Web Site?

A dial-up account usually costs about $20 a month for unlimited access to the Net. Offered by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Earthlink, MindSpring, and ATT Worldnet, the main purpose of these accounts is to obtain a gateway to the Internet. An ISP may provide other services as well. On-line firms like America Online and CompuServe also offer their own services and may cost about the same as a dial-up account or can be based on time usage.

The cost of a Web site can range from free to millions of dollars. On-line bookstores—which make their money the traditional way by buying at wholesale and selling at retail—often charge nothing for listing titles.

Sites that ask you to pay for the listing but give publishers full asking price usually charge about $150 per title annually. Publishers with more than 25 titles might opt for a more elaborate presence, complete with onsite search engines, extensive copy, and “shopping cart” ordering. Such sites can cost thousands of dollars.

What’s the Biggest Mistake People Make about the Internet?

The biggest mistake is thinking that they don’t have to market. Just having a Web site is not enough. Publishers should expect to pay for or do their own on- and off-line marketing to create awareness. On-line marketing includes submitting your site to search engines as well as directories dedicated to their subject, and setting up links with other pertinent sites. One of the most effective ways to increase awareness is through participation in newsgroups and mail lists . . . all within the bounds of Netiquette, of course. Off-line marketing includes adding e-mail and URL addresses to all written and broadcast materials and promoting on-line features and specials through traditional means.

Glossary of Internet Terms

Dial-up Access: A gateway that lets individual users onto the Internet so they can “surf” the Web, browse newsgroups, and send e-mail. Most dial-up access is through ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

E-mail: Electronic mail consisting of messages sent over a network. No stamp, no envelope, (virtually) no waiting.

Executable Forms: Interactive areas where visitors can select buttons, enter and send information automatically by typing information and pressing a button to submit, or send information to the appropriate party.

HTML: Hyper Text Markup Language presents a Web document’s text, structure, images, media, and links to other documents.

Internet Service Providers: ISPs connect people to the Internet by providing dial-up access and often software that enables people to send e-mail, browse the Web, transfer files, etc.

Links: Also called “hot links” and “hypertext links,” these text- or image-based connections let people move from document to document, regardless of their location with a simple mouse click.

Mail Lists: An e-mail based communication exchange in which each interested party subscribes to a certain address, then every message sent to that list is automatically mailed to everyone on the list.

Netiquette: Accepted behavior on the Internet.

Newsgroups: Special interest areas devoted to particular subjects located on the Internet’s Usenet. There are literally thousands of newsgroups.

Search Engine: A collection of addresses, whether on the Web, FTP, Gopher site or Usenet, that “surfers” search to find sites of interest. Links provide instant connection to each listed site.

“Shopping Cart” Ordering: Permits buyers to select multiple items while they continue to browse, and then pay for them all at once.

Signature: Predetermined text that is usually automatically appended to the end of an e-mail or newsgroup message.

URL: Uniform Resource Locator, or a pointer to a Web document, an FTP or Gopher file, Usenet posting address, or a database record.

Usenet: The text-based area of the Internet where newsgroups reside.

World Wide Web: A hypertext information system that permits display of graphics and context-based subject organization.

Additional Resources

The Book Lover’s Guide to the Internet, by Evan Morris, paperback, Fawcett Books, ISBN 0-449910-70-9, $12.95, 304 pages

Publishers Marketing Association Web Site: http://www.pma-online.org

BookWire (Publishers Weekly site with all kinds of book information): http://www.bookwire.com

John Kremer’s Open Horizons Web Site (Book marketing info):


To Submit a Web Site to Search Engines:

Submit-It: http://www.submit-it.com

WebStep 100 (Submits site to the top 100 search engines on the Net): http://www.mmgco.com/top100.html

Use Search Engines to Find the Latest Information and Resources. Try:

Yahoo: http://www.yahoo.com

Excite: http://www.excite.com

AltaVista: http://www.altavista.digital.com

Mary Westheimer is President of BookZone (http://www.bookzone.com/), one of the oldest and busiest book Web sites. After working in nearly every facet of the publishing industry, Mary helped launch BookZone in 1994 to promote the success of independent publishers. Over 600 publishers now have a presence on the Internet through the Bookzone site. Mary joined the PMA Board of Directors in 1996. You can reach her at BookZone by phone (800/536-6162) or by e-mail (mary@bookzone.com).

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor June, 1997, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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