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Selling Direct, Part 2: Consumers as the Source of Many—or Almost All—Sales

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Selling Direct, Part 2: Consumers as the Source of Many—or Almost All—Sales

 “We need to give consumers what they want when they want it in the form that they want it,” and “Today’s market is consumer-driven”: I hear those statements a lot when publishing people gather to talk about what’s new and pressing in the book business, and I suspect you hear them too.

Of course, it helps to be directly in touch with end users if you’re interested in responding to their needs and desires. And unlike the industry giants, independent publishers often are; in fact, some independent publishers have been dealing directly with readers for decades.

In the reports that appear below, IBPA members share their experiences with direct sales, as other members did last month and still more will next month.—Judith Appelbaum

An Array of Incentives

To stimulate sales of our nonfiction history, weather, and pet-related titles and our murder mystery fiction series, we use direct mail catalogs and postcards (to consumers and also to bookstores, libraries, and gift retailers); we’re just starting an e-newsletter for existing customers; many of our sales are back-of-the-room sales following speaking events; we also do community shows and festivals (consumer) and book fairs both direct and through Midatlantic Book Publishers Association, our IBPA regional affiliate; and we sell via our Web site. Occasionally, we run ads in local school sports programs and donate giveaway copies to local nonprofit groups for raffle prizes.

Our new e-newsletter and catalog mailings will contain some incentives for buying directly from us, such as twofer deals, BOGO offers, free gift with purchase, and free shipping at certain purchase levels.

So far, at least 50 percent of our revenue comes from direct sales.

At some shows, we carry book-related merchandise such as Magnetic Poetry’s Book Lover’s Edition and Writer’s Remedy along with our books. We also offer related books from other small publishers who do the same for us. For some of our regional titles, we’ve created themed T-shirts that can double as giveaways (and ads). We’re investigating offering limited edition handcrafted jewelry with a book or reading theme, or with a pet theme to offer with our pet-themed titles.

Mary Shafer 

Word Forge Books


Pipelines via an Association

American Water Works Association (AWWA) has been in existence for almost 130 years. We publish technical books on water for water professionals (water operators, utility management, engineers), and some consumer-oriented materials, such as bill stuffers, booklets, and youth education, also on water-related subjects. In addition, we publish approximately 145 industry standards for water treatment and other applications. We also produce an extensive line of videos that range in topic from a multitude of safety subjects to operator training.

Generally—and for the 28 books we published this past year—we contact people in our target markets through our membership, utilizing targeted lists via direct mail, email, our Web site, and “bookstores” at relevant conferences. About 85 percent of our revenue comes from direct sales, mostly to members.

Scott Millard

American Water Works Association


Reaching Audiences for Poems and Plays

We publish mostly plays and poetry, and we sell nothing but books. In the past 12 months we published one book of poetry (Warrior at Rest by Jane Chambers) and one play anthology that I compiled and edited (Short Plays to Long Remember), which won a 2010 Next Generation INDIE Finalist Award.

We target schools, theaters, and poetry lovers, whom we contact through direct mail, articles on blogs, and interviews on Web radio shows with audiences interested in poetry and theater. (We subscribe to several groups that seek guests and have arranged interviews through HARO, Reporter Connection, and Radio Guest List.)

We also do staged readings, book signings, and book fairs, offering books at a small discount on such occasions.

We offer special discounts to those who buy books directly from us. They generate about 75 percent of our revenue.

Francine L. Trevens

TnT Classic Books


Teachers Link to Teens Who Have Children

I started Morning Glory Press in 1977 because I was teaching a class of pregnant and parenting teens, and I realized there were practically no resources for my students. I developed resources for my own use for five years, often sharing with other teachers in similar programs, then started publishing on a very small scale. (At a weekend publishing class I took at UC-Irvine that year, the instructor laughed at my marketing plans—surely there was no market there. I saw him a few years later. He seemed a bit impressed.)

During the ’90s and 2000s, my annual sales ranged from $500,000 to $750,000. Our Teens Parenting series started with a single title in 1980, Teens Parenting: The Challenge of Babies and Toddlers, which sold 65,000 copies. This title was revised and greatly expanded to become four titles and spawned three more. All seven are now available in Spanish as well as English, and four are also in Easier Reading editions (upper second-grade reading level). Sales for this series total about 500,000 copies.

In 1991 I started a quarterly newsletter, PPT Express. For a while, we sold subscriptions, but then we decided to simply send it as a promotion piece. Teachers responded well, and some even said they kept files of the copies. The newsletter is now part of the catalog I continue to send out. I also exhibited at a lot of conferences, around 15 each year, throughout the ’90s and 2000s. (I left the classroom in 1988.) I focused especially on conferences attended by teachers working with pregnant and parenting teens. Of course, I gave workshops and other presentations whenever possible, and I was quite involved with the state and national organizations for people working with this special population.

Most teachers buy directly from us, probably because we offer quantity discounts, send orders out immediately, and always answer our phones personally. When we contracted with IPG as our distributor, we retained the right to sell to schools. At least 80 percent of our sales are direct to customers.

In addition to the parenting texts, we sell workbooks, teacher’s guides, curriculum notebooks, DVDs, and games.

We’ve published about 35 titles over the years in addition to our parenting series, including the True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High by Marilyn Reynolds, 10 young-adult novels. Half these novels deal with teen pregnancy in some way.

Jeanne Lindsay

Morning Glory Press


Helping Homeschoolers

We focus on education, specifically history, geography, and language arts; we added three titles last year, bringing titles in print to about 30, and we generate approximately 35 percent of our revenue from direct sales.

To contact our markets—homeschool families, retailers of educational books, and schools—we use email, a catalog, our Web site’s online forums, and social networking.

To encourage people to buy directly from us, we provide support over the phone and through email regarding homeschooling. The giant companies can’t do that. Also, we help homeschooling parents get together through the forums on our site, and we offer discounts when a new book is released.

In addition to books, we sell a few gift items, including coffee mugs with our logo, globe beach balls with our logo, and a historical figures kit.

Kim Norton

Peace Hill Press


On Early Tools and Trades

Our books are for avocational and professional woodworkers and craftspeople, reenactors, and living history museums about early crafts, tools, trades, and industries. Most are wood-related, but we’re branching out to a variety of early crafts such as broom-making, weaving, and butter-making. 

For the eight books we published in 2010 and the rest of our list, we reach our markets through Web sites, blogs, journal ads, forums, email lists, and personal contacts, and we generate 10 percent of revenue from direct sales. 

We’ve just recently signed with a major publisher of craft books and magazines to carry our books through their online storefront. Once again, this came about through a prior working relationship. We have often supplied vintage photographs to this publisher for use in magazine articles and books.

We’ve also joined a variety of associations, provide free copies to them for their benefit auctions, and discount our prices for their members. Niche marketing is all about personal contacts, isn’t it?

It helps that I was a known brand when I began publishing. Since I was already running a Web site devoted to books and ephemera of early tools and trades and had sold old books on those subjects, people knew the quality of the work I produce. Plus, the titles I select are unique, never before published, or simply of better quality than others currently available on their subjects.

Other stuff in the works: posters and T-shirts, for 2011.

Gary Roberts 

The Toolemera Press


Paths to Pastors and People in the Pews

Based on YTD figures as of late 2010, 53 percent of our revenue comes from direct sales. Our 350 books in print include 12 released in the past 12 months and are designed for church pastors and leaders, some seminarians, and the people in the pews. We also offer them church supplies (certificates, banners, and the like).

To contact our readers, we use email promotions primarily and sometimes send targeted postcard mailings.

Our promotions to end users lead to direct sales, since they list only our phone number and Web site for ordering.

Kim Shimer

Judson Press


Stories in Schools

I publish a picture book for children ages three to eight. I personally call schools, offering them a free author visit and storytelling of my book with a plan to sell my books to students. Sometimes it is turned into a school fundraiser, with a little of book sales going back to the school. When they see my video on my Web site, they are anxious to have me in for a visit.

I generate 90 percent of revenue from direct sales.

Lynda Deniger

Author of Salty Seas & His Heroic Friends


Live Lines for Language Learning

Our foreign-language phrasebooks, dictionaries, and language-learning materials are geared to tourists, businesspeople overseas, language students and teachers, aid workers in Afghanistan, and libraries.

We contact the people in our target markets via direct postal mail, email, book fairs, and a distributor (Quality Books), and we offer discounts to encourage them to buy books directly from us. Approximately 20 percent of our revenue comes from direct sales.

As I write, we have just started charging a small subscription fee for our daily language email service (Daily Dose), which had been free to 570 subscribers.

Robert F. Powers

Rodnik Publishing Co.


Donations Prime the Pump

I created Dark Moon Publishing Inc. to publish my own young-adult novels. Two have been published, and a third will be out this winter. At the moment, I don’t have enough time or money to publish anything else, but that could all change very quickly.

The first novel has made it onto both Alaska’s Battle of the Books list and the Accelerated Reader List.

Usually, my best way to reach my target audience is to donate books to schools and libraries. This has led to school visits and opportunities to share my books with my audience. I plan to use IBPA’s K–12 Library mailing to build on the momentum of the school lists mentioned above.

Because I am the publisher and have control, I can offer the books below the retail price when I visit schools. Around 75 percent of my revenue comes from direct sales, but since I made the two school lists, I have been filling orders from distributors and bookstores too.

James Todd Cochrane

Dark Moon Publishing




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