Strategies for a Changing Market
by Brian Jud
The demise of Borders points up the fact that publishers who ignore changes in the industry and continue to rely on selling primarily through bookstores will run out of room to grow. On the other hand, publishers who adjust their strategies as e-book sales and sales of printed books in nonbookstore markets keep increasing will be likely to thrive. The opportunity for substantial revenue growth of printed books in special markets is not new, but it remains untapped by most publishers.
Looking at a similarly changing environment in a different field helps make my point. Consider Netflix, which changed the way DVD rental firms competed by inaugurating delivery through the mail. In essence, Netflix reinvented itself quickly by making its own way of doing business obsolete and developing technology to replace mailing physical DVDs with digital streaming over the Internet.
In contrast, Blockbuster simply continued its successful superstore model, making minor adjustments in its way of doing business (no more late fees). Having failed to respond to fundamental market changes, it is closing stores nationwide.
For an example within our industry, we can look at Barnes & Noble. That company has a history of strategic flexibility. It was one of the first to discount bestsellers, publish its own titles, create superstores, and put coffee shops in its stores. Instead of swimming against the e-book tide, B&N reinvented itself by offering the Nook and apps along with toys and games.
Other brick-and-mortar booksellers have offered e-books online too, of course, but B&N was the only legacy retailer that provided its own device (Borders licensed its e-reader device from Kobo). In an industry that started with Gutenberg, B&N continually and creatively reinvents itself to respond to market needs.
Having failed to respond to fundamental market changes, Borders has vanished.
For Success in Nontraditional Markets
The lesson? Publishers that reinvent themselves can succeed in our new, competitive, rapidly changing environment. One way to do that is by expanding outside your core business into nonbookstore markets.
Taking advantage of opportunities outside of bookstores basically means creating quality content in response to an identified need, publishing it in the form or forms that the relevant groups of readers want, and then selling it to those prospective customers.
Doing this successfully requires changing your focus. Instead of concentrating on traditional bookselling, you need to:
Focus on the content of a book, not the book itself. What your book does is more important to buyers than what it is. Content is king in special-sales marketing, and the old adage “Find a need and fill it” was never more relevant.
Focus on targeted customers. Segment your total market into several minimarkets, each with identifiable needs and idiosyncrasies (see “Potential Minimarkets for a Business Title” below). In terms of both design and marketing, Barnes & Noble’s Color Nook is geared directly to women—the largest group of book buyers. B&N is targeting customers who love reading, yet have not been coddled by its larger rival.
Focus on marketing and not mostly on publishing new books. The concepts of “frontlist” and “backlist” are irrelevant in nonbookstore markets, where trading partners and end users concentrate on the benefits a book offers them and not on whether the book is new. Publishing more titles to keep frontlist coming is not nearly as profitable as selling the titles you have already published.
Focus on getting people to buy, not on having them sell. Discover what the wholesalers and retailers among your prospects need—which will probably be some combination of products and services—and then describe how you can help them improve revenues, margins, and/or brand image. Add value to their way of doing business.
For example, if you were trying to get buyers at Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy your barbecue cookbook, you would bear in mind that these stores do not care nearly as much about selling cookbooks as they do about selling high-priced, more profitable barbeque grills. Accordingly, you would show the buyers how your book could be used as enticement to get more people to buy the grills—how, in other words, the store could profit by using your book (rather than selling it) if they gave one away with each grill purchased.
Focus on what is distinctive about your content, not on how it resembles some megaseller. Buyers won’t believe that “It’s the next Harry Potter,” or that “It’s like The Tipping Point, but better.” And they do not want more of what they already have. They want specifics about how your content is different from content in better-known titles and specifics about why it is better.
Focus on both push and pull. Through push marketing, you can help distributors and retailers sell more copies of your book to companies at higher levels in the distribution network. Examples of push marketing include sales literature and counter displays. Through pull marketing—publicity, bookstore events, and media performances, for example—you can make end users for your book aware of it and prompt them to buy it.
Focus on what you can control. In book marketing, you can control:
• the book’s content and form
• the prices you set
• the ways you distribute
• the ways you promote
As the publishing industry makes the transition from a world of physical books to a world of physical books and e-books, some publishing companies will not be able to keep up. The ones that succeed will be those that look to the future with creative flexibility.
Brian Jud, the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books, now offers commission-based sales in special markets. To reach him: P.O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001-0715; 860/675-1344; firstname.lastname@example.org; premiumbookcompany.com; or twitter.com/bookmarketing.
Potential Minimarkets for a Business Title
• college bookstores
• online bookstores
• online bookstores for entrepreneurs
• organizations for entrepreneurs
• homeschooling for entrepreneurs
• book clubs for entrepreneurs
• SOHO book clubs
• corporate libraries
• government agencies
• business school organizations
• business school graduate groups
• small-business consultants
• office supply stores
• public relations firms
• sales trainers
• conferences and trade shows
• speakers’ associations
• speakers’ bureaus
• speakers’ bureaus by state
• seminar companies
• executive coaches
• business and leadership coaches
• management coaches
• alumni associations
• people with home-based businesses
• radio and television business shows
• syndicated columnists
• airline magazines