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D2C E-bookselling Means Being Relevant, Accessible, Honest

There are a plethora of buzzwords which are just industry circumlocutions of something that’s quite straight forward.

Editorial by Jonas Lennermo, Creative Director, Publit

STOCKHOLM: There’s a new world in sight. For publishers, it’s a world with less risk and higher margins, with less conjectures and more control. For readers, it’s a world with books written just for them. For all of us, it is a world filled with great stories.

Harlequin's book widget shop powered by Publit

But let’s start from the very beginning: the internet connects people. With your screen as the window to the world, everyone is within reach. Finally, the publishing industry has started to realize the implications, and it comes like an epiphany: I can sell my books myself!

For the big players, it is a way to get to know their readers and retain control of the publishing process. For small publishers, it means they can get their books out there, without the big ones setting the rules.

Jonas Lennermo, Creative Director, Publit

According to figures from the Association of American Publishers, direct sales accounted for about 7-10% of the revenue last year. Another report, from Publishers Weekly and the analytics firm Aptara, shows that 25% of the revenue from e-books in the US comes from direct sales. And we have only scratched the surface. Direct to consumer, D2C, is the talk of the town. It’s widely debated among the big publishing houses at every publishing event, it’s discussed at every lunch at every small scale publisher, and related industries are curiously listening. Because selling directly to the end consumers reshapes the entire publishing industry.

From O’Reilly to McSweeney’s to…Harlequin Scandinavia

Some publishers really get it. Like O’Reilly. Every title in their shop holds both the electronic and the physical copy. If you buy one of them, you get a discount on the other. Accuracy with metadata makes it easy to find more information about every title. The shopping experience is smooth, and kept within the realms of O’Reilly. Check, check, check. Well done, O’Reilly.

Publit's Analytics Map

McSweeney’s, the weird and witty publishing endeavor from San Francisco, is another great example. They sell their multitude of publishing products – from magazines like the Believer, Wholphin and Lucky Peach, to a wide range of books – all through their online shop, as well as a well designed iPhone app. And as all successful shopping experiences: it just works. It feels good.

The problem is, you are not O’Reilly nor McSweeney’s. They have created their own solutions, custom built to fit their own needs. They’re beautiful, but proprietary.

Let’s have a look at Harlequin Scandinavia instead. In Sweden they alone stand for about 30% of the e-book market. They aggregate to all the big outlets, but sell a great majority of their books through their own website, directly to the end consumer. And as with O’Reilly and McSweeney’s, it just works. The whole shopping experience, from browsing for new titles to the receipt after the purchase, is smooth and easy to understand, with an intuitive interface. But contrary to O’Reilly and McSweeney’s, Harlequin use a third party solution. It’s open to everyone. It’s a shift in publishing that cannot be underestimated. And it’s powered by Publit.

Publit is the most successful publishing service in Scandinavia for e-books and print-on-demand. We’ve made it really easy for anyone, to publish to everyone, everywhere. Upload your books, set the price, and embed your shop anywhere you like – on your blog, facebook-page or in a tweet. It doesn’t matter who or where you are, it doesn’t matter who or where your readers are, it doesn’t matter if it’s e-books, POD or both – it just works. It feels good.

That is why our client lists spans from the biggest players in Scandinavia, like Bonnier and Norstedts, to about 200 small publishers. In addition, we automatically aggregate to all the usual retailers – Kobo, Overdrive, iBooks and the like – and more and more of our clients are reaching out to their readers themselves. Just like Harlequin does.

The benefits are nothing less than amazing. You know who’s reading what, when and where, you know how much they are willing to spend, and you have complete control to tailor your bid in every single detail. It’s all there for you.

D2C E-bookselling Requires Authenticity of Voice and Vision

But it’s a high that comes with a low. Because the great benefits of selling directly to the readers also demands a new mindset. D2C is perfect for the long tail economy, which grow both bigger and longer, but will always struggle with discoverability as its inherent nemesis. To stand out in the vast and growing world of digital content, you need to leave the shadows of traditional publishing and take a big, brave step out in the light. You need to build a relationship with your readers, be present where they are, and make it easy for them to understand what you do and to tell others about it. In other words: you need to build a brand.

It’s not about ads, fancy logos or catchy slogans. It’s not about adding a superficial layer of marketing fluff to smudge your favorite stories. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There are a plethora of buzzwords – freemium, content marketing, evangelists and the like – which are just industry circumlocutions of something that’s quite straight forward. Tell people why the stories you sell are your favorite ones. Be relevant. Be accessible. Be honest.

Every modern company is a media company, from 37signals to Apple, from Mr Porter to Nike. Except publishers, it seems. Again, O’Reilly or McSweeney’s stand out from the rest. They have a voice of their own, and when it comes down to it, that’s why they have been so successful with direct sales. Or have a look at Harlequin. They have crafted a strong brand, which made it easy for them to build a relationship with their readers, powered by Publit.

The internet connects people, but you need to tell them who you are. Everyone is within reach, but you need to earn their attention. It’s only then you can take the first steps in the new world of publishing, filled with amazing stories.

DISCUSS: Why Have US Trade Pubs Largely Balked at D2C E-bookselling?

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4 Comments

  1. Posted May 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    This is an excellent way forward for many of us who are standing in complete opposition to the way not only traditional publishing has faltered but also for the ways that Amazon has also tried to soak up all the revenues that exist in this book world we live in today.

    Sullivan Street Press has always sold directly to its readers. We are finding lots of new ways to get the word out about who we are and why our titles should be on everyone’s e-reader. And for those who aren’t ready for the e-book revolution, we are hooked up with the Espresso Book Machine people primarily through McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan where are titles are available in print on demand versions as well.

    This new world is extremely exciting. Moving forward we have also been working with MAZ Digital to create an iPad app that is now also available and will contain the entire Scags Series once it is completely published.

    So there are other publishers out there who also deserve to be acknowledged for what they are doing and will continue to do. For all the best reasons–to save the environment, to be more financially controlled so we can offer books at reasonable prices and to help readers learn about this new revolution in the book world.

    This new world of direct to consumer publishing is an amazing one. Thanks for making it clear for lots of readers why this is so.

  2. Posted May 24, 2012 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Great post, especially the passage on voice and vision. For me the highlight is: ” There are a plethora of buzzwords – freemium, content marketing, evangelists and the like – which are just industry circumlocutions of something that’s quite straight forward. Tell people why the stories you sell are your favorite ones.”

    That last sentence strikes me as a great publishing aphorism!

  3. Posted May 24, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    THIS: Tell people why the stories you sell are your favorite ones. Be relevant. Be accessible. Be honest.

    In my work consulting with writers on branding and platform building, this is exactly the point I stress. Standing out in a sea of content isn’t about trying to attract every potential reader in the world by making your work sound palatable and generic. Rather, it’s about determining exactly what you are offering that’s relevant to your readers and letting them know about it. In regular old marketing language, it’s about stressing the pertinent benefits (to the reader), NOT the features.

  4. Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    Holy words! but around there’s something more: I am a private bookseller that has built its own virtual library on facebook selling ebook in agreement with Amazon. Come take a look

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