By Mary Alice Elcock, VP of Content, BitLit
Earlier this year, I read an article that recommended that all publishers should be selling direct to consumer not only to garner sales, but to build a direct relationship with customers. Indeed, on the face of it, this argument makes sense. But, while I see the argument for going direct, the largest obstacle publishers need to overcome in order to sell directly from their website is convincing readers to adapt their buying habits, a difficult proposition given the success of the status quo.
The reality is that book buying isn’t broken. Readers will always find books, most likely through an online or bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Books have always been bought this way, perhaps explaining why publisher branding is so poor: readers rarely see a call out for a particular publisher when browsing, but are far more likely to connect with an author’s brand or the bookstore itself.
There are certainly niche publishers for whom having a direct to consumer bookstore platform works – readers know their brand and search out their books — but after discussing with many publishers who took the plunge and started their own storefronts, I feel comfortable saying that for most publishers, direct to consumer doesn’t work.
But, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I would argue that this conversation has been framed incorrectly; there is no doubt that it is important to build a direct relationship with your consumer. The question is how can this best be achieved? What tool will help you create that relationship and retain engagement long term?
A Tool for Ebook Bundling
We, at BitLit, believe we are that tool. Through BitLit, publishers can offer discounted or free ebooks editions to readers who own a print copy. With over 350 publishers, and now two of the Big 5 (HarperCollins & Macmillan), readers can use BitLit like any other bookstore to download bundles of hundreds of their eligible books.
The benefits for publishers are huge. Firstly, publishers are able to make an addition sale from the sale of the print book. According to our research, fewer than 1% of people who buy a book in print will ever purchase the ebook. So without fear of cannibalization, bundling provides the opportunity to increase the overall value of the initial sale (and who doesn’t want to make a little more money in this business?).
Secondly, bundling promotes print sales. Readers often report to us that they have bought one book over another, because they knew the book was available on the BitLit platform. And finally, and most importantly for this argument, In exchange for offering their books, publishers are able to contact the readers who bundle their books and market to them directly.
So let’s think about that kind of data for a moment. If you are Macmillan and someone downloads, through BitLit, eight of the Wheel of Time books, but not the remaining six titles, you now know not only what they have, but what they probably want to know about. Now that is the basis for the start of a valuable conversation to both you the publisher and for the reader. You are no longer saying to the reader: come buy this book at full price on my website instead of a discount on Amazon. The conversation has become: you were able to download discounted ebooks and now we’ll tell you about other awesome books we know you’re going to love.
Customized Recommendations…from a Publisher
This dovetails into a project I love from Penguin Random House: the Penguin Hotline. Through the website you email in your name, tell them a few details about the person you’re shopping for (age, hobbies, etc), and then a Penguin employee emails you back with a list of recommendations. Recently, I was looking for a Mother’s Day gift for my mom, and emailed in. I got a four paragraph recommendation from Cassie, who works at PRH as an advertising and graphic design coordinator (Hi, Cassie!), that was the most considered recommendation I have received in years. Some of the books were PRH, but others were from Macmillan and HarperCollins. It was tailored to the reader I was shopping for, not to what PRH wanted me to buy from them. As a consumer, there is nothing that endears me to a brand more than someone with good advice when I need it and who is willing to put my needs before theirs to give me the best customer service.
There is no magic bullet for creating user engagement with your brand, but I do believe that now, more than ever, we need to begin those conversations with our readers. It cannot simply be about a one to one sale on a website, but must be about adding value to a reader’s experience of your content. We need to reframe the conversation around going direct from products to people, and talk about how publishers can engage directly with their readers by adding value to their purchases. BitLit is one way that I hope all publishers try, but there are as many options as there are types of content. It’s time to experiment more and experiment broadly. Let’s get started.
Mary Alice Elcock joined BitLit after spending 4 years working as Sales Coordinator for D&M Publishers. She received her Masters in Publishing from Simon Fraser University in 2008. As a book lover, she’s pretty excited about moving her immense book collection to the cloud.