The Era of Experimentation
The adult trade business has had to endure many changes in recent years. E-books are seen as a business model alternative, but while they’ve been convenient for consumers, the adult trade revenues aren’t exactly astounding. Sure, mobile content could be a savior of the future, but right now it’s an experiment of the present. With all of that in mind, we look at the present of adult trade.
No Denying Technology
Brian Murray, group president of HarperCollins, says digital opportunities are growing, and the adult trade market is going to be dependent on how it’s able to grab the Web-browsing consumer. “The bookstore and library are at a ‘mature’ stage at this point, and we have to get the younger audience where they live—since that’s the computer, we need to use things like key word ad buys and search optimization for the Web,” he says.
Murray’s company even decided to put a book, “Go It Alone: The Secret to Building a Successful Business of Your Own,” online for free (www.BruceJudson.com), with revenue generated from ads. The book is also for sale at various retail outlets, however. For Murray, it was all about gathering information from the move, not profit. “The business book ‘Go It Alone!’ had over 50,000 unique visitors, and over half came from outside the U.S.—that was great to see. The ad income was only OK, but we didn’t know what to expect going in,” he says. “We won’t start doing this strategy with every single book, but it gave us a lot to think about in terms of learning and marketing. One thing we learned is that ads are still just ancillary revenue and not the major revenue stream. But maybe that could change in the future.”
For smaller publishers, there are advantages and disadvantages to technology: the Internet’s challenges may not be quite as daunting because the ‘little guy’ has always had to come up with alternative solutions anyway. However, e-books can shrink a pie that for the small businessperson was small enough to begin with. Debbie Allen, publisher of Hensonville, N.Y.-based Black Dome Press, says companies her size—Black Dome Press puts out five to six new books a year—have to be nimble in any outlet that can promote a book.
“One of the challenges in the marketplace is the lack of book-review opportunities for us,” she says. “We have to be very creative in accessing a market … Going for feature magazine stories is critical. For example, a traveler guide we put together launched as part of Hudson River School’s Art Trail Interpretive Center. The book, museum and lectures all teamed together. We’ve had stories placed in three magazines for the book also. You won’t see Random House sweating these things as much, but word of mouth for us can’t spread unless we start from somewhere.”
Jeff Gomez, director of Internet marketing for Holtzbrinck Publishers, which puts out 120 titles a year, says one cheap way to spread the word is through the Internet. “In the past, it was ads in [The New York] Times or The New Yorker as the best means,” he says. “It was both expensive and ineffective because the ad is usually on the back page, and hoping someone sees it and purchases the book isn’t the best way to go. An Internet banner ad, however, will help show click-thru rates, and where the reader is coming from and where they’re going—and whether they buy the book,” adds Gomez. “You can never know if that traditional magazine ad really worked, but with banner ads you know.”
Gomez sees blogs knocking down the walls between marketer and reader as well. “These blogs are offering information that the reader wants, but also great exposure for products. When a reader sees a promotion as content, instead of just an ad trying to sell them something, it adds that much more credibility.”
Web sites are still a part of the strategy, though Gomez says it has changed from two or three years ago when “that’s all people thought about in terms of online marketing.” He says, “Authors wanted a Web site made for them, and we would do that, but that really has to be the first step of Internet marketing because then we have to make sure readers get to that site and make sure they stay there. Web sites used to be splash pages about an author and their book, but authors really have to contribute content to their sites in order to see the best success.”
What are the markets to look for now in adult titles? Murray says the fiction market is flat to down over last year while nonfiction is growing slightly. “The information moving through the Web is affecting our business greatly,” he says. “How-to books have always been popular, but with so many tutorials online, you really have to bring something special to the table.”
Murray says HarperCollins’ number of titles will be cut by 5 percent to 10 percent in the next two years, with a greater focus on quality and maybe those hopeless romantics. “[Romance fiction] has done better than anticipated. It’s one of the most loyal audiences you’ll find.”
Regardless of genre, mobile content is something that some publishers believe is critical to the future bottom line. That’s why HarperCollins Australia, which publishes 120 titles a year, decided to experiment with mobile distribution of free book chapters to lure new audience members.
The company’s publishing director, Shona Maday, says that although the strategy hasn’t resulted in earth-shattering purchases, she believes that could change as the downloads get simpler and word of mouth grows.
“It’s not so different from the sample chapters you used to get at libraries,” she says, “but if we can make the transition from reading that chapter to purchasing the book as easy as possible, then good sales can follow.”
Maday says for mobile to take off, it’s going to take companies’ understanding that there’s a slow uptake to most new technological practices. “If the organization doesn’t get behind the initiatives and keeps on pulling the plug if they don’t make money right away, then we won’t be able to take advantage of mobile. Most companies should probably be farther along in mobile than they are.”
Back at HarperCollins in the states, Murray believes we’re still waiting on a proper middleman to allow the mobile space to catch on in the way iPods did for music. “One or two companies are trying to bridge the gap between publishing to cellular … but the models are pretty weak right now,” he says.
When you look at management style for adult trade, Murray doesn’t see downsizing, despite the automation of some processes. “HarperCollins probably won’t cut staff because now there are just new challenges that need to be met through technology. We still need editors, publishers and marketers the way we always did, but it will be key to encourage some of our workers to change their skill set. We have to get employees to be more active in terms of online communities. Some of the trends on the Web, like blogging and podcasts, and user-generated content, need to be exploited better. Just like you tap into potentially hundreds of cable channels, you have to learn to do the same with tens of thousands of user-generated places on the Internet. Every one of them [is a] potential reader.”
Eric Butterman is a New York-based writer and creator of the seminar “Better Business Writing: From E-mails To Everything That Makes You Money.” Reach him at EricButterman@Yahoo.com.