BEA Show Notes: Publishers Share Tips For Boosting Direct-to-Consumer Sales
Focusing on digital discoverability in response to retail market shifts was a major theme at Monday's BEA session, "Raise Your Revenue and Increase Your Profit Margins With Direct-to-Consumer Sales."
With Amazon now handling up to 90 percent of some publishers' retail business, there is an understandable desire to diversify sales channels—a challenge requiring book publishers to think about marketing, production and distribution in new ways.
John Oakes, co-publisher of OR Books, a small, general literary trade publisher, founded his company with an emphasis on direct marketing from the outset. "We market directly to people who buy a relevant book. It really is common sense; the radical difference in our approach is that we won't accept returns."
Consumer orders are fulfilled directly from a third-party service provider, BookMobile, allowing OR to maintain zero inventory. In addition to not taking returns, the publisher requires prepayment. "I can honestly tell you its the best publishing experience I've had in over 20 years [in the business]," Oakes said.
OR drives people to its website with giveaway cards handed out at author events, feature stories on the Web (now more important than reviews) and "clever ads" on relevant sites. "The money we save … in inventory and not participating in returns, we have to put into marketing, because if we don't push our books, we know there are no sales reps who are going to do it for us," Oakes said.
Encouraging author-reader connections are key to this strategy, which makes Oakes wonder whether some great talents would have a tough time in today's book publishing environment.
"When we look at the books that have done best, they are almost invariably associated with authors who either bring their own extended audiences or are really adept at developing them," he said. "That makes me think of somebody like a Samuel Beckett or real edgy artist who is not comfortable reaching out to people or interviewing or blogging incessantly. People ask me, 'Would somebody like that have difficulty today?' My answer is, absolutely."
Molly Koecher, vice president and general manager of Minnesota-based CarTech Inc. (for auto enthusiasts), Specialty Press (aviation) and Sunrise River Press (healthcare), brought retail and distribution for her three verticals in-house in 2010, working with a third-party fulfillment service. The verticals have gone from being marketed primarily through specialty bookstores, magazines, events and trade shows to an emphasis on SEO and website sales.
With the loss of brick-and-mortar retail and closing, in the past three years, of nearly 40 of 50 relevant niche magazines in which the company marketed books, CarTech found itself putting "all [its] eggs in one basket" as much of its business went to Amazon, Koecher said.
"We know our customers are out there. We just need to find another way to get to them besides Amazon," she said.
With a long-term goal of focusing on direct-to-consumer sales and lessening dependence on wholesalers and resellers, the publisher is revamping websites to offer new functionality and richer, more varied content to enthusiast audiences. The Cartechbooks.com site now includes news, blogs, tech tips and reader login to allow users to upload pictures of their cars.
Since the new Cartechbooks.com went live in November, the company has seen a 4 to 5 percent monthly increase in book sales from the site, Koecher said—this despite initially losing traffic due to the website changeover.
The other main focus for the publisher going forward is social media. A small staff has been hired and is being trained by consultants to build out social media marketing initiatives.
Overall, Koecher said, changes are driven by a cultural shift within the company toward staying "nimble and open-minded." This required, first, understanding all aspects of warehousing and distribution to decide how best to alter methods for direct-to-consumer selling. Emphasis was also put on watching how larger publishers have handled marketplace shifts. "I think for [smaller] publishers it's important to act but not react," she said. "Watch and learn."