With the growth of e-books, e-readers, apps and the new digital distribution channels serving them, the number of unique titles available to consumers has reached 30.8 million on Amazon alone, increasing hourly. With only 40 million U.S. adults (17 percent) regularly buying books, 30.7 million of those titles sell but a few dozen copies a year at best, making book publishing, and specifically e-book publishing, a challenging business.
While e-books are available instantly to anyone, anywhere, with a computer, smartphone or e-reader—unlike selling print books through physical bookstores—online distribution on its own does not provide new-book awareness. As a result, e-book publishers must focus on breaking through the clutter so that shoppers discover their books and are converted from browsers to buyers.
The good news is that digital distribution and marketing analytics give publishers unprecedented information on what's working well, or holding a book back, so they can develop and instantly test new and better approaches during each title's launch to increase e-book success.
Codex-Group, a book audience research firm, has interviewed more than 200,000 book shoppers online to learn how they discover and decide on which new books to buy. Here are 10 tips based on that learning to help e-book publishers take advantage of this exploding new market.
Discovery: "Do shoppers know a new book even exists?"
1. Focus on your intended audience.
Every book contains unique topics that appeal to specific reading audiences. Publishers must decide which audience to focus on, learn where they hang out, the key words they use for search, and where they indulge their interests—then intercept them there with the book's message and cover, in both online and offline locations. Mass appeal is rarely effective.
2. Create an irresistible title and cover; then test it.
The role of a book's cover is not to be "beautiful," but to make the book stand out, and captivate shoppers enough to make them, in the case of e-books, "click." Develop multiple title and cover options geared toward the target audience. Before publication, informally ask these readers which option they would "click" (not which one they "like"). If it doesn't captivate them, it won't be discovered or remembered.
3. Utilize author communication.
Alerting existing loyal readers that their author has a new book—through a combination of the author's website, e-mail newsletter, Twitter or other social networking platforms, and inserting information into the author's prior books—is the third-most important source of new book discovery (after browsing bookstores and personal recommendations). Readers respond to the authors they enjoy most.
4. Rely on both traditional and non-traditional marketing methods.
News, reviews and author interviews, both print and digital, are the fourth-most important source of new e-book discovery for all book shoppers.
5. Target niche online communities.
The latest research on online mass media like Facebook and YouTube shows that these sites are extremely limited in creating new-book discovery (accounting for less than 1 percent). Focus on communicating through highly targeted sites and communities with a shared interest in the book's topic. Reaching a few highly committed readers is far more effective than chasing a disinterested mass audience.
Conversion: "Do book browsers convert to book buyers?"
6. Play to your author's strengths.
The No. 1 reason people buy a new book is because it's written by an author they like. While an author may not have name recognition, the title of their prior book or a major accomplishment outside of writing may be well-known. Make sure the book cover and copy clearly connect the author to what they're known for. It's often not their name, and it's much harder to convert a book browser to a buyer of a totally unknown author.
7. Effectively craft your "short message."
After author influence and personal recommendations, the third-most important reason people buy a book is its introductory or "short" message—defining why the book is interesting enough to buy—through title, subtitle, cover design and jacket copy. Develop an introductory message with the intensity needed to convert casual browsers to actual book buyers.
8. Give readers a sample.
Browsing a book's contents is another major way shoppers are converted to buyers. Free digital sample chapters are a powerful way to give millions of book shoppers a chance to browse and get to know a new book instantly.
9. Measure and analyze your digital marketing efforts.
Another great advantage of digital e-book marketing is the resulting information that shows exactly what's working, and what isn't. Through Google Analytics or other measurement tools, publishers can quickly learn if a book's title and cover message are irresistible enough to "click," or if the jacket copy is successfully converting browsers to buyers.
10. Earn personal recommendations.
A large enough initial group of people have to first read and love a book before there are enough recommenders to make a difference in the book's later sales. Personal recommendations are earned, not created. Before that can happen, the book has to be discovered, interesting enough to buy, and a strong enough read that the reader will be moved to want to share it and recommend it. Make sure that those who are most likely to respond to a given book's topic or story have every chance to discover and read it. BB
Peter Hildick-Smith is president of Codex-Group, a book audience research firm.