Cover Story: Hitting a Moving Target
Specialization in a few key markets facilitates the kind of marketing—such as online social media—that is quickly replacing the old-style media-promotion infrastructure based in TV, radio and in-person author appearances. More fundamentally, it opens up a new world of revenue and product potential heretofore unexplored in book publishing.
According to Shatzkin, San Francisco publisher Hay House has amassed an e-mail list of 1 million customers for its mind-body-spirit titles, a hugely valuable database it can leverage for its own use or offer to others. "Whether they end up simply driving all the other publishers [in their niche] out of the game … or they acquire the lists of other publishers, or they give some sort of access to that audience on a paid basis, the point is they've got the audience they built on [the] back of content, but now the audience is loyal to them," he notes. In other words, book publishers can move into exploring data-driven revenue models—such as lead generation—previously reserved for other publishing markets. Some niche publishers (such as Rodale) are already exploring this territory, seeing books as one of a suite of products available for targeted integrated marketing programs. While vertical product development is not the only way to do this, Shatzkin believes it will be easier for publishers that specialize in specific audiences.
Not surprisingly, then, publishers with years of experience catering to specific niches are, in some cases, finding it easier to transition into the digital space.
"[In] times like these, having a clear, strategic focus is essential," notes Brent Lewis, executive vice president of digital and Internet at Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. "Our focus remains on delivering great reading entertainment to women around the world. This strategy ensures we deliver a great reading experience to women regardless if it's a woman reading a paper book in America, an e-book in Spain or a manga story delivered via mobile in Japan. The stories our authors create are the key; we want to ensure readers can enjoy these stories whenever they want, in any format they want.