Down the Long Tail
The publisher recently held a “bibliotrivia” contest for newsletter subscribers. “We take one of our new books and ask a trivia question, and randomly select one of the people who answered correctly to get a free copy of the book,” Williams says.
Enabled by software that profiles users based on their buying history, Oak Knoll also sends targeted e-mails alerting readers to books they would likely be interested in. Direct-mail campaigns are handled the same way, through the creation of pamphlet-sized “mini-catalogs” focused on a new release, but also featuring backlist titles of similar interest.
“That is one of our strong points, that we have very good data on what people have bought and what topics they are interested in, so we can save a lot of money by just mailing to the people who we know are interested,” Williams says.
The press used to have a distribution deal (with Lyons Press) that put its more popular titles, such as S. H. Steinberg’s “Five Hundred Years of Printing,” into stores. “We found that we gained in the print run, but [because of] the discounts given away [and] the damaged books coming back, we made a decision that we no longer wanted to deal with that,” Fleck says.
“We sell to all of the jobbers,” he adds, with Baker and Taylor handling most special orders, but the Internet is what has really made the company’s successful business model possible.
“We are on Amazon Marketplace, so a lot of people find our books that way,” he says. “We have a worldwide market. I’m getting orders from every country in the world for these esoteric titles.”
While Fleck jokes that he “hasn’t retired to the Riviera yet,” Oak Knoll’s audience, while small, has proven loyal and stable over time, and the company has managed to realize steady growth by cultivating fruitful relationships with consumers, libraries, institutions and other publishers around the world. “This year is proving to be one of the most ambitious we’ve had,” he says.