The Case for Direct-to-Consumer Book Sales
Selling directly to consumers is often viewed as an afterthought in this business, almost the sole province of niche publishers who can leverage brand recognition within their niche.
Last week at the Publishing Technology Executive Exchange in New York, Brian Holding, CEO of Champaign, Ill.-based publisher Human Kinetics, made a compelling case for why all publishers need to hone in on this area of their business.
While increased sales is certainly a worthy goal of such efforts—especially in a sales environment that’s changed drastically over the last two decades—perhaps the biggest upshot of such measures, said Holding, are the customer relationships publishers can build, and the product development opportunities that can lead from them.
First, about that sales environment: Holding showed a color-coded chart (see slides linked above) that listed all of Human Kinetics’ sales channels in the 1990s, the 2000s and the 2010s, with certain channels—such as Apple and library ebook retailers—not yet in existence during earlier periods.
His big takeaway is that channels such as book clubs, independent bookstores, B&N/Borders, wholesalers and the like are, for Human Kinetics, drying up or dead, while Amazon and B&N online (consumer and college) and to lesser extents Apple, Google, online university ebook licensing and library ebook retail are thriving or growing. “There are no more gatekeepers,” said Holding of this trend. “There are no more shelf limits. There are no more geographic boundaries. There are no more product limitations.”
Since the days where getting a book picked up by one person at, say, Borders, got that book into hundreds of locations are gone, building relationships with individual customers is key, said Holding, noting the importance of the ability to sell direct to your customers—even if they prefer buying through Amazon.
In a cluttered world of infinite online shelf space and more exponentially more challenging discoverability, having “a showroom where you can bring your customers, present all of your products with proper emphasis, display all formats and deliver online courses” is vital.
Holding said that Human Kinetics has leveraged its direct selling to amass nearly 1 million individual customer records, and, over the last 7 months, has generated $1.5 million in product sales and $719,000 in online course sales.
And, Holding noted, even if your customers don’t ultimately buy directly from you—if your online showroom prompts them to buy in another channel, that just increases your value with that channel, boosting, say, your Amazon rankings and ultimately raises brand awareness in an increasingly chaotic marketplace.