The 3 Biggest Challenges of D2C Bookselling in 2016
As Book Business’ year-end trendspotting survey indicated, direct-to-consumer marketing and bookselling will be top-of-mind for all segments of the publishing industry in 2016. It’s clear from these results, as well as the slew of newly-launched consumer-facing sites, apps, and newsletters that publishers are eager to learn how consumers find books, why they buy, and how marketing teams can better guide them towards a sale.
New D2C tools also provide an unprecedented opportunity to transform book marketing into a metrics-based endeavor, very unlike the throw-it-on-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks book campaigns of the past. By collecting audience data through ebook giveaways or monthly newsletters, publishers are growing their “known audiences” and marketing books to the readers most likely to purchase them.
Of course, plenty of hurdles stand between book publishers and D2C glory. Here are a few issues publishers should consider as they continue their D2C marketing efforts in 2016:
1. Discoverability. Discoverability is no less important today as it was a few years ago when I began covering the book industry. The issue has been attacked from the angle of metadata for several years. Metadata is crucial for describing books online, displaying book covers and excerpts to online readers, and linking related books together on various reading devices. But more recently, publishers have begun to explore the content marketing side of discovery; that is, creating content around books to improve SEO and social traction to draw in new readers.
Just recently, Penguin Random House launched the website Signature which uses books to lend context to current events and culture. The site is similar in mission to Simon & Schuster’s Glommable, which looks at pop culture through the lens of books and authors. Penguin Random House U.K. also launched a consumer-facing site in January, which boasts author interviews, book recommendations, and an extensive channel of podcasts. Many of these content experiments are in their early days, and it will be interesting to see if publishers’ sites can effectively compete with other forms of digital entertainment, and more importantly, lead readers to a book purchase.
2. Mobile Reading (& Buying). Integrating books with mobile reading experience is perhaps the biggest D2C hurdle facing book publishers in 2016. Mobile usage continues to grow. Pew Research reported that 64% of adults in the U.S. owned smartphones in 2015. But making books a part of the mobile experience is not only a formatting issue, solved by XML and CSS style sheets, it’s also an issue of providing readers with ebook content that fits the quick, bite-sized nature of smartphones.
Publishers are developing ambitious mobile apps that provide brief, engaging content to readers. In the higher education space, Cengage Learning revamped its MindTap learning platform to provide short quizzes and flash cards to users on mobile devices. The mobile-optimized MindTap allows students to study during down moments throughout the day. In trade fiction, publishers are creating serials and interactive add-ons to entice mobile users. For example, Simon & Schuster launched a subscription app for romance fans called Crave in December. Readers subscribe to their favorite author and receive daily installments of that author’s latest work. The app also sends video to subscribers that feature the main characters as well as messages from the author.
Mobile is at the forefront of how reading is changing. I anticipate that the most innovative D2C initiatives will occur on this platform.
3. Audience Data Management. As book publishers collect more information about their readers they will need to invest in new tools to manage that data. Magazine publishers, for example, have worked to break down the silos between different audience databases so that they can easily track readers who engage across various products like the print magazine, newsletter, and website. Similarly, book publishers will need to develop central databases that can understand how consumers are engaging across a publisher’s websites, apps, and online stores. Having this type of information gives a full picture of the customer’s relationship with the publisher and could reveal untapped revenue opportunities.
But technology is not enough. In 2016 book publishers will need to invest in new talent and training to better understand what type of data is most important and how it should inform their marketing strategies. Enabling data-driven decision making within a publishing company is as much a cultural shift as it is a technological one, meaning these types of changes will not happen overnight.
Book Business will be tackling these massive issues at Book Business Live: Bookselling Reinvented on May 5th in New York City. We’ll invite speakers from leading publishing houses to share specific examples of how they have launched D2C marketing campaigns, utilize audience data to grow book sales, and develop engaging content for mobile. For more information on attending or sponsoring this event, email Book Business publisher Matt Steinmetz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are your concerns when it comes to D2C marketing and bookselling? Share them in the comment section below. Your input may inform Bookselling Reinvented and our coverage of book marketing throughout the year.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.