An Opportunity for Publishers in Borders' Chapter 11 Filing
The fact that Border filed for Chapter 11 protection may actually be the best thing that has happened to book publishers in a long time. It will make people more aware of the opportunities for large quantity, non-returnable sales in non-bookstore markets. These could be among corporations, associations, schools, government agencies and the military. There are also opportunities in the retail sector for sales through specialty stores, airport stores (not necessarily airport bookstores), gift shops, display marketing companies, museums, catalogs and more. Perhaps book publishers will now take heed of this enormous segment and begin to sell their books in earnest.
A recent article about Borders in the Wall Street Journal ("Major Book Imprints Are Owed Millions," by Jeffrey Trachtenberg) included a rather significant statement. In it, Mr. Trachtenberg quoted "an industry source" saying, "The industry has no marketing substitute for the big tables at the front of bookstores … ." Actually, there is a market larger than the trade segment that is available to every publisher: non-bookstore marketing. If publishers sell their books to buyers in the organizations listed above, they can sell more books, in large quantities, on a non-returnable basis.
Some tips for making the switch to sales in special markets
If publishers focus on the opportunities in non-traditional segments, they may actually be able to see more clearly. Non-traditional marketing is basically the process of writing quality content in response to an identified need, publishing it in the form desired by the reader and then selling it to people in defined groups of prospective customers. Doing this successfully may simply require a change in concentration from traditional book selling to a …
1. Focus on the content of your book, not the book itself. What your book does is more important to buyers than what it is. Content is king in special marketing, and the old adage, "find a need and fill it," was never more relevant.
2. Focus on the marketing end of the business more than the production end of the business. The concepts of frontlist and backlist are irrelevant in special markets. Publishing more titles to keep your frontlist current is not nearly as profitable as concentrating on selling the titles you already have.
3. Focus on getting people to buy rather than selling to them. This may seem like a minor difference, and it may just be a matter of degree. But today's business buyers are more astute than those of the past. They are not simply looking for ways to reduce costs, but how to create value for their organizations.
Discover what the customer needs—which will probably be some combination of products and services—then describe how you can help them improve revenues, margins or brand image. Add value to their way of doing business. For example, you may be trying to sell a barbeque cookbook to buyers at Lowe's or Home Depot. They do not want to sell cookbooks as much as they want to sell high-priced, more profitable barbeque grills. So you could sell your cookbook by demonstrating to them how it could be used as an enticement to get people to buy the grills. They could use your book—rather than sell it—by giving one away with each grill purchased. This is the concept of cross-merchandising.
4. Focus on the differences of your content, not on its sameness. Authors, particularly of fiction, sometimes describe their book as being similar to a current trend leader by saying, "It's the next Harry Potter," or "It's like The Da Vinci Code, but better." Buyers do not want more of what they already have. They want to hear how your information is different from the better-known titles, and why it is better.
5. Focus on push versus pull. Push marketing is directed at the channel members, helping them sell more books to the next higher level in the distribution network. On the other hand, pull marketing is directed at the ultimate consumer, making people aware of your title and getting them to buy it. While both strategies are important, push marketing is the preferred strategy in non-retail special-sales marketing and pull is the strategy of choice in retail marketing.
6. Focus on what you can control. There are four primary activities you can control in book marketing: its content and form; the price at which you sell it; the ways in which you distribute it; and how you promote it.
• Product control. The format in which it is delivered, while relevant, is not mandated as a book. It could be a booklet, e-book or even a series of podcasts.
• Distribution Control. In non-bookstore marketing you can devise your own sales channels to various segments. You might sell your business books as textbooks or through airport stores; your book about dogs, in Petco or to the ASPCA; or your book about car safety to driver-training companies or automobile manufacturers. You might sell your romance novel in supermarkets or have cruise ships and limousine services purchase it as a gift for their passengers.
• Pricing control. In non-traditional marketing, competitive titles are usually not on a shelf next to yours; so immediate price comparisons are unlikely. A strategy of pricing your titles based upon the value they offer the customer is more the rule. The result is more pricing flexibility and more leeway in offering price incentives such as discounts, two-for-ones or coupons. It is entirely possible that you could lower your list price and still be more profitable.
• Promotion control. You no longer have to cringe when a careless newspaper editor misinterprets your press release, or when a reviewer pans your book. Instead, you can create and communicate your story in your own way. You have the freedom to directly contact people by mail order, telephone or personal visit to make your case and negotiate the terms of sale.
Some people looked at Goliath and thought he was too big to hit. David looked at him and thought he was too big to miss. You might look at special-sales marketing and think, "Is the non-traditional market big enough to approach, or is it too big?" The answer is yes. A market of $16 billion is too big to pass up, but it is too big a market in which to compete profitably—if you look at it as one Goliath market. Take your shot at Goliath and start selling your books to non-bookstore buyers.
Brian Jud is an author, book-marketing consultant, seminar leader, television host and president of Premium Book Company, which sells books to non-bookstore buyers on a non-returnable, commission-only basis and conducts on-site training for publishers' sales forces.
Brian is the author of "How to Make Real Money Selling Books (Without Worrying About Returns)," a do-it-yourself guide to selling books to non-bookstore buyers in large quantities, with no returns. He has written many articles about book publishing and marketing, is the author of the eight e-booklets with "Proven Tips for Publishing Success," and creator of the series of "Book Marketing Wizards." He is also the editor of the bi-weekly newsletter, "Book Marketing Matters."
Brian is the host of the television series "The Book Authority" and has aired over 650 shows. In addition, he is the author, narrator and producer of the media-training video program "You're On The Air."