Be a Category Creator: What Publishers Can Learn from Keurig and Redbox
People have been brewing coffee for more than 500 years. Today, you can go into most homes or businesses and find people brewing with a new process barely resembling that used even a generation ago. Thanks to Keurig, people are using K-cups to brew coffee one cup at a time. Of what other industry does that remind you? Perhaps publishing? Until recently, publishers have been producing and selling books with only minor changes since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450.
Keurig did not invent coffee, but sought a new way to deliver it. They created a new category by doing something that was unique. Perhaps if publishers do the same thing we can change our moniker from the book-publishing industry to the book-selling industry.
Category creation in book publishing is not difficult to accomplish. You do not have to create new content, but find new segments in which to sell it. For instance, what if you have a book about finding a job? In addition to selling it through retailers, you could sell it to college students or state governments’ Departments of Labor. Or, you could have it translated into Spanish. And you might find new forms in which to sell your material, such as a DVD demonstrating the nuances of body language during a job interview. You could even reach out to decision influencers with a direct-mail program to the parents of graduating college seniors. I actually did all of these for my book, Job Search 101.
On the other hand, category creation could involve a breakthrough business model. I changed my business model to sell other publishers’ books to non-retail buyers in corporations, associations, schools, etc. This market has been inadequately addressed by all but the major publishers. By teaming up with a trade association in the promotional-products industry we made this category available to authors and publishers. We place books in a catalog and search engine (run by the association) with access to more than 60,000 promotional-products salespeople. They now sell books in large, non-returnable quantities to their existing clients for use as premiums and ad specialties.
How can you increase your chances of becoming a category creator? Here are three myths that—if they apply to you—you might consider breaking.
- Well-established companies are not good at creating breakthroughs. Think of products like Redbox, iTunes and Geek Squad. These were introduced by large, entrenched companies (McDonalds, Apple and Best Buy, respectively). A little creative thinking could expand your opportunities even if you sell books in the same way other publishers always have.
- Category creation is expensive. Selling books to a new segment does not necessarily entail significant expense. For example, your existing trade-distribution partners may already be selling to non-bookstore retailers. A few phone calls and emails can get you started selling to corporate buyers, too. Then you can ramp up your promotional efforts from your incremental revenue.
- Change is difficult in a mature market like publishing. In today’s environment your business model will not last long. From 1450 to about 1990 publishers published and sold books in much the same way. Since then we have seen the advent of the Internet, digital printing, print-on-demand books, ebooks, mobile marketing and apps. It is interesting to note that all these innovations came from outside the publishing industry.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to publishers creating new categories is a lack of imagination, an inability to see beyond “what has always been done.” They have always sold books through bookstores (bricks and clicks) so that is the way they always will do it. But if you apply a little disruption to your thinking you may be able to increase your sales, revenue and profits significantly.
Find more information on ths topic see an article by Eddie Yoon and Linda Deeken at Harvard Business Review.