Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) Starts with Building Community, Not Owning the Sale
More and more book publishers seem to be focused on building a better direct relationship with consumers. Some of these direct-to-consumer (D2C) efforts are well thought-out while others are nothing more than publishers following the crowd.
How else do you explain so many publisher sites that are simply catalog pages with the option to buy print or ebooks direct? What’s the compelling reason for someone to come to the site? Even if they find the site why would a consumer consider buying direct rather than from their favorite retailer?
It reminds me of the old days when everything was driven by seasonal (print) catalogs. The accounts insisted on having enough lead-time to promote titles, so the summer titles were presented the previous fall or winter. The print catalogs were then left behind with the buyer as evidence of the sales call presentation.
Most of today’s publisher websites are nothing more than the digital version of those seasonal catalogs. And since there’s no compelling reason for consumers to discover and explore them, many of these websites are ghost towns. Publishers create them and then wonder why nobody visits or buys.
Here’s something most D2C-focused publishers overlook: It’s virtually impossible to change a consumer’s buying habits. The larger my Kindle ebook library, the less likely I am to buy my next ebook from a retailer not named Amazon, and that includes an aversion to buying direct from the publisher. It’s that wonderful retailer walled garden phenomenon; and those walls are something publishers helped create by insisting on locking their books inside DRM.
So if that spiffy website is unlikely to generate direct sales why does it exist? If your answer is “to increase discovery,” do yourself a favor and study the results of a Google search for your top titles, series, and authors. If your pages aren’t among the top search result links you’re kidding yourself with the “discovery” justification. The top results are the ones getting all the clicks.
Rather than trying to change consumer buying habits and owning the sale, publishers should instead focus their D2C efforts on building community. Publishers own the relationship with authors, so as a publisher, what are you doing to build community around your authors? What are the top three reasons you are giving consumers to come to your website?
By the way, authors are just one component. Many publishers have popular series or dominate a specific genre. What are you doing to build community around that brand or genre?
It’s OK to still offer direct buy buttons on each title’s catalog page but your D2C buy buttons should be offered alongside buy buttons for all the popular retailer sites. That includes buy buttons for print as well. Let the consumer decide where they want to buy and don’t force them to hunt for your product on a retailer’s site.
If publishers don’t spend the time building this community with consumers, who will? The retailers aren’t going to do it. Their focus is way too broad.
So although most publishers missed out on the opportunity to go direct in the digital era, there’s still plenty of time to establish a strong consumer relationship by using your site to build and foster community. Just be sure to keep your priorities straight and focus on community first and owning the sale second.
Joe Wikert is Publishing President at Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com). Before joining OSV Joe was Director of Strategy and Business Development at Olive Software. Prior to Olive Software he was General Manager, Publisher, & Chair of the Tools of Change (TOC) conference at O’Reilly Media, Inc., where he managed each of the editorial groups at O’Reilly as well as the Microsoft Press team and the retail sales organization. Before joining O’Reilly Joe was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division.