Publishing and Selling an EbookSelling and publishing an ebook
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Publishing houses have to start selling directly, but here are five things they should start at least at the beginning
Glenn Nano's Code Meet Print recently picked up on a topic I posted about 18 month ago: the advantages for publishing houses that are directly sellers. This article emphasized the difference of opinion that seemed to have existed at the moment between my support for eBook sales and Random House's unwillingness to do so.
Meanwhile, I worked with Peter McCarthy to build a global online sales team. For six years, Pete was the chief digitally managed Random House's strategy just before I released the play. Nano-makes the point that only Random House among the former Big Six does not be selling e-books directly now (although Penguin, the other half of the Super Merger, does).
However, in the year I worked with Pete, I learnt with a more differentiated view of where "owning the transaction" is part of the chain of instruments and ways for publishing houses to directly affect consumers' behaviour. I have a new sense of respectfulness for Random House's reticence to promote retail (although they have obviously been following a direct-to-consumer approach for years) and a new appreciation of many other things that publishing companies can do to help themselves with direct-to-consumer eBooks without necessarily completing the definitive selling of the work.
Every editor who has been up for a few years knows that he has to speak directly to users where they are and where they can get involved. SEO, Facebook and Twitter promotions (and Instagram and other online venues) and user data bases were virtually non-existent five years ago and are now widely adopted parts of the merchandising toolset.
It seems like child's play at first glance to talk to the user, introduce him to a textbook and persuade him to buy, then at least try to get the full profit on sales by carrying out the last trade (and perhaps learn even more by watching their behaviour as they read).
The sale of e-books with DRM at any price will cost the licence fee, add complication for the end user and cannot be done by anyone but Amazon for shipment to the Kindle. This demands the use of technologies and makes the relationships with the source of most publisher purchases difficult. To be a dealer you need to provide excellent customerservice.
This is something that publishing houses have no expertise in. It' s not strange that the first ebook sellers had both the qualities of being "vertical", working with the same audience again and again, and being ready - for whatever reasons - to market e-books without DRM, which makes them easy to share with others without restricting the initial buyer's account in any way.
Like Osprey for defence literature and F+W Media for picture volumes on many discreet topics and Baen und Tor in the sci-fi sector, these publishing houses have anticipated the chance Nano is using with Narnia: to use contents to draw customers, which would necessarily result in a buyinglust.
In addition, with the help of our sales force, publishing houses can offer products around price structuring, pooling and retention that would be much more complicated, if not even possible, in cooperation with the current distribution networks. The one thing I learnt from Pete is that Random House was - at least for a while and perhaps still - apparently unique in being able to get a very detailed Amazon site to track it.
A merchant affiliation key is the process by which a publisher (or other third party) pays a commission for a sale they make to Amazon (or another merchant that rewards the merchant for referrals). Publishing houses usually have one and only one for each retail outlet that they can use for all their recommendations, so that they receive revenue reports and payment from each retail outlet that are consolidating across all their stocks and all promotions they run for those stocks.
In this way, they fly blindly to one of the most important key figures in the field of online marketing: how their hits change. Publishing houses that convince customers and send traffics as affiliates to Amazon or B&N (or another retailer) can only know the overall number of hits they have sent to the merchant and the overall number of photocopies of each of the books they have sold.
Since Random House did not have this blank space, they were particularly conscious that their click to Amazon click rates were very high, much higher than they would have expected to get themselves if they tried to get the consumer to buy directly. Thus, recording more margins per transaction would be at the cost of the loss of many transactions.
One, the sound consumer experience, client services and other now common e-commerce practice anywhere near today's consumer expectations is costly - even more so if it is not your main line of doing business. eCommerce is a great diversion, especially when it is run by the people that include your online marketer!
This, or an extra headcount (which further reduces margins), would be the choice of a publishing house. In his work, when Nano suggested that publishing houses place their "direct sales" in the hierarchical supply to consumers via Amazon and other retail outlets, he did not expect this to lead to a foreseeable increase in "car abandonment", which would lead to a decline in turnover.
Random House's ability to track the effectiveness of a campaign based on the metrics "books sold" and not the click-through generated metrics. These figures quickly showed that the keywords and promotional hits that caused the most hits were not necessarily the most profitable.
And besides, Amazon like it better, and it's more likely to call their own brand ing skills on your name if you convert the flow for a work. All of this brings me to a five things I learnt last year that are really vital for efficient publishing house advertising in the virtual world.
I think all these things are more important than and irrespective of whether the publishing company has control of the deal or not. Optimising an author's visibility also takes research, and the more renowned an editor is, the more difficult it is to make the reader aware of a particular work. In the early years of our firm, we did three big author-centric tasks: one to help a big publishing company look at the web site of a big multi-book writer he wants to poach from a big home rival, and the other to look at the web sites of big writers with sophisticated background and previous work.
While this is a sensitive issue at a while when we are still alive with the Snowden NSA disclosures, it is also important for publishing companies to build their consumer databases and track their known characteristics, preferable with permissions to send them by e-mail, but also without. A few years ago, we were alerted by an operative that Hay House's huge e-mail list of interested Readers of the " Mindbody Spirits " book allowed them to out-market large homes vertically.
You don't make much ado about it, but we know that at least some big homes have consumer data bases that go into the million. One day, if not already, editors will find the characteristics of a textbook they want to buy against their data base of individuals they know they can contact to make acquisitions choices.
If publishing houses with fully optimised books meta data, authors on-line and as many propriety links as possible proceed to provide free or deserved discoveries, they will also find ways for them to be rewarded with paying campaign options that can give them extra exposure. There is little research in the sector on the possibilities offered by a virtual world to increase the sale of backlists.
When publishing houses don't do the research necessary to provide the best possible meta data on new publications, most don't even think about it. They can' t waste an hours or two placing a new song regularly over a back list of thousand songs.
However, for years, publishing houses have been living in a global market where the main obstacle to the sale of retail literature has been the absence of available copies. Since the amount of booksells sold on line already exceeds the amount sold in the shops for many stocks, this is no longer an obstacle and requires a much more pro-active daily sale of backlists.
There, the value of proprietry directed sales can be low until a distributor builds up a shop that is so busy that property screening can be an efficient use. We will be reporting on some of these topics at Digital Book World next weekend. Besides the workshop "Building Directory Sales Relationships" - with Micah Bowers from Bluefire, Sameer Shariff from Impelsys, Doug Lessing from Firebrand and Marc Boutet from DeMarque, hosted by Ted Hill - we will also offer several workshops on the topics of backlisting as well as on how to market (and build) on-line reading-lists. We will collect and use customer information for information on acquisition and promotion as well as for optimal use of the various societal medias.