The New Holy Grail of Traditional Publishers: Direct-to-Reader Relationships

Reader by @Doug88888Photo by Doug8 8888 via Flickr

Today’s post is excerpted from Book Wars:The Digital Revolution in Publishing by John B. Thompson, with dispensation is guaranteed by Polity Books.

Amazon, with over 70 percent of the ebook grocery and over 40 percentage of all brand-new book legion marketings, reproduce and digital, in the US, has exclusive proprietary informed about the shop and purchasing patterns of a large proportion of book purchasers, far more than any retail administration ever lived before. It’s hard to overestimate the historical significance of this. Even in its heyday, Barnes& Noble probably had no more than 25 percent of retail journal auctions in the US.

Moreover, since numerous records bought in physical supermarkets are bought at the till[ cash register] rather than on a client report and the shop rehearses of persons in a physical place are not tracked and recorded, the amount of information that Barnes& Noble would have been able to capture and store on its customers was much less than Amazon, for whom every online customer is by definition a registered used whose browsing behaviour, as well as buying biography, is tracked, recorded and accumulated. The length and detail of the customer information now held a total of one retailer is historically unprecedented and this induces a structural asymmetry between publishers and Amazon that is far greater than anything that existed previously in the retail gap for books.

So is there anything that publishers can do to try to counter-balance this structural asymmetry? Why, in this new digital age, should publishers stick with old rehearsals that are actually cut them off from any be made available to, and contact with, the individuals who are the ultimate consumers and books of their journals? Why should they stand one retailer to control information about book purchasers, turn this information into a proprietary asset and then use this asset as a means to strengthen their own position in the field, sometimes at the expense of the most publishers who supply them with notebooks?

These are questions that have distracted many publishers as they have watched the supremacy of Amazon grow. The paradox of a situation in which the notoriety of their own works becomes an asset that enables us against them is not lost on the managers of publishing homes. But what, in practice, can they do?

This is the question that lies behind some of the new initiatives being undertaken by senior managers at publishing lives in recent years, including Melissa. Melissa heads up a contingent concerned with developing brand-new kinds of consumer outreach at’ Titan’, a large US trade house with a full range of general-interest works.’ My job is to figure out how to build a relationship with readers’, she excused.’ So understanding who books are, how to be attained, how to influence them, how to get them to take some action.’

This has become a key concern for Titan and for many other publishers- massive, medium-sized and small-scale: trying to build direct relationships with books is the brand-new holy grail of sell publishers. It used to be a lot easier for Titan to influence the kind of placement and marketing it was getting on Amazon–they could assure places on the home page, purchase smudges in certain merchandising neighbourhoods, affect which emails were going out and so on:’ We had a lot of leveraging on the scaffold being allowed to drive marketings to our entitlements there.’ They would pay for it, of course–it might be co-op, it might be pay-per-click advertising, it might be something else. It wasn’t cheap, but at least they get show on Amazon’s platform. But now things are different, showed Melissa. Amazon is bigger, they have other their own priorities and, in the field of diaries, self-publishing is a much more important part of their business, so Titan could no longer rely on Amazon to drive sales 😛 TAGEND

They’re stronger, they’re driving people to their self-published writers, they’re driving parties to things that they want to build. So it behooves us to figure out ways to drive marketings on their stage because they’re still a great fulfilment account. And when they get behind a book it still projects. But we have a broad roll and they’re creating a retail universe that is bigger and more diverse, and so in order to get the signal through the noise we want to be able to drive that ourselves. So rather than depending on their email listing, we should be building our own.

Melissa had to persuade her collaborators that it would be a good use of resources to divert some away from marketing specific entitles in order to build a proprietary database of email addresses. This is easier said than done because marketers, journalists and others in a publishing establishment are understandably concerned about the books that are being published next week and next month- they need to get attention for these volumes and move the human rights unit because that’s how they’re going to be assessed at the end of the year. The fiscal demands and incentives of publishing arrangements favour short-termism. You have to persuade colleagues to set aside the short-termism and see that there could be immense long-term value in construct a database that would be a renewable resource, one that could be used again and again to reach out immediately to buyers.’ So instead of spending x thousand on new online ad invest for every single book, what if we just had a million people on file that we could reach out to directly. Yes, we have to pay the costs of the email service provider and the deployment on top of that but it’s still much cheaper on a cost-per-thousand basis–and, by the way, much more committed, because they’ve given us permission to reach out to them, than exactly doing inquiry marketing through Google and Facebook.’

People are more likely to open emails that are linked to specific author labels and specific genres.’ The standard is 20 percent’, said Melissa,’ but if you look at the open frequencies for real labels, like a Danielle Steele, they’re like 60 percent, which is unbelievable. So the participation you get through email is staggering.’ This is not really surprising when you think about it. Many beings have an emotional linkage with generators whose journals they love and they want to know more about them and about any brand-new diary they’ve just finished or published.’ People want to connect with these fantastically creative parties. And so we have this advantage and we need to make the most of it, and actually email is a really solid highway to do it.’

A lot of Melissa’s time is now involved in developing a new site–let’s call it GoodFood.com.’ Although it’s a website, the primary theory behind GoodFood.com is that it’s actually an email program’, said Melissa.’ It’s an email sign-up primarily for women. It doesn’t search that route on the site merely because we don’t want to alienate dads.’ They chose to focus on women for several reasonableness: dames are ponderous books and volume buyers, they buy across canals in lots of different categories and they are very active on social media, so they share and chat about recommendations more than any other segment. Melissa defined herself an ambitious goal: try to get half a million females indicated on with an open rate of over 30 percentage in twelve months’ time. They squandered a variety of methods to drive females to the site and get them to subscribe–paid ads, partnerships with food companies and supermarkets, sweepstakes to win a Nook or an iPad or endowment vouchers for works, and so on. The sweepstakes work particularly well, excused Melissa.’ We mostly said, we’re going to give away 25 volumes of your choice, something like that. And the reason we did it that way, “of your choice”, is because we also wanted to gather advantages. Because you don’t really crave reputations: you likewise want people to tell you what they like. You do an ad on Facebook and then parties sounds through to GoodFood.com and say, yes, clue me up. They make us their address and they put in preferences, which was fantastic and a particularly cost-effective method to do it.’

Some of these people are only interested in the sweepstakes but a substantial proportion–over half–opt in to receive news and info from GoodFood, and half of those again opt in be received from Titan. Then, once someone has signed up, the key is to personalize the communication with them through targeted emails.

Melissa and her crew did actually achieve their goal of going half hundreds of thousands of mailing address in the first year. They create a lot of content for the site–by the end of the first time, over 500 patches of the information contained had been produced. Most of the content–‘I would say 90, 95 percent’–is’ inspirational’, showed Melissa, by which she meant short-lived articles about which recipes work best for which intents, how best to cope with particular practical problems, and so on–‘people are looking for guidance, so that actually the bread and butter of which is something we do, as opposed to “buy this book now”. This is no longer the hard sell. This is information, revelation, almost lifestyle.’ But Melissa is confident , nonetheless, that it does sell books:’ I know it’s selling diaries because we track everything we do. It’s a super-light sell. Some of our sections don’t even have a click through. I is suggested that 30 per cent of our commodities actually have buy relates and it’s very subtle–there’s a buy-it button and you press on it and it drives you into retail. We’re seeing changeovers from retail at a higher rate than some of the other planneds that we’re running–even those programs that are much more focused on selling.’

Having established this successful prototype, Melissa’s goal is now to roll out this prototype across the company and build a limited number of other topic-focused locates. By developing GoodFood.com, they’ve generated a cause of implements, templates and methodologies that can be used by other groups and discords in the company to build dedicated customer databases that will enable them to be achieved directly and effectively to the kinds of readers who might be interested in their volumes. These initiatives are part and parcel of a broader plan to grow substantially Titan’s database of patron information.

As Melissa investigates it, improving the customer database has become a critical part of what a publisher is–and what it needs to be–in a world-wide where people are increasingly learning about things, and buying things, online. People are not walking into bookstores as much as they used to, and not interpreting physical spectacles of journals: notebook market becoming increasingly personalized and is increasingly happening online. But publishers can’t assume that the big-hearted retailers like Amazon will do this marketing for them.

Titan is not alone in pursuing this strategy. Many publishers are developing their own customer databases, and many have propelled places same to GoodFood.com–there is Brightly.com, a site run by Penguin Random House aimed at babies with young children; Epic Reads, a site run by HarperCollins aimed at teens and young adults; Tor.com, a site run by Macmillan aimed at books of science fiction and fantasy; Work in Progress, a site and newsletter run by FSG aimed at readers of literary story; and many more. Most of these is currently working on a same pose: a publisher appoints the site, inhabits it with material that is often linked to writers and records( some of which will be the publisher’s own books, though they may also feature and recommend generators and volumes published under others ), and uses a variety of methods to encourage people to sign up, including their mailing address and perhaps other information to the publisher’s customer database. While the model is similar, there are many differences and substitutions.

It’s too early to say whether these initiatives will abound, or even survive; too early likewise to say whether initiatives of this kind will enable publishers to seize back some superpower from Amazon and chip away at the near-monopoly of information capital, in the form of user data, that Amazon now has in the world of the book. Amazon has a huge advantage in the struggle for control of information capital–with more than 300 million active customers, they are far ahead of where any publisher, or even consortium of publishers, could ever hope to be. But publishers are not without posters to play in this game. After all, the relationship that most readers have with Amazon is a practical and functional one: Amazon affords an excellent work at a good price. Most books don’t want to have a relationship with Amazon beyond this practical and functional one. But there are a lot books who do want to have some kind of connection or relationship with the authors they like to read, with ideas and stories–a relationship that is more than a exclusively functional one, that is richer, more engaged and more interactive, and publishers are much better placed than Amazon to facilitate these connections.

Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing, by John B. Thompson

Publishers who have seen this potential and used the digital assets at their jettison to reach out to readers have begun, in their own big road, to build and facilitate relationships of this kind. Small databases of readers who are actively interested in the kinds of bibles and writers being published by a particular publisher or group of publishers may be just as valuable–perhaps even more valuable- than massive databases of clients with diverse interests, and build databases of this kind may turn out to be one of the ways in which publishers can draw some small-scale transformation in the balance of power in video games where the giant retailer accommodates most of the cards.

Note from Jane: If you experienced this post, check out John B. Thompson’s Book Wars:The Digital Revolution in Publishing.

Read more: janefriedman.com