Whatever happened to innovation in the publishing industry?
The ebook value proposition problem

Using ebooks to connect with indirect customers

Colorful-791927_1920Low website traffic and a lack of existing customer engagement are some of the most common reasons book publishers aren’t pursuing a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model today. They’ll point out that almost nobody comes to their site, so they question the value of investing in a D2C solution.

That’s a great point and one that shouldn’t be ignored. But it’s also a problem that can be solved and it starts with leveraging the indirect business every publisher participates in today.

I’ve suggested before that each book a publisher sells, print and digital, should include a prominent message to consumers encouraging them to connect directly with the publisher. I’m not talking about those lame “register your purchase with us” pleas that offer no meaningful benefit to readers. Just as you have to offer consumers a compelling reason to buy direct instead of from Amazon, you also have to give them a compelling reason to stop by your website and start a dialog with you, the publisher.

One bold way to do that is to offer the free e-edition of the book a consumer just purchased from a retailer. Let’s say you just bought a print book from a retailer but you also like to read ebooks in the Kindle app. Would you be willing to give the publisher your email address in exchange for them giving you the Kindle edition of that same book for free? I would.

Here’s how it would work… When I open my print edition I see this message on the very first page: Thanks for buying this book. Please visit whatever.url.com to get details on the free Kindle edition awaiting you.

Readers go to that web address and are asked to scan and email the receipt from their print purchase. They’re also asked to provide two email addresses. One is for future promotional e-mailings from the publisher and the other is the unique email address Amazon provides every Kindle customer; there’s an opt-in process for both, of course, so publishers can only send messages and ebooks after consumers have agreed to receive them.

If you’re not familiar with the Amazon-generated email address it’s something you should familiarize yourself with. It’s a terrific way to quickly send files to your Kindle app/device for future reading. For example, the Kindle app on my iPad mini uses this email address: joewikert_49@kindle.com. I’m fine sharing that with the world because Amazon also offers a simple way of preventing spam being sent to that address: In order for emailed content to make it onto my device I first have to approve the sender’s email address. So the opt-in process from the publisher says something like, “Be sure to enable messages from whoever@url.com in your Kindle settings.” Once that’s in place the free content can be sent and will automatically appear on the customer’s device.

You’re probably wondering about the authentication process. How do you prove a consumer really bought the book before you send them a free e-edition? As I mentioned, you ask them to scan and send their receipt. That requires someone on the publisher’s end to verify, of course, although I could see a programmer creating a fairly simple app that automates most of this verification step. Till then it’s something an intern or other resource would need to handle. You’ll also want to filter out the scam artists who digitally modify one receipt after another to game the system. Perhaps a limit of X books per year per email address is built in till you’re comfortable with the volume and flow of redemptions.

As you process these requests you’re building your direct email list and opening countless new marketing doors. For example, why not turn this into a way of delivering future ebook samples directly to consumers? Let them select the topics, authors or genres they prefer and use the send-to-Kindle functionality to push samples of new books before they’re published. In fact, make it more special by providing the samples direct to consumers days or weeks before the sample are available anywhere else. Maybe this becomes part of a larger membership program consumers can join.

Finally, in order for this to work the ebook (mobi) files have to be sent in a DRM-free format. After all, the only way an ebook can be DRM’d in the Kindle ecosystem is for Amazon to lock it down. If that scares you, consider this: Anyone who wants to dig into their device’s Kindle folder to find and share unlocked mobi files is more likely to simply grab a tool like Calibre and break the DRM on their entire ebook library. DRM provides publishers with nothing more than a false sense of security so it shouldn’t be the reason to ignore this opportunity.

It’s time for publishers to start leveraging all those indirect sales and establishing a direct relationship with their customers. This is simply one way of accomplishing that goal and I hope it leads to more D2C experimentation in the industry.

Comments

Deborah Emin

Excellent ideas here, as always, Joe, and thanks so much. I will be sharing this article widely.

Cauline Thomas-Brown @ ETA Publishing House

Until I read your article I was not convinced that given away free e-Books worked. You have clearly illustrated that this is a viable strategy that I am now very inclined to try. Great Article!

Michael W. Perry

I like the idea but agree that the implementation would be hard, particularly since Amazon will be hostile to any print book that allows a publisher-to-reader connection. They want to own those ties.

It's limited in reach, but there is one option that'd work. Print-on-demand publishing has a last page that is generated on the fly by those doing the printing. For now, work with Ingram/Lightning Source to put a unique, iTunes-card like barcode that, in conjunction with an app or even the iBooks app, would connect to the iBookstore and download a free copy of the ebook version of that printed copy.

Yes, the scheme wouldn't work with Createspace/Amazon, but that's a plus. Faced with customers who can buy both from other sources, Amazon might have to go along.

Monica Miller

BitLit is doing interesting things with ebook bundling for print purchases.

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