Here's how to turn book samples into a powerful B2C tool

Army-2186_640Book samples are one of the most under-utilized tools in a publisher or author's marketing arsenal. Most consumers will not buy a book without at least flipping through it, so many download samples before making a purchase decision. But how many times have you downloaded a sample which was nothing more than the frontmatter and a bit of an introduction? I've run into that problem countless times and those samples didn't lead to me clicking the buy button.

The problem with today's book sampling model is that it's just some random percentage of the first several pages of the book. The fact that this approach involves no curation means it's efficient but, unfortunately, it's also highly ineffective.

Imagine how lame previews would be if movie producers used this same approach? You're sitting in the theater and the teasers for a few upcoming movies are nothing more than the first two minutes of each. That's not how it works with movies, of course, and it offers an important lesson for book publishers: Good samples require curation.

We learned that lesson recently at OSV. Rob Eagar, founder of Wildfire Marketing, is an expert in a freemium model where curated samples are the key ingredient. These samples feature more of the valuable content nuggets and enable readers to get a better sense of what they can expect to find in the full book. You're not giving away all the book's key ingredients, but you're definitely providing readers with more value than they'll find in a typical ebook sample.

These samples are delivered via email, so that means we're able to establish a direct relationship with prospective customers, a critical step for a B2C business model. Having access to those names and email addresses means we're able to build our B2C list and dramatically increase our up-/cross-sell activities.

If you'd like to see what this looks like, click here to visit the OSV freemium landing page. You'll find the first several titles in our freemium campaign and more will be added in the coming months. We're delighted with the initial results and we're looking forward to building this out further as we add to our B2C capabilities.


Which digital book format has the most growth potential?

Microphone-38120_1280The answer might surprise you…

Amazon’s Kindle format dominates the ebook market today and it’s easy to assume that will remain the case going forward. Despite that fact, I see a number of trends indicating the digital book space could be ripe for disruption.

Notice I use the term “digital book”, not “ebook.” That’s because the digital format with the most upside isn’t MOBI or EPUB. It’s audio.

Amazon also dominates the audio book space, of course, thanks to their ownership of both Audible and Brilliance Audio. Amazon’s audio book subsidiaries are built around yesterday’s business model though, and I believe technology and consumer habits have evolved to the point where a new business model will emerge.

Have you ever priced an audio book? Let’s use George Orwell’s 1984 as an example. Audible currently offers the audio version for $20.97 while Amazon sells the paperback for $11.42 and the Kindle edition for $9.99. There are exceptions, of course, but the audio format is typically the most expensive option.

What might happen if audio editions were priced at or below the print or Kindle editions? The recent trends in ebook sales might be a good indicator here. As ebook prices have increased over time (thank you, agency model), print has experienced a resurgence and ebook sales have flattened and even declined for some genres.

Next, consider the growing interest in podcasts, as described here. Two factors drive this trend shown above: convenience and laziness. Low-production YouTube videos have replaced how-to books on a variety of topics. It’s also a lot easier to watch or listen than read. I’m sure that last statement made quite a few of you bristle, but it’s true. Reading isn’t going away, but overall consumption could be dramatically increased if it weren’t for the painfully high price of your typical audio book.

Why are prices so high? The obvious culprit tends to be the professional talent (and additional time) required to create the audio format. But is it really critical to limit recordings to either the author or voice professionals? If you want to continue charging those high prices the answer is probably “yes.”

If you’re open to exploring other pricing models though, you’ll be inspired by the approach used by The Week. I recommend you subscribe or at least listen to a few of the podcasts created by The Week. You’ll quickly discover their editors and other staff members are the voice talent. The voices are clean and crisp, not robotic, and the finished product is terrific. Yes, these are free streams, but they give you a sense of what’s possible with a much lower investment.

Technology is opening new doors here as well. Remember the monotone, computer-generated audio of the 90’s? Text-to-speech has improved quite a bit over the years and will only get better over time. If you’re still not convinced, scan this related article and be sure to listen to some of the audio samples; it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the human-generated segments from the computer-generated ones.

Despite all this, why would publishers have any interest in seeing lower prices for audio formats? Because it represents an enormous opportunity to break the stranglehold Amazon currently has on all digital formats.

Imagine a world where publishers could establish a strong, direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel featuring audio. The D2C audio edition of 1984 could be computer-generated and sell for $9.99, the same price as the Kindle edition; but in this case, the publisher keeps 100% of the selling price, not whatever percentage they’re receiving from Amazon for the Kindle edition.

Are you worried that consumers will buy one audio copy and share it with all their friends? If so, please don’t fall back into that digital rights management (DRM) trap that only reinforces Amazon’s dominance. Rather, create a simple mobile app where all the purchased audio files live. Most publishers don’t realize it, but the fact that a reader’s Kindle files are buried in their app is more of a file-sharing deterrent than DRM itself. If you don’t believe me, ask a few of your friends if they even know how to retrieve their ebook files from their Kindle app, for example.

The opportunity here is huge, and not just for selling audio books directly. It’s a chance for publishers to forge a more meaningful, ongoing relationship with their customers. I’ve grown to love history books over the years, mostly ones about WWII and the civil war. I subscribe to a few publisher newsletters but I still sometimes overlook interesting new publications. Wouldn’t it be cool if audio samples of those new books could be sent directly to the app on my phone? I just set a few preferences and I’ll never miss another new title.

Today most publishers sell transactionally, one book at a time, to nameless/faceless consumers. The model I’m describing isn’t ideal for all publishers, but for ones with genre depth it represents a new approach where they could better serve their customers as well as take more control over their own destiny.


How are you connecting with your customers?

Figures-1607182_1920The people who actually buy and read books are still mostly nameless and faceless individuals from a publisher’s point of view. This, despite the fact that there are plenty of opportunities for publishers to establish a direct relationship with consumers. I’m not necessarily talking about selling direct; I’m referring to the opportunity to build a relationship with the people who open their wallets every day for your products.

This isn’t something that’s limited exclusively to ebooks, btw. In fact, the publisher-consumer relationship can be built via print books as well.

What’s the first thing consumers see when they open one of your books? Most of the time it’s the book’s title page. What a waste. If you just bought a book and are about to start reading it, do you really need to be reminded of the title? I’m sure this violates the core of The Chicago Manual of Style and a slew of other publishing references but what’s wrong with publishers offering a simple “thank you” message on that first page? Something like:

Thanks so much for your purchase. Be sure to register your book at www.publisherwebsite.com for free membership in our reader club where you’ll get early access to new titles and opportunities to meet your favorite authors.

Step one is to convert that anonymous consumer into a real person. But don’t just make some lame request for them to hand over their email address. You’ve got to give them compelling reasons to connect or they’ll simply ignore you.

I mentioned “early access to new titles”. What does that mean? I’m suggesting that publishers offer samples of new publications exclusively on their website or via email through free membership programs. Amazon typically doesn’t offer the ebook or e-sample till the print book publishes. Why not take advantage of the period between when the sample is ready and the book is released to encourage consumers to join your membership program or visit your site? And if you do this, be sure to remove all DRM from those samples; after all, the goal is to encourage sharing of that content, not lock it down.

I also mentioned how a reader club could provide ways for consumers to meet authors. Author webinars are one option and you could make them available exclusively to members. Those tend to be one-way conversations though, so how about adding a few more intimate virtual events with no more than 10-12 attendees? Lucky winners would be randomly drawn from the membership base and earn the opportunity to interact with authors via Google Hangout or any of a number of other virtual platforms.

Exclusive content is another way to drive consumer engagement. Would your authors be willing to create short articles, videos, etc., that are shared via the membership program? I realize every author won’t be on board with this but the ones who will are the authors who understand the importance of connecting with their readers.

This sort of program could be used to drive more sales through all channels. If you’re interested in building a better direct channel though you could also offer a variety of discounts and other incentives to get consumers to buy from your site.

It’s amazing that in 2016 most publishers still act as if there’s no benefit in establishing a relationship with their readers. The reality is these same publishers are missing out on opportunities to expose more of their content to readers who already bought from them. And as the saying goes, maintaining an existing customer generally leads to a better economic outcome than trying to find and sell to a new customer.


Here’s where innovative publishers need to focus

Idea-48100_1280There are a number of key attributes successful publishers will be known for in the future. These core capabilities will be very different from the ones that have led to the modern empires of the Big Five.

Some attributes will remain the same, of course. For example, it will always be crucial for publishers to acquire, develop and produce excellent content. But the services and capabilities that surround and complement the acquire/develop/produce core are what will matter most.

With that in mind, here’s my short list of what will separate tomorrow’s publishing leaders from all the rest:

Being data-driven – Remember the old days when Ingram data was the only source of industry-wide sell-through information? Then Bookscan hit the scene and it felt like we moved from the Stone Age to the Information Age. I’m not talking about this kind of data. Bookscan and other retailer sell-through numbers are lagging indicators. They represent what happened yesterday, last week or last month. The successful publisher of tomorrow wants to know what’s happening right now and where the trends are leading. Real-time website analytics, heat maps, email open/click-thru rates…that’s where the actionable data can be found today but most book publishers treat them as secondary information sources at best. A publisher who thinks they’re data-driven today might adjust plans for a book scheduled to publish six months from now based on sell-through data they studied from last month. Tomorrow’s data-driven publisher will alter the free content on their website this afternoon based on information they gathered this morning.

Breaking free of containers – Why are publishers focused on lagging indicators? Because they’re stuck in the era of containers. They’re producing books, magazines or newspapers and they measure everything based on those containers. It may not be obvious but the container model is slowly fading away. Please don’t misinterpret this. I’m not saying books are going away. Print books will still be produced for a long, long time. But the way content is being consumed is shifting to a more digital, container-less model. Think about that last bit of content you read on your phone. Did you care whether it was originally produced for a newspaper, a magazine, a blog, a website or a newsletter? Probably not. What mattered most is that the content covered a topic that matters to you. Innovative publishers need to think more about highly relevant content streams rather than content containers.

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) – I vividly recall talking five years ago with a Big Six executive about the importance of creating a vibrant direct-to-consumer channel. She rolled her eyes and said they’d never do that because they prefer to let their retail partners handle the consumer connection. I feel somewhat validated now as I see that same publisher experimenting more and more with D2C. It’s not just about capturing all the revenue. The data and resulting opportunities to do some very powerful things with that data are what make D2C such an important model. That, and the fact that you become less reliant on middlemen who control your destiny, ought to be reason enough to focus on D2C.

Owning and leveraging the list – The most important piece of data every publisher should own is the customer name and email address. This is what makes D2C so special. Securing names and emails isn’t as easy as simply making a sale. You’ve got to earn the consumer’s trust by having them opt in to your future marketing campaigns. Too many publishers who have built a D2C channel simply become data hoarders, gathering names and emails but never doing much with them.

Building the funnel – One of the biggest reasons publishers don’t go direct is that they feel they’re unable to attract enough traffic to make it worthwhile. That’s because they’re not applying the funnel model. You start by offering plenty of outstanding free content on your site. Once visitors arrive and they like what they read you have the opportunity to connect with them via free newsletters, for example; rather than waiting and hoping they come back, offer to continue sending outstanding content right to their email inbox. Part of this step includes asking them to opt in for other offers and information from you. As the funnel narrows from top to bottom, you’re leading these consumers along a path loaded with all your terrific content, some of it free and some of it paid.

This isn’t for everyone. For example, the Big Five are simply too reliant on the existing ecosystem, unwilling to risk alienating certain channel partners and built upon a very rigid container-based creation and distribution model. The Big Five will remain large, just like B&N and Borders did for many years after Amazon arrived. But then Borders went away and in order to survive B&N evolved from a bookstore to a gift shop.

The smaller players though, the ones who focus on a particular topic, vertical or audience are the publishers who are best positioned to embrace the attributes described above. And as they do they’ll find themselves in a far better world with a direct connection to customers and the ability to serve those customers with more than just one or two types of container-driven content.


A new take on ebook windowing

Window-941625_1920Ebook windowing is a technique designed to prevent ebooks from cannibalizing print book sales. The original thinking went something like this: Release a new title in print format only, thereby preventing e-cannibalization.

The result? Frustrated consumers. If you’re an ebook reader there’s nothing worse than realizing a digital edition doesn’t exist for that new book you recently discovered and were ready to buy. These days it seems the lack of a digital edition isn’t the result of publisher windowing as much as publisher ebook indifference.

I think it’s time to reconsider the windowing model, but with a twist.

Rather than offering print without digital initially, why not offer that ebook exclusively on the publisher’s website? For the first 30 days, for example, the ebook is only available as a direct-to-consumer option from the publisher. Most ebooks are ready for download before the print book anyway, so this is a new way of taking advantage of the print manufacturing and distribution delays. When the final version is ready to send to the printer the publisher can make it available for purchase as an ebook on their site. The e-exclusivity period expires when the book is off the press and in stores a few weeks later.

Two of the big challenges with this approach are:

  1. Making sure consumers are aware of the initial exclusively direct availability
  2. Getting consumers to change their buying behavior

Neither of these is easily overcome but both are critical for a successful direct-to-consumer strategy. They also require a long-term commitment, so don’t expect game-changing results initially.

The awareness obstacle starts with creation and careful management of a customer list. Email newsletters are critical and they must contain valuable information and insights, not just one promotional message after another. This isn’t just about emails and list management though. A publisher needs to be committed to building community with their audience, giving them reasons to come to their site on a regular basis, etc. Many publishers have an allergic reaction to this approach; these publishers will never create a successful direct channel.

Raising and maintaining consumer awareness is hard enough, but changing consumer buying behavior has a much higher degree of difficulty. If you’re a Kindle reader and you’ve built a large e-library with Amazon you need a compelling reason to buy your next ebook from somewhere else.

The direct sales model eliminates the retailer and enables the publisher to keep a larger chunk of the revenue. In many cases this means the publisher nets 100% of the selling price vs. only about 50% when the ebook is sold through a retailer. So why not pass a portion of that difference along to consumers? A 40%-off deal during that initial direct-only stage might be a compelling enough reason for some of those Kindle loyalists to consider buying direct instead, especially if the Kindle price ends up being close to list.

I realize this strategy won’t put a dent in Amazon’s ebook dominance. But over time it can enable publishers to build a stronger direct-to-consumer business, the benefits of which include knowing who your customers are, being able to market directly to them and gathering analytics about their reading behavior.


How “Send to Kindle” can help neutralize Amazon

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 10.52.39 AMPublishers who sell ebooks direct to consumers typically do so in EPUB format. That’s because most publishers are still wedded to the false sense of security DRM provides and EPUB offers a popular DRM solution. Contrast that with Amazon’s format, MOBI, where Amazon is the only company who can apply and manage MOBI’s DRM’d files and settings.

A former colleague of mine and I used to get a kick out of reading the many painful steps readers are forced to go through when buying DRM’d EPUB files direct from publisher websites. It’s not uncommon for the process to require more than a dozen steps to proceed from buying to reading. Most of the process has to be endured once again if the consumer decides to start reading the same book on another device.

Click here or here to see the many hoops one must jump through to install DRM’d EPUB ebooks on one device as well as read them across multiple devices. It’s no wonder when you search for help on the topic the most popular links aren’t how to manage the process but rather how to remove the DRM and eliminate the associated headaches.

More and more publishers are starting to realize that DRM is pointless but they’re still missing out on one of the biggest opportunities of all: Putting their DRM-free ebooks into a reader’s Kindle library.

It’s no secret that Amazon dominates the ebook marketplace. Most readers have built a substantial Kindle library and the last thing they want to do is create a new library outside the Kindle ecosystem. They simply want all their books in one place.

Amazon’s Send to Kindle functionality has been around for quite awhile and I believe it’s one of the most underutilized services available to publishers. The Send to Kindle email option lets publishers push non-DRM’d ebooks directly onto a consumer’s Kindle bookshelf. I’m sure it was originally designed for documents other than ebooks but I think it’s time for book publishers to take advantage of it for their ebooks as well.

In addition to simply selling EPUB or PDF ebooks, why not provide readers with the MOBI version and push them directly onto their Kindle devices and apps? All you have to do is ask the reader for their unique Kindle email address and then have them enable inbound emails from your domain. Once that’s in place you’re able to place the ebook on their shelf just like Amazon does.

Once you’ve established that direct relationship with the consumer and their Kindle account, why not ask them if they want to opt in to receiving future related ebook samples from you? They’ll no longer have to search for similar books from your list as you’ll be able to automatically push samples to the reader’s Kindle bookshelf as they’re published. Take it a step further and make your samples available via this service 30 days before they’re available anywhere else. Get even more creative and offer a random free ebook prize to some number of lucky winners every month. There are plenty of ways to make Send to Kindle work for you and your customers.

It’s all part of creating a compelling reason for readers to come to you, the publisher, rather than always relying on retailer partners. Used wisely, the Send to Kindle service can help neutralize Amazon’s dominance while also helping publishers establish a better direct relationship with their customers.


What’s your mobile, snackable content strategy?

Snacks-1025396_1920Last week I highlighted some of the more interesting findings reported in a document Google published called Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile. This week I want to focus on a couple of other important points in that document as well as provide an example of how publishers need to leverage the mobile opportunity that awaits them.

In my earlier article I mentioned Google’s stat about searches for video how-to content. The search giant said the year-over-year growth rate for how-to videos is 70%. So despite the fact that YouTube is hardly a new sensation it’s clear the momentum for how-to solutions is with video, not written content. After all, would anyone dare claim that how-to written content is growing by at least 70%?

Here are two other noteworthy stats in Google’s document:

  • On page 14 they state that 48% of smartphone users are more likely to buy from companies whose mobile sites or apps provide instructional video content.
  • On page 22 we learn that, when in stores, 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision.

Last week I asked you to consider how your brand performs on keywords searches that are vital to your business. Now let’s narrow that down and ask the same question specifically for an in-store mobile experience. My guess is your brand is nowhere near the top of the results and even if it is it probably doesn’t deliver a short, effective mobile-optimized solution.

In the publishing world we often focus on print vs. digital and how digital will one day replace print. Recent trends indicate that the digital shift has slowed and ebook momentum has plateaued, for example. I tend to agree with Bookshout CEO Jason Illian who points out that we’re actually on the same trajectory other technologies have experienced and that we’re currently sitting in what Gartner refers to as “the trough of disillusionment.

If so, what should the publishing industry do as we await the market’s advancement to the next stages on Gartner’s curve, “the slope of enlightenment” and “the plateau of productivity”? I suggest we stop framing print and digital as mutually exclusive and focus instead on how digital can complement print (and digital).

As an example let’s use the print edition of the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (I picked this one simply because it’s currently #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list but the same model I’m about to describe could be applied to a wide variety of titles and genres.) According to Amazon, the author offers 200 pages of advice on how to “declutter homes into spaces of serenity and inspiration”. My loving wife has often referred to me as a hoarder, so I’m sure I could learn quite a bit from this one…

I’m not sure I could force myself to read 200 pages on decluttering. It would be a long and slow effort but here’s what could make it more interesting and engaging: a mobile companion that provides inspiration and bite-size nuggets of tips to guide me on my decluttering journey.

The publisher could offer a free mobile app that complements and also serves as a marketing and discovery tool for the book. First the reader sets a goal of how fast they want to read the book. Maybe it’s spread out over a four-week period. The app also asks the reader if they want to opt into either push messages in the app or text messages to their phone; either way, the goal is for the app to provide the reader with tips on how to act on what they’ve already read as well as provide a preview of what’s to come in the next section of the book.

The key is to focus on mobile presentation and consumption. That means short bursts of content, much of which is probably 20- to 30-second videos.

This model offers the following benefits:

  1. It enables the publisher to establish a direct relationship with all their otherwise anonymous readers. The publisher features the free companion app on page one of the book and the quick registration process enables publishers to make the direct connection with their readers.
  2. The app helps make the book more engaging for readers, likely leading to a higher rate of success as they declutter their world.
  3. It serves as a gateway to discovery of the book itself. Since the publisher gives the app away it helps market the book by providing tips and techniques, the details of which can only be found in the book itself. Think of this as the next generation of the book sample.

As I mentioned earlier, this solution works well for a book on decluttering but that’s just one example. And notice that I positioned the app as a companion to the print edition. It also complements the ebook, of course, but my point is to show how print and digital can work together.

Give some thought to the type of content you produce. Can you envision a model where a digital companion delivers the three benefits I outlined above?


When will content truly become mobile?

Mobile-605422_1920After 7+ years of working remotely from my home office I recently started a new job with a daily commute. It’s actually quite an enjoyable ride and I originally planned to make it even better with a variety of mobile/audio content. Podcasts were at the top of my list but I also figured I could finally dive into audio books and a variety of text-to-speech solutions.

Mobile content has been a hot topic for years so I figured the options would be endless. Boy, was I surprised. My car has all the modern navigational bells and whistles but it seems the most cutting-edge mobile content feature is Sirius radio, a technology that’s now almost 15 years old.

Satellite radio is nice but is that as good as it gets? Since Sirius puts their receivers in most new cars I’m wondering if the publishing industry has missed an opportunity to create a new distribution channel. Why aren’t audio books and other digital content products available via satellite radio? Yes, I realize satellite focuses on broadcasting, not narrowcasting, but surely there’s bandwidth available to send individual packets of content like an audio book to an individual receiver. That content could then be stored locally and played back at the driver’s convenience.

You could argue that Bluetooth is the solution to this problem. After all, I can buy an audio book on my phone and listen to it in my car via Bluetooth. I’d rather see a service directly integrated with my car’s in-dash system though so I’m not fumbling around with both the dashboard display and a phone. Sirius could represent an entirely new distribution partner. (What’s more likely to happen is that Amazon will eventually make its way into your new car’s touchscreen and their dominance will be extended yet again.)

Audio books probably aren’t the right solution for me after all though. I’m still reeling from sticker shock after surveying the audio book landscape. You’d have to be pretty committed to the book and format to pay more for the audio edition than you’d pay for the print edition. I thought the unlimited monthly subscription platforms might be an alternative but they have too many restrictions. Scribd is a great example. I’m limited to one audio book per month so it’s really unlimited for ebooks but very limited for audio.

I get it that most audio books incur a high production cost, especially if they’re read by a celebrity author. But why does the author have to be the audio talent? In fact, do we really even need human voice talent to create the audio editions? If you haven’t recently explored the text-to-speech world you’ll be amazed at the current capabilities. We’re no longer limited to those tinny, lifeless monotone streams, so why not automate the text-to-speech conversion without the need for pricey audio talent?

Here’s a radical idea: Sell the all-in-one edition where my print purchase also includes the ebook and audio formats. We’re seeing the beginnings of this with alternate format add-ons like Amazon’s Audible narration and Kindle MatchBook; the former brings audio to the ebook and the latter provides a discounted Kindle edition if you’ve already bought the print version. Let’s make things simpler though and stop hoping consumers will discover these tiny add-on links on the Amazon product page. Publishers should sell the all-in-one edition directly, and perhaps exclusively, giving consumers a compelling reason to buy direct.

The untapped mobile opportunity goes beyond books. In fact, I think there’s an even bigger mobile opportunity for short-form content. For example, why don’t newspapers and magazines offer audio editions? They seem to think the “digital” version of their content is limited to website articles and print replica editions. Yes, some of the replica edition platforms offer text-to-speech but not a complete, mobile audio experience.

Periodical publishers should ask themselves this question: what would Steve Jobs do? I’m pretty sure for starters he’d offer a full audio edition, structured in playlist format enabling the consumer to simply say “next” or “listen” as the app reads each of the headlines to you. Today’s audio options are simply grafted onto the written edition and not offered in a mobile-optimized format.

Many of these periodical publishers continue losing brand relevance with the younger generation. I wonder if a better mobile audio solution could help them reverse that trend.

For now my commute is limited to a variety of podcasts and one-off audio feeds and I’m left asking this question: Can we really call it “mobile” content when there are still this many gaps?


My 2016 ebook marketplace hopes and wishes

Sylvester-1097596_1920Rather than speculate on what might happen in the ebook sector this year I thought it would be wiser to simply list the developments I’d like to see. So although some, and perhaps all, of these are a long shot, here’s my short list of hopes and wishes for the ebook market in the New Year:

Less DRM – Publishers continue to be their own worst enemy with digital rights management. It’s part of what makes it so hard for publishers to create an effective direct channel and it provides nothing more than a false sense of security. As I’ve said before, if a reader really wants to unlock and share an ebook there are a number of freely available DRM-removal utilities that are just a few clicks away. Plus, most readers have no idea where their mobi and EPUB files are stored on their devices; those who do know the location probably already have a DRM-removal tool on their computer.

Better direct-to-consumer options – Once a publisher abandons DRM it suddenly gets much easier to create a frictionless direct-to-consumer (D2C) solution. And of course I’m not suggesting publishers should abandon retailers. But it’s time for publishers to diversify their channel strategy and focus more on the one channel they have 100% control over: their D2C channel. As I’ve said before, don’t assume “if you build it, they will come.” You need compelling reasons for consumers to buy direct (see here, here and here, for example).

New, sustainable unlimited ebook subscriptions – My Oyster subscription expired a few days ago, consistent with the sunset plans Oyster announced a few months ago. Oyster itself is about to expire soon, the victim of an unsustainable business model. The all-you-can-read subscription model is not dead though. I’m convinced the way forward is with topic verticals such as sports, religion, cooking, etc. They need to offer more than long-form book content and they need to focus on building community. Think “membership” and the old AMEX line, “membership has its privileges.”

Better notes and annotations, outside the book – I’ve read quite a few ebooks over the years and I’ve highlighted a lot of passages. I’ve also added notes to several, but not as many as I should have. The reason I haven’t annotated more is because I know those notes are stuck inside the book. I want a quick and easy way to export my highlights and annotations, collate them into other documents and make them fully searchable. For example, I’d love to see ebook applications embrace Evernote functionality, making it super easy to sync all my highlights and annotations to an Evernote folder.

I hope we see progress on all of these fronts in 2016 and I hope that the New Year is a wonderful one for you, your family and your organization.


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.