Content reuse: Five key questions to consider
The future of content recommendation services

How to convert indirect customers into direct customers

Every digital newspaper, magazine and book I’ve ever purchased from an e-retailer share something in common: None of them included a pitch from the publisher to lure me away from the e-retailer and go direct. Not a single one.

This, despite the fact that it’s never been easier, or more important, for publishers to diversify their channel strategy and focus on their D2C business. Pretty remarkable. It’s even more amazing when you consider that more and more publishers are finally starting to wake up to the importance of either building a D2C channel or fortifying it.

Here’s the easiest solution possible for publishers to remedy this situation: Make sure a compelling message from you is the first thing consumers see when they open the indirectly-distributed version of your product. What does that look like?

In general, it’s something like this: “Thanks for buying this e-paper/e-mag/ebook. Are you aware of the benefits of buying your next edition/product directly from us? Click here to learn more.”

Again, that’s the very first thing a reader should see when they open your product. When you do this you’ll be using the enormous power and reach of the retailer network to build your own D2C network.

Why doesn’t this happen today? The first reason is that most publishers probably haven’t even thought of this tactic. The second reason is that publishers are worried about retailer retaliation if they implement it. If that has you worried, consider this: Can a retailer actually dictate what content is and isn’t acceptable in your product? Although Amazon, for example, tends to be extremely bold I think even they would realize this would be overreach on their part.

Would that prevent them from making the publisher feel the pain? Probably not, but it could create a very interesting situation, both legally and in the court of public opinion. 

Simply inserting this D2C messaging is only step one, of course. Publishers need to deliver and provide a compelling reason for consumers to buy direct. Here’s a hint on how to solve that problem: Make sure the most valuable, feature-rich version of your product is only available direct from you, the publisher. That’s not too hard to do, btw. If you’ve ever subscribed to an e-newspaper through a digital retailer you know what I mean; the user experience is awful, particularly when compared to the full digital replica edition. Ebooks represent a similar opportunity; publishers should make sure the richest, most compelling edition is only available from them, not third-party retailers.

When will publishers wake up and leverage this approach? Some will, but most won’t, largely because of the fear factor noted earlier. The most successful, vibrant publishers of the future will make this a standard practice though and fear of retailer retaliation will disappear.


Peter Turner

Interesting notion--one that's been used with print books for many years, with customer reply card inserts and select back pages devoted to ad space for other books by the same publisher. When I was at Shambhala, we even had category mini catalogues inserted as "blow in's" to many of the books. In terms of eBooks, however, I had thought that Kindle wouldn't allow hot links back to a publisher site; I also find it hard to believe that even a softer sales pitch (e.g. discount codes, special offer incentives, etc.) wouldn't draw Amazon's ire.

Ed Gray

We've been doing exactly that for a couple of years now with all our books, paper and eBook, including Kindle versions. Pretty much a full catalog in the back of each. No adverse blowback noticed. The eBooks have hot links and the paperbacks have QR codes. The Kindle problem is that Amazon doesn't let you link directly to the native Kindle store from inside your KDP-published book, so there is that disincentive. There used to be a workaround, but I haven't seen one that works now.

Adam Engst

An excellent point, Joe, and something we've done for many years with Take Control. Every one of our ebooks has an "Ebook Extras" link in it that takes the user to our site for free updates, alternative formats, and so on. Customers who have bought directly from us also have an account that automatically includes all of their books for redownload; those who buy from other retailers are given the option of creating an account, though it's not necessary.

To be fair, we have no way of knowing what percentage of people who buy elsewhere create accounts with us, or purchase subsequent titles from us instead - there's no easy way to track such behavior.

For quite a few years we had a page of Featured Titles in the back of each book too, but we didn't see sufficient sales from that page for it to be worth the production effort on each title.

The only problem we've had along these lines is that Apple will reject any submission to the iBooks Store that contains links to "competing" bookstores (which can sometimes be interpreted as the publisher's own site). They usually back down if you push back, since they have no business dictating what content can go in a book.

cheers... -Adam

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