Direct-to-consumer: Can you change buyer behavior?
Why the “smiling curve” has publishers frowning

How digital can complement print

Laptop-819285_1920The beauty of the web is that feedback for what I write here is spread across a variety of platforms. These days it seems most of those community discussions are happening on LinkedIn and that’s where some recent comments helped me see the common thread across a few different topics I’ve been writing about.

A couple of weeks ago I noted how Nielsen data indicates a large chunk (49%) of ebook readers are also still buying print. In other words, almost half the reading community surveyed by Nielsen is straddling the fence between print and digital.

Now think about the topic of last week’s article: Publishers are worried about whether or not they can change buyer behavior and attract consumers with a compelling D2C solution. As I mentioned in that piece, a successful D2C offering must include content and services a consumer can only find directly from the publisher, not via retailers.

Instead of looking at digital and print as separate initiatives and consumer bases, it’s time for publishers to invest in digital companions to print products.

What can you create digitally that makes the print reading experience more engaging? Think about companion apps for your most successful print products. More importantly, think about how you’ll deliver those apps directly to consumers.

Here’s an example: I’m currently reading the legendary Gordie Howe’s autobiography, Mr. Hockey. I bought the e-version but this applies to print readers as well. I’m still in the early part of the book, learning about Gordie’s youth and curious to learn more about where he grew up and what that part of Canada looks like. I’m sure my curiosity will continue through the book as I read about the various youth hockey programs he dominated as well as his many years in the NHL and WHA.

If I want to take a deeper dive into Gordie’s story most of it is only a few Google searches away. But why force readers to sift through piles of Google results in search of the most interesting nuggets? Why not have the editor or author provide their recommendations? Put those links in an app that I can open on my phone next to my tablet (or print edition of the book).

Next, make it social. How many people reading this book saw Gordie play in person? Quite a few, I’ll bet. Many of them probably also have photos from those days they could quickly and easily contribute to the app, making it even more valuable for everyone. I’d love to see some previously unpublished shots of Gordie from the 1950’s or even the early WHA days. The app then evolves into a community product and becomes richer as time goes on and more readers contribute their memories.

Next, and I realize Gordie isn’t in the best of health these days, but why not have the author make a cameo appearance in the app from time to time? Publicize a live chat with the author every so often and make sure that session is only accessible in the app. Record those sessions and maintain them in an archive area of the app.

The companion described above is probably a freebie for everyone but I can envision some models where the app might cost 99 cents or even a few dollars. It all depends on the added value it offers. It’s a terrific promotional vehicle for the publisher and a way to establish a strong, meaningful direct relationship with consumers.

Here’s the most important point: Make sure the digital companion is prominently featured in all versions of the book, including print and every flavor of e. It should be the first thing readers see when they open the book. A message like, “Thanks for buying this wonderful product. Be sure to visit our website to obtain the free companion we’ve created for it.” When they come, they register and are asked to opt into your marketing program(s).

A strategy like this not only increases the value of the original book, it also helps publishers create that compelling D2C solution and converts indirect customers into direct ones. It may not work for every book but I’m convinced it’s a model worth pursuing for most titles, especially your bestsellers. 


Michael Miller

Joe, one practical issue with providing curated web content with a print or e-book is the longevity of the web content vs. the original content. I've run into this with a few of my music books. Working on a revision now of my Idiot's Guide to Music Theory, last edition was over 10 years ago, and I had some website recommendations in that edition. Not surprisingly, many of those sites are now kaput. (Some, to my pleasant surprise, still exist!) I have the same problem with the YouTube playlists I created for the second edition of my Idiot's Guide to Singing book -- before the book was even published several of the songs in the playlists were taken down because of the usual DMCA violations. Keeping all web links up-to-date could be a full-time job, especially for books that have a shelf life longer than a year or so.

Joe Wikert

Hi Mike. There's no doubt this strategy requires additional thought and effort. That's simply the challenge of moving from yesterday's static content to tomorrow's (hopefully!) less static content. And you're right that things become more complicated when linking to content owned by others. Don't forget though that many publishers also have access to other complementary content fully under their own control; those links can change as well but probably in a less surprising way. But yes, as we move from static to dynamic there will indeed be new factors to consider.

Michael W. Perry

"In other words, almost half the reading community surveyed by Nielsen is straddling the fence between print and digital."

Are Nielsen survey's also finding that people are "straddling the fence" between walking and driving? Most of us do whichever is best for a particular situation. The same is true of print and digital. I buy print for keepers. I get ebooks for read once.

Sadly, digital is so new, common sense has yet to come out on top. The silliness about multi-media lingers on when what ebooks need is a format that isn't dull and ugly, one that is at least as attractive as a well-done print book and appears that way on any platform not just fixed-layout epub on an iPad. Alas, I'm starting to conclude that we're not going to get attractive ebooks until this multi-media folly is over.

Another bit of ebook madness is the newly arrived app-mania. Books, authors or publishers are being told that they need their very own apps with some bit of magic expected to follow. There are numerous reasons why that's unlikely to be true.

1. People don't want to clutter their smartphones with apps. That's quite different from having an ebook inside a ebook reader app that knows how to manage ebooks.

2. Unlike ebooks in a standard format, apps require constant updating as content, devices and operating systems change. That gets expensive.

3. Virtually everything that's being suggested for these apps can be done better, simpler and cheaper with webpages.


When I criticize the multi-media mania, I often point out that in the late 1980s I was doing some work with Microsoft's CD-based ebooks. The chatter back then was the multi-media potential all that space on a CD offered. That idea bombed badly. It's in the process of bombing now with mobile devices. People want to read or they want to watch videos. They don't want a clumsy mish-mash of the two.

That CD era also had a similarly specialized app folly. I recall that people created applications that would teach music history using an app and music selections. The apps were so sensitive to operating system changes, that soon they were worthless. They apparently didn't sell well enough to pay for updates. The same is likely to be true of apps centering on an author, a publisher or whatever. They simply aren't going to be worth the trouble when webpages are cheaper and better.

Ebooks should make better use of what digital offers. But that's not multi-media and its not hyper-specialized apps. I'd love to see publishers release ebooks with a link that opens, in a browser, a webpage with a pre-read video by the author. But cluttering an ebook with expensive and yet third-rate little snippets of video is madness. The same is true of apps. I don't need and won't buy (or even take if free) apps for every author, publisher or whatever I read from. I am hardly alone in that. That's far more trouble than the benefits.

You know what's really bad about these silly ideas? They distract from what's really needed. We don't need those hyper-specialized apps. We do need a world-standard website that hosts authors and books. It could include the information being suggested for apps. It could include links to numerous retailers for the book, giving readers more options. It could do that for far less money. Supported by a Google or whoever, it'd be around long after those apps are defunct.

Joe Wikert

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Michael. It's clear that you're not part of the target audience I have in mind for this concept. Then again, even though my example referred to an "app", there's absolutely no reason the same thing can't also be accomplished via a website. That seems to be what you're also suggesting, so maybe our thinking isn't that far apart.

Tanner Holt

I have read some really good books where the authors have used this strategy mostly with QR codes. I have personally enjoyed that instead of having to spend a long time typing a lengthy URL, or going to millions of pages on their website to get where I am wanting. I love reading on my iPad, but there are some days after staring at a computer all day, or I just want to unplug. I have noticed most of these links in the books I have read do not go to Youtube, but pages on their website where they do have more control if it is live or not. I personally have not had a problem by going to an outdated web page, but it sounds like a very common problem for books that are older. I also believe it may have part to do with the content and the target audience as well.

As for apps for authors, that I think very well depends on the author and what there goal is I really enjoyed the Steve Harvey App that he had with is book, mainly because of its social interactions to connect with him.


A lot of publishers like to keep links to their own content so they have more control over whether it is still live or not. It's portably not the best practice to link to random youtube videos or smaller websites, because there is too much chance for the content to change. If a publisher moves or restructures website content there are way they can redirect old link URLs to the new one so they will still work. 301 redirects for example. Or even a URL shortener like probably has the capacity to change where one of it's shortened URLs point.

One thing that has worked for me with printed material is having a link to a "resources" page on the website you host that then has links to all the website content you want. Then when people inform you the youtube link is broken, you can simply find another and change the link on your "resources" page.

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