Digital Publishing Demands Direct-to-Reader Marketing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Going DirectThe rise of digital reading and the decline of brick and mortar bookstores requires publishers to think differently about how they market books. Selling books to retailers can no longer be the main focus, because millions of people no longer walk into bookstores to discover and purchase books. The transformation to digital means publishers must embrace more of a direct-to-consumer marketing approach. Or, you could say that promoting direct-to-reader is just as important as promoting direct-to-retailer.

Many publishers that I consult with are finding this transition more difficult than they anticipated. How do you reach readers after decades of primarily pleasing retailers? How do you attract and build large reading communities from scratch? The answer isn’t found in social media or selling books at lower prices.

Marketing direct-to-reader means understanding the way readers think. Every reader, regardless of age, gender, or genre preference, buys books according to one simple question, “Will this book be worth my time and money?” This question can happen so fast that consumers don’t openly dwell on the thought. But, it happens every time. For example, think about how you purchased a new product in the last week. In every situation, the concept of self-interest subtly influenced your decision:

  • You bought a new outfit because you thought it made you look good.
  • You went to a restaurant for a romantic evening or to avoid the hassle of cooking.
  • You bought the latest technological gadget to appear cool or be more efficient.

Readers buy books according to the same principle of self-interest. So, if publishers want to sell more books directly to readers, they must adjust their marketing focus. Selling to retailers usually means promoting books according to genre, topic, shelf space, and price. But, for most readers, those issues are a distant second to determining if the book will be worth their time and money. And, this is where publishers must adopt a new mentality.

Marketing direct-to-readers means using cover copy, website text, book trailers, and social media to clearly show readers why a book is worth purchasing. State the specific results that the consumer will get from reading author’s content. Focus less on describing a book’s theme or plot. Focus more on telling the reader how they will be informed, inspired, or entertained. Retailers don’t see it as their job to define your book’s results, because they’re focused on moving quantity. In contrast, readers purchase books based on the perceived results, because they’re looking for quality.

Look at the way you market your books. Is your promotional text stuck in a direct-to-retailer mentality? If you want to sell direct-to-readers, you’ve got to speak their language. To become fluent, start by answering the reader’s ultimate question, “What’s in it for me?”


Direct image via Shutterstock

2 thoughts on “Digital Publishing Demands Direct-to-Reader Marketing

  1. Peter Turner

    Thank you, Rob, for your post. You’re right, of course, that publishers aren’t used to really thinking about their “end user”–although acquiring editors are perhaps best tuned to address this need. What continues to concern me is just how far behind publishers are in providing value in the d2c relationship. It’s not as if this “wheel” needs to be completely recreated. D2C marketing is a long established practice and there are publishers and booksellers who have practiced this art and science quite successfully. Take for example,,,, etc.

    I only wish that DBW, TOC, and other conferences aimed at the publishing market would bring together experts from within and without the publishing industry to elevate the conversation.



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