Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The challenge for book publishers creating direct-to-consumer marketing platforms is in opening up new retail channels without disrupting old ones. It can be done, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer at HarperCollins, and Randy Petway, COO of Publishing Technology, agreed in a webcast hosted by Digital Book World this afternoon.
“We want to encourage sales wherever those take place,” Restivo-Alessi said. “We want to encourage consumer choice.”
HarperCollins launched Narnia.com under Restivo-Alessi’s direction in October 2013 as a digital portal for marketing its C. S. Lewis back-list. The undertaking demanded a lot more legwork than traditional marketing campaigns. Working with four separate vendors to build an e-commerce experience from the ground up, HarperCollins also had to balance the needs of its U.S. and UK audiences while cobbling together a team from within. As Restivo-Alessi recalled, the publisher had to become “as scrappy as a start-up” to bring everything together.
In endorsing that approach, Petway emphasized a willingness to embrace experimentation and, in some cases, failure. But “if you never start you never learn,” Restivo-Alessi added.
So how’s it done? And first of all, why? Here are some of the advantages of direct-to-consumer sales and marketing platforms highlighted in today’s discussion, followed by key recommendations for conceiving and executing them successfully.
Advantages of Direct-to-Consumer Sales and Marketing
— Editorial insight: Creating a relationship with consumers, according to Petway, “tracks back to the earliest part of the publishing process” to inform editorial and business decision-making.
— Learning about consumers: Traditional business-to-business sales analysis sometimes says as much about the supply chain as it does about consumer behavior. The direct-to-consumer model removes that variable.
— Fostering engagement that drives sales: Petway pointed out that while almost half of the publishers surveyed by Publishing Technology last year were running online communities (and of those, most had more than one), few saw them as a direct source of sales. Those platforms still lead customers to traditional retail channels, he said. Restivo-Alessi agreed. “It’s a bit like the coexistence of a department store like Barney’s and [a stand-alone] Armani,” which together increase the potential points of sale.
Recommendations for Building Direct-to-Consumer Platforms
— Map out the end-to-end user experience: Petway pointed out that “consumers are gauging the value and appeal of the website” or platform publishers offer them “against all their other web experiences.” That also means accounting for multiple points of entry (web, mobile, tablet app, etc.).
— Tailor your platform to the content as well as its readers: According to Restivo-Alessi, publishers “must provide specificity of experience even though [they] have a multiplicity of brands.” She mentioned microsites where publishers can translate their brands into more focused spaces to sell content.
— Balance existing sales channels with the ones you’re creating: Amazon sales rankings, for instance, can have a major impact on front-list titles, so perhaps your direct-to-consumer platform will focus primarily on marketing the back-list.
— Experiment, and test each small success for scalability. Discard efforts that don’t work and build out the ones that do.