Back-lists offer a potential “pool of resources…to mined based on movements and trends in [the] mercurial marketplace” of digital publishing. That’s how Ed Nawotka, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, put it in his introductory remarks at the “Monetizing the Backlist” conference in New York City yesterday. The trick for publishers — and the focus of the day’s talks and panel discussions — is turning those resources into revenue.
Experts from across the digital publishing community suggested a number of methods for doing that successfully. Here are three that stood out.
1. Free samples: “The way to make money off of your back-list titles is giving people free samples,” said Amanda Mecke, ebook rights and contracts specialist at unglue.it. “You used to be able to sample an entire book in a bookstore when you stood there and flipped through it.”
Not only can replicating that experience for digital content keep readers engaged, it can help them discover things they otherwise might not. According to Mecke, that’s especially true when it comes to back-list titles.
2. Look at the numbers: Publishers eagerly devour all the metrics they can get on best-selling and front-list titles–more often than not, they’re still left hungry for more. The same data-based approach can be taken with back-list books. Neil Baptista, CEO of the discovery platform Riffle, suggests looking closely at the available information to identify “latent demand for a title, then [to] unlock that demand with a price incentive.”
The results of such investigations can sometimes be unexpected. Baptista admitted he was startled to learn that there was an apparently disproportionate demand within the thriller and crime fiction category for Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian long after its original publication. But, given a special price promotion, the book sold briskly all over again.
3. Keep it in perspective: Corey Pressman, president of Exprima Media, put it this way: the front-list is the portion of the human population consisting of celebrities, and the back-list is everyone else. That tiny sliver gets a lot more attention and always will, but it’s still a tiny sliver.
Much the way the digital technologies made it possible for regular folks to raise their profiles and attract an audience, digital publishing–through many of those same technologies–can lift back-list content out of obscurity. And since there’s just so much of it out there, a little boost in a lot of places can make a big difference.
In support of that point of view, Sherisse Hawkins, co-founder and CEO of Beneath the Ink, remarked, “There’s a magical aspect [to] rediscovering something…an emotional connection” that’s absent from the first-time encounter publishers strive to create for readers with their front-list titles. The term “back-list” doesn’t do justice to that special feeling, but it’s one publishers should promote with equal enthusiasm.