Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Recently, I’ve been talking to people in the book industry about a new program my company is launching that allows individuals and organizations to retail ebooks and audiobooks like the big three do: Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. One of the most common questions I get asked, though, is, “How can anyone compete against Amazon?”
As you likely know, Amazon has made a number of forays beyond bookselling and into book publishing. The company currently lists a baker’s dozen of imprints, is responsible for 85 percent of self-published titles, and has long been bragging about its bestselling authors, including Hugh Howey and Barry Eisler. Add to this the fact that, with its 185-million customer base—47 million of whom are fee-paying members—Amazon controls a reported 65 percent of the retail book market.
How, then, could anyone in the industry not be concerned by the influence such a company wields?
Is it just time to throw in the towel?
No, not yet. Publishers can compete with Amazon and even compete effectively.
Here are 10 practices publishers can employ to tamper down Amazon’s growing impact:
1. Do your best not to nourish Amazon. Short-term gains may be realized by surrendering to Amazon’s requests for exclusivity and deep discounts (reports tag 53 percent as the average discount the Big Five publishers yield to Amazon) but, in the long term, it’s possible you’re feeding the lion that is going to eat you.
Another way to nourish Amazon is to give it the most prominent position in the ways you reach out to your buying publics. How often have you visited a publisher’s website and found Amazon at the top of the links a consumer may use to order a title? How about when publishers tout the number of 5-star reviews a title has garnered on Amazon? Both of these practices help to establish Amazon as the benchmark of the industry. Can you hear the lion roaring?
2. Don’t compete on price. Competing on price is a race to the bottom—one that Amazon is bound to win. You’re not going to thrive paupering yourself. Instead of sacrificing profits to attract sales, use your profits to build your business on the unique ingredients in your pie.
3. Help the pendulum to swing. For many, some of the luster has come off Amazon. In the same way that not everyone loves Wal-Mart or Apple, not everyone loves Amazon. There is a popular, growing movement to shop locally, to buy directly from someone they know and trust, and to patronize smaller, product-focused online stores. Push this idea along. Develop programs that offer something special or unique to local retailers. Find online stores that sell non-book products that align with your readers’ lives and lifestyles. Offer to pair one of your books for twofer pricing with one of the items they already sell.
4. Get niche. As Sly and the Family Stone pointed out years ago, there are different strokes for different folks. Some people like to wear designer clothing; others are into camo and boots. Exploit these distinctions in your outreach to both readers and resellers. Design your promotions to target groups of readers underserved by Amazon.
5. Take it off their field. With one recent exception—a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle—Amazon is Internet-based. So put energy into the physical world. Conferences, seminars, independent bookstores, chain retailers, boutique shops and tourist attractions—anywhere people gather or frequent provides potential markets. Remember, a book is an ad for itself. A conference or a boutique shop may not move a ton of copies, but many are likely going into the hands of people who will mention the title to others.
6. Be everywhere. Broad distribution used to be thought of as the key to book sales. And it still is. Water down Amazon’s impact by getting your books into every nook and cranny. Think outside the box. Car washes, independent coffee houses, hospital gift shops, furniture stores, print catalogs for baby boomers, “Buy Now” links on popular bloggers’ websites.
7. Partner with others. Publish business books? Partner with a company that offers seminars for business people. Do you have particularly famous or articulate authors? Partner with local and national nonprofits—author appearances often draw a paying crowd to annual dinners or other events. Our parent company, American West Books, frequently partners with publishers in producing proprietary products to match retailers’ needs. None of these products see the inside of an Amazon warehouse.
8. Get personal. Lean on your authors for much of this. Ask them to Skype with book clubs, do book signings at Costco, teach workshops at Michaels, or, perhaps, present self-awareness classes at upscale spas. Make sure your authors pass around a signup sheet to collect email addresses that they can share with you.
9. Build your own tribe. You’ve heard this advocated before. Collect email addresses relentlessly. Then reach out with more than just blatant advertisements. Think curated news, handy hints and tips, recipes, perhaps reviews of products related to the subjects you publish. Offer freebies. Do surveys and share the results. Encourage your tribe members to interact by posting their own reviews, writing guest blog posts and posting and tweeting to their followers.
10. Get exclusive. Offer one-of-a-kind items, such as autographed books or leather-bound editions. Do you publish children’s titles? Offer limited edition print runs of your artists’ illustrations—suitable for framing—with each book bought directly from you, or include a bounce-back coupon at the back of each copy. Sell limited items directly to your tribe or via boutique gift shops or other non-Amazon outlets. You might even take a page from the playbook of beauty products manufacturers that offer a line of products only sold in beauty parlors. Consider developing an imprint that is only available in, say, clothing stores.