The Mobile Future Is Now and Amazon Is Winning It

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

Amazon Google mobile e-commerce direct-to-consumer ebook publishers

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No, I’m not talking about the Fire Phone.

Two recent moves by Google drive home an e-commerce lesson many book publishers worried about Amazon’s market dominance are beginning to learn themselves—that a great deal depends on owning customer relationships with mobile users.

Last month Google updated its search algorithm to give priority to mobile-responsive websites, and on Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that Google will soon add ‘buy’ buttons to partner-sponsored search results appearing on mobile devices.

Both changes acknowledge the overwhelming rise of mobile—which is to say smartphones. The tablet market has continued its slowdown as smartphone use increases. A Pew study published last month estimates that 64% of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, with the 18–29-year-old demographic the most firmly tethered to their devices.

When it comes down to how people find things to buy and then go about buying them, Google’s problem doesn’t look all that dissimilar from publishers’—how not to get edged out by Amazon in an ever more mobile world.

GeekWire‘s Tricia Duryee puts it this way:

Because many people are now conducting searches on their phone, and many of those retailer’s websites aren’t optimized for the mobile web, consumers are getting frustrated with the experience. As a result, they are not completing as many transactions as they used to, and increasingly going directly straight to apps or to Amazon.com.

In this view, Google isn’t interested in becoming an e-tailer itself. It’s simply trying to remain a mainstay for advertisers in a mobile arena where Amazon and eBay have a leg up with shoppers. Duryee points out that there’s so far no indication the ‘buy’ button program will alter Google’s ad sales model, and Google won’t take a commission from transactions the new buttons facilitate.

But it’s telling that Google is reportedly taking steps to appease retailers worried that letting the tech giant handle those purchases all but delivers their relationships with customers into Google’s hands.

And while the branding options and marketing programs Google is offering to skittish ad partners might prove enough to secure their participation, the valuable commercial contact-points Google stands to gain with mobile users are hard to overlook.

Publishers have been busy lately finding their own ways to connect directly with customers, by launching editorial venturespartnering with ebook retailers and subscription platforms and testing a host of direct sales and marketing initiatives.

By some accounts, publishers have been as slow to put these programs in place as they have been to prepare for the shift toward mobile ebook reading and buying, and they’re now in the unenviable position of playing defense and catch-up at the same time.

Some are much further ahead than others, however. F+W, which owns and operates Digital Book World and is a leading content producer in the enthusiast markets, has been an innovator when it comes to direct sales. The company’s revenue from direct-to-consumer channels has grown from just 5% of total sales in 2010 to comprising nearly a third of it today.

Elsewhere, though, the potential and actual revenue new distribution channels might generate (at least in the short- and mid-terms) pales in comparison with the income publishers earn from what is for many their biggest account by far: Amazon. But while there are those who argue that driving revenue is the ultimate goal of any direct-to-consumer program, many publishers are likely to measure those efforts’ success by how well they forge and fortify relationships with readers.

As long as Amazon continues to wield the clout it does in the e-commerce space, the race among publishers to build strong customer relationships outside of Amazon’s ecosystem promises to continue. But make no mistake: It’s already gone mobile.

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