Three Direct-to-Consumer Steps Every Publisher Can Take

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

direct-to-consumer book publishers marketingIn my last post, I made the argument that not only should all publishers establish robust direct-to-consumer (D2C) programs regardless of their size, but that small and mid-size presses are in some ways better positioned to do so than large trade publishers.

In this post I’ll break down the components of a direct-to-consumer operation that gives readers a clear, compelling reason to buy directly from you as well as the means to do so: discovery; e-commerce and fulfillment; and engagement.

It all starts with a great website that helps readers discover your titles in an increasingly crowded and competitive digital marketplace. One of my mantras for publishers is to make your books “easy to find and easy to buy.” That means building a website that not only has great content about your books that readers will find engaging but also takes advantage of all the latest tools and techniques to make it easily crawled, indexed and categorized by the search engines—the “easy to find” part.

On the “easy to buy” side, think about the major online retailers—what do they do to make it easy for customers to buy from them? Emulating those approaches doesn’t require building out an e-commerce infrastructure to rival Amazon’s. There are many plug-ins and add-ons that do a good job of managing the key elements for you, from promotions and shopping cart functionality to checkout and payment processing.

And then there is fulfillment, of course. For even a small publisher, there are likewise many options available, including doing it yourself (assuming you have the warehouse space); using a print-on-demand service like Ingram’s Lightning Source or IngramSpark; or splitting the difference according to format, by fulfilling ebook orders on your site but sending customers to one of your retailers for hardcover and paperback editions.

The final piece is engagement—giving your readers a reason to transact with you. That begins with your marketing program itself. It needs to move away from being launch-focused toward an ongoing marketing program where the publication of a book is just one event in a larger content lifecycle spread over many months leading up to, during and after launch.

This, too, needn’t be a time- or resource-intensive process; it’s about reallocating existing resources over a longer timeline. I’ll explain how to move toward a marketing program like this in later posts, but the key is to parcel out small doses of content relating to each title across an ongoing editorial calendar. Publishers also need to work with authors to create content both can use in ongoing marketing efforts—on the publisher’s website, social accounts and emails as well as on the author’s.

That allows publishers to build a community around their authors, with direct interactions between authors and readers. And if everyone is participating fully, you have now built a great hub of content around a theme, genre, category or topic, creating a virtuous circle that drives discovery and helps all of the publisher’s authors sell more books.

Is it a lot to do? Yes. Will it force you to change the way you do your business? Yes. Will it potentially mean that you need to sign a different kind of author, one who gets it and is willing to partner with you to do this? Yes.

And does it mean rethinking the author-publisher relationship as an actual partnership designed to sell books? Again, yes.

Finally, building a great D2C program also requires understanding that it really doesn’t matter where you sell your books, just that you sell them, even if it means sending those who want to buy your titles elsewhere to transact. Still, it’s critical to offer even those Amazon- or iBooks-loyal customers an incentive to transact with you. For instance, bundle in the ebook with the purchase of the paper book, or offer some interactive sessions with your authors through GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts.

Whatever you do, give your readers a reason to become your fan and a part of your community. That’s what going D2C is all about.

5 thoughts on “Three Direct-to-Consumer Steps Every Publisher Can Take

  1. William Ash

    But what if places like Amazon make no financial sense? Are customers really loyal to Amazon? Or are they loyal to low prices? Or are they just simply lazy and can’t be bothered to look for books elsewhere? It would seem to me that those types of reader might not be the reader a publisher is looking for anyway. Surely, building a brand and an audience should mitigate the Amazon-centered consumer.

    1. Murray Izenwasser

      Hi William,

      Thanks for the comment! The people who are only going to buy from Amazon, are, simply, only going to buy from Amazon. That’s great – get the book sold. But give those people a reason to engage with you, the publisher, and make it easy for them to buy where they want. For those people who aren’t so price sensitive, give those people a real reason to come back to you each time you publish something. Those are the fans that your marketing efforts need to really be focused on.

      1. Ryan Morison

        I agree that there are a large group of readers that will be difficult to pry away from Amazon (I’ve just summarised our findings on this arising from a direct-to-consumer experiment in an article here). However, this doesn’t mean simply giving up as there are many worthwhile things that publishers can do in order to maximise their reach and benefit from building intimate relationships with readers who are not necessarily bound to Amazon. This article and the previous one provide a great starting point!

        1. Murray Izenwasser

          Thanks for the comment Ryan. Also, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where someone purchases one of your books. As long as they do so. But if publishers can insert themselves in an engaging, unobtrusive way into the purchase pathway by engaging the reader/customer, that is ok also.

        2. Murray Izenwasser

          Hi Ryan,
          Yes, there are definitely customers that will only purchase through Amazon, for a variety of reasons. And that’s fine, because at the end of the day, it’s all about selling your products. As your article and experience show, a publisher can still offer incentives to be part of that value chain for the customer. One question for you is: what incentives are you offering your customers who purchase through other channels to come to your site for the next installment?



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