In the last couple of years, many publishers who have launched their direct-sales channels on the Qbend eStore platform and through other channels have been faced with one question: how do I increase, let alone maximize, revenue from this new and exciting channel of sales? Many concerns arise: Am I cannibalizing sale of my own print products? Am I competing with the likes of Amazon, B&N, and Kobo in an already-crowded marketplace, and foremost of all – is it worth building a direct-sales channel?
Each of these questions deserve an article of their own. But let me limit myself to outlining a few things that publishers can do to increase revenue from their direct-sales channels. This is in no way a checklist that guarantees improved sales, but a set of guidelines that can help achieve the purpose. Before setting up a direct-sales channel, publishers should realize that selling direct is not a short-term effort; it is a long-term strategy that ensures creation of a niche in the book market as well as build a loyal group of customers.
Let’s look at some of those guidelines here. This is not in any order of priority or effectiveness, but will have to be approached from all angles to achieve success.
1. Advertise where visitors come from and not just on your website
In a lot of cases, publishers do advertise selling eBooks on their website. Of the publishers on the Qbend platform, more than 70% of them have a link on their home page that takes the visitors to their branded, direct-sales eStore portal by Qbend. About one-third of publishers have a link on each of their book pages on their website that takes the visitor directly to the eBook page on their eStore.
Although this reminds the visitors that eBooks are available from a direct-sales channel, this reminds them a little too late in the process. Most would-be-customers would have already made up their mind to buy the book, and are more likely to place an order not with the publisher but with their retailers or distributors. The publishers’ efforts in marketing and bringing visitors to their site eventually ends up in adding these visitors as customers to their retailers.
The change that they need to do is to advertise the option of buying-direct from their own website at the point where the visitors learn about their website. The link to their direct-sales portal should not just be on their website but it should be in places that bring the visitors to their websites. This could be on their digital ads, Facebook pages, author portals and all other places that customers ‘discover’ the book or the author or the publisher themselves.
This provides the visitors with early indication of the option they have and not at a later stage where they are likely not to change their minds about where they want to buy from.
2. Offer value that customers do not get elsewhere
The key advantage of a direct-sales channel is the option to deliver the publishers’ books in the way they intend their customers to consume them. Retailers like Amazon have a set of sales options that publishers have to adhere to. With a direct-sales channel, there is more freedom – not just in pricing and availability – but in the whole customer experience.
The different becomes obvious with an analogy – the experience of buying an Apple notebook from an Apple Store versus a Best Buy store. Though Best Buy is known for their good customer support and the help they provide within their store in helping customers choose their products, the experience of the Apple Store, with its Genius Bar, one-on-one training to use the notebook and even the help offered in migrating the buyer’s data from their old computer to the new Apple notebook, far surpasses what Best Buy can do.
The Qbend platform allows publishers to rent out their titles for a limited period of time or sell in smaller parts or as individual chapters. If the publisher’s titles are not going to be used as a whole, offering them in smaller parts or as chapters make them more attractive to customers. If students in general are like me, they could be scrambling to get hold of textbooks a week before their tests and could be hesitant to spend the whole price. Offering a 2-week or 1-month rental will definitely be beneficial.
Another option is to offer backlist titles DRM-free, depending on the publishers’ business strategy, though it need not just be restricted to backlist titles. DRM-free titles allow customers to break out of the walled-garden approach of most retailers and use the content they purchase wherever they want. It is not uncommon to see someone owning a Kindle, an Android phone, and an iPad and expect to use their content across all these devices. The debate on DRM versus non-DRM content is a topic for a different article.
3. Engage, engage, and engage more
The biggest difference that publishers experience is that direct-sales channels create customers for the publishers themselves and not their retailers. This luxury, when combined with some responsibility, would go a long way in ensuring a loyal customer base.
When someone buys a book from a retailer like Amazon or B&N, their experience ends with the purchase process, which these retailers have worked hard to optimize. To me, the experience of a book starts only after opening the book. Till that point, the experience of the book is no different from the experience of buying any other product like a phone or a TV.
With readers who actually become customers of the publisher, there is plenty of scope to build a relationship. One publisher who has their direct-sales channel on the Qbend platform makes it a point to write to the buyer whenever a book sales happens to thank them personally and offer any help they need. I know readers appreciate this personal care even if it is for a spend as little as $3.99. These are the readers who can potentially become the publisher’s life-long customers.
This engagement can also be transformed into building a community around the publisher’s content or products. The combined power of this community provides a lot more value to the readers than the review systems of the retailers.
4. Use social media
This is a no-brainer in the current scenario. Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. have become the primary places where people discover content. It is imperative for publishers to have active social media channels that allow people to engage with others and discover more about the books. An active community around the publisher’s content helps add credibility to the content and helps in making buying decisions for the customers.
5. Use touchpoints with customers
I am not sure if all publishers realize this, but they already are in places that provide good advertisement opportunities. Their current print books or eBooks provide a good advertising channel for them to reach their customers with news about their offerings. Publishers can advertise their direct-sales channel on the covers of their existing books. It can be something like “Discover more books at ….” and provide a QR code for them to scan and reach their direct sales portal.
If the publisher already has a community through their social media channels, that can be leveraged to introduce their customers to newer content. Allowing customers to experience the content through carefully selected preview pages instead of an algorithm-based display of pages will also help.
For fiction, giving the first couple of chapters for free in return for the customer registering on their direct-sales portal would be beneficial too. This not only gets them hooked on the content and prompts them to buy the entire book, but also makes them part of the publisher’s community of readers.
This is a powerful way to get more sales from each customer, because the publishers are marketing to a niche audience who are already consuming their content and are likely to be converted into paying customers more easily, particularly with the additional values that they can provide as discussed in Step 2 above.
6. Leverage existing technology for enhanced customer experience
Find the shortest way to get your direct-sales channel launched. Platforms like Qbend can get portals ready in a matter of days.
Time should be invested not in building the technology but in leveraging it to enhance customer experience. Customer experience can be in many aspects:
- The titles made available.
- The buying options they have – buying eBooks and print books, chapter sales, rentals, subscriptions – that are customized for each title, depending on the title’s needs
- The buying experience
- The flexibility they have with the content purchased –share it, use it on many devices, etc.
- The copy on the portal that guides them in choosing what they need and how to use the content purchased
- Customer support, follow-up, and the ease of finding a community to talk about the content.
This is not an exhaustive list, and it is up to the publisher to be creative in identifying the best experience that their customers could have with their content.
What I have listed below are just a few ways to increase visitors to your direct-sales channel and improve revenues. Depending on the geography, demographics, type of books, etc., there can be so many different ways in which these goals can be achieved.
I am interested to know the strategies that you use to build your direct-sales channel and even talk about approaches you can take to get the direct-sales channel implemented.