Direct-to-consumer – it’s the way to go

The distance between publishers and readers has, traditionally, been a big one. It has been based on the simple understanding that publishers acquire/commission manuscripts and edit them, printers turn them into books and booksellers sell those books. Readers can usually tell you about the books they’re reading, the authors of those books, the bookshops from which they bought the books and/or the libraries from which they borrowed them. But if you ask: ”Who is the publisher?” you’ll probably get a blank stare. There has, traditionally, been no direct link, no relationship, between publishers and readers.

All this is changing, for several reasons. First, many UK publishers currently find themselves somewhere between a decline in the revenue from their traditional and usually realistically priced product – the printed book – and a shortfall (temporary, if the US is anything to go by) in the revenue from their new and often heavily discounted product – the electronic book. So they need to create new revenue streams. Second, electronic publishing is increasingly taking printing, packing and shipping out of the book publishing equation, leaving publishers with more time to explore new revenue streams. The third reason is the Internet itself and the opportunities it has opened up for all businesses, including publishing, to experiment with new revenue streams.

Since Amazon launched online book retailing in the mid-1990s and ‘shopping carts’ became website staples for many businesses, direct-to-consumer (D2C) has been around as an idea for publishers to consider. But it has taken the current search for new revenue streams, coupled with a desire to be less dependent on the major online booksellers, to persuade them to go down the D2C road. Also encouraging publishers along this road are the figures coming out of the US, where the American Association of Publishers (AAP) recently reported that US publishers’ D2C websites now account, on average, for 44% those publishers’ sales revenue.

What does D2C involve, in the context of book publishing? There are three main tasks:

1.   Building a website with full eCommerce facilities

2.   Building a strong relationship with readers

3.   Building brand awareness

The first task involves working with a website development company specialising in book publishing to create a secure site where the publisher can upload titles, categorise and price them, offer discounts, organise promotions and eMarketing, sell titles online (both electronic and print format) with automated order fulfilment / distribution links were necessary, and monitor sales. Site features should include content-rich and well-optimised front-end pages, a simple and transparent purchasing system, and easily managed back-end administration facilities.

The second task needs imagination, a real desire to engage with readers and a readiness to transform the business into more than simply a provider of books. It involves looking at existing D2C publisher sites to see what works and what doesn’t; creating community areas where readers can interact with each other, with authors and with the publisher; using information from these areas to shape marketing, publicity and ideas for future titles; testing these ideas with readers; encouraging authors to create a community following; where appropriate, selling products related to the books; building in social sharing tools to spread the word and attract new readers… and so on.

The success of the third task depends largely on how well tasks 1 and 2 are done. It can be deemed successful when the question: “Who was the publisher?” no longer elicits a blank stare.

At Firsty, we’re now working with many publishers, from large to small, helping them to create D2C sites that will enable them to move quickly, easily and efficiently into the new publishing era. Our sites are built around an enterprise-level eCommerce platform and integrated with Adobe Content Server 4 for digital rights management (DRM) if required. This platform gives publishers complete control over site presentation, content and functionality and includes simple checkout facilities, social media tools and community area features. It all adds up to a future-proof and easily managed D2C website / online bookstore. And with all this technical expertise comes the wealth of experience that we have acquired in our work with publishers.

Kay Sayce




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