Posted on January 9, 2014 in Archive

To sell direct or not to sell direct?


The idea of publishers selling direct to consumers has been around for a while – this blog by Mike Shatzkin details the virtues of the idea as far back as 2012. Now Shatzkin has approached the subject again, this time discussing several factors that publishers should have under control before they attempt to cut out the middle man and sell direct to the consumer.

Before we even get into Shatzkin’s five things, the benefits of selling direct to the consumer should be noted. For one thing, it’s much simpler for publishers to successfully execute direct engagement with the people they want to sell through when selling direct, as opposed to trying to communicate through middle men like book stores and their websites. You also risk losing sales made by creating a relationship with the consumer by passing off that relationship to a bookseller. You can’t build a platform on someone else’s land. Today publisher’s are doing that by creating online vertical communities and markets that both encourage communication and the publisher brand. It’s also much easier to experiment with price and offer discounts if you are interacting directly with the consumer (check out any one of thousands online retailers or self-publishers who are offering discounts on ebooks if you don’t believe me).

These are Shatzkin’s 5 things, in a nutshell:
1. Do your research to make sure you know who and where your audience are.
2. Optimise author presence.
3. You can learn a lot about your consumers by having a database from which to email them (hopefully with their permission).
4. If you’re going to attempt media campaigns or social media advertising, make sure the people running these marketing aspects know their stuff.
5. Make sure you explore the possibilities of increasing backlist sales through digital marketing.

A lot of these are about ensuring you know your market, which makes sense. What’s the point of opening up direct selling to consumers if they still think that the bookseller is still the only way to acquire books? Chances are, if a publisher were to open up direct sales then they would alienate their booksellers, making them unlikely to share information, so it would definitely be wise to gather this kind of information before starting.

Marketing and data-gathering are the main focus of Shatzkin’s Fab 5, which really goes to show how complex marketing has become today. Though social media was almost non-existent five or ten years ago (unless you count Myspace, and who does nowadays?), today it is an integral part of the marketing campaign of any business that sells a product. Which brings up with the thought – major publishers would be able to access this kind of information easily enough, but how would self-published writers gather data? Even if the scale is adjusted to suit the numbers that a self-published author would be selling at, it seems extremely unlikely that the self-publishers would be able to keep up, let alone successfully sell directly.

Apparently sellers who have already experienced success in this manner have shared three common characteristics: working with the same audience over an extended period of time, having a vertical market to work with, and showing willingness to sell ebooks without the protective DRM, which allows consumers to pass ebooks along to friends as easily as they could a paper book version. This seems to only encourage sales though – once the consumer knows the value of the book, desire for the content increase, leaving consumers happy to purchase.

So hopefully this has taught you something, if you are a self-publisher looking to sell directly to your prospective consumer rather than taking the usual route of Amazon and all it’s smaller friends. Since selling online seems to be more popular and lucrative than selling in person these days, it doesn’t seem as though buying directly from the publisher or author is such a far off scenario anymore.