Publishers Weekly (October 3) wrote that Barnes & Noble may be up for sale, and that can provide a lesson for book publishers: there is an opportunity for substantial revenue growth of printed books in non-bookstore markets. Publishers who ignore these changes and rely on the traditional business model of selling primarily through bookstores may run out of room to grow.
Publishers with a creative flexibility will be more likely to strategically adjust and thrive in this changing market. It is not difficult, and may be easier to understand by looking at a similar situation in a different field. Netflix changed the way DVD rental firms competed by starting delivery through the mail. It quickly sought to reinvent itself by obsolescing its own way of doing business and developed technology to replace mailing physical DVDs with digital streaming over the Internet. In contrast, Blockbuster blindly continued its successful superstore model, by making minor adjustments in their current way of doing business (no more late fees). It failed to respond to fundamental market changes and is closing stores nationwide.
The lesson? Publishers that reinvent themselves can succeed in this new, competitive, rapidly changing environment. One way to do that is to expand outside your core business into non-bookstore markets. Publishers that simply tweak their current business model (sell through independent stores and Amazon.com) are doomed to falling sales and the return of unsold books.
When publishers focus on the opportunities in non-bookstore segments, they may actually get a better picture of their future. Non-traditional marketing is basically the process of writing quality content in response to an identified need, publishing it in the form desired by the reader and then selling it to people in defined groups of prospective customers. Doing this successfully may simply require a little flexibility, a change in concentration from traditional book selling to a...
1) Focus on the content of your book, not the book itself. What your book does is more important to buyers than what it is. Content is king in special-sales marketing, and the old adage, “find a need and fill it,” was never more relevant.
2) Focus on target customers. Segment your total market into several “mini-markets,” each with identifiable needs and selling idiosyncrasies. For example, alternatives for selling a children’s book could be children’s libraries, PTAs, daycare centers, airport stores, supermarkets, government agencies, toy stores, and gift shops at museums or zoos.
3) Focus on marketing as much as production. The concepts of frontlist and backlist are irrelevant in special markets. Publishing more titles to keep your frontlist current is not nearly as profitable as concentrating on selling the titles you already have.
4) Focus on getting people to buy rather than selling to them. Discover what your business prospects need – which will probably be some combination of products and services – then describe how you can help them improve revenues, margins or brand image. Add value to their way of doing business. For example, you may be trying to sell a barbeque cookbook to buyers at Lowe’s. They do not want to sell cookbooks as much as they want to sell high-priced, more profitable barbeque grills. Sell your cookbook to them by demonstrating how it could be used as an enticement to get people to buy the grills. They could use your book – rather than sell it – by giving one away with each grill purchased. This is the concept of cross merchandising.
5) Focus on the differences of your content, not on its sameness. Authors sometimes describe their book by saying, “It’s the next Harry Potter,” or “It’s like The Tipping Point, but better.” Buyers do not want more of what they already have. They want to hear how your information is different from the better-known titles and why it is better.
6) Focus on push and pull. Push marketing is directed at the channel members, helping them sell more books to the next higher level in the distribution network. On the other hand, pull marketing is directed at the ultimate consumer, making people aware of your title and getting them to buy it. While both strategies are important, push marketing is the preferred strategy in non-retail marketing and pull is the strategy of choice in retail marketing.
7) Focus on what you can control. There are four primary activities you can control in book marketing: 1) its content and form, 2) the price at which you sell it, 3) the ways in which you distribute it and 4) how you promote it.
The publishing industry is making the transition from selling through bookstores to non-bookstore buyers. Some publishing companies will not be able to make that leap, but those who will succeed are those that will look to the future with a little creative flexibility.