Have you been doing an honest assessment of both your publishing program and your publishing business on a regular basis? We could spend a fair amount of time looking at the detail of your business P&L, Balance Sheet, and publishing schedule, but for now, let’s focus on how you are selling books today – and how will you will sell them in the future.
Selling books today
Not to delve too far into my history but having sold books for over 25 years I think I have a good sense of the trends. I watched the superstores breed and the indies die. Lately, I’ve been on the front side of the brick & mortar contraction and the industry transition to online sales and Amazon.
If we look at today’s sales pie chart it may have 30-40% going to online sellers and the balance to the usual brick & mortar or wholesale suspects. The ‘traditional’ outlets for the sale of p-books (traditional paper books) still exist but they are more and more cautious about their purchases with a growing list of associated demands for each one.
The e-market, for all of its headlines, is still in its infancy with very few solid strategies.
Selling books in the future
But with this rapid transition to e-books what will the future bring? First off, we‘ll still have p-books for some time. Maybe fewer and fewer of the 1-color titles in the near future, but illustrated books will still be here. The chains will continue to contract but they will survive (at least B&N). And, these retailer contractions will lead to a slight resurgence in small Indy stores (much more economical and efficient) as they pop up in areas vacated by the chains. I also see that non-book specialty retailers will become more active in carrying books that support their unique categories.
Amazon will continue to control the online marketplace for illustrated titles and will maintain their share of the non-illustrated p-book business. As POD costs continue to fall Amazon will move more and more to a virtual content business with fewer book warehouses. Consumers will have their desired spec book manufactured when ordered.
Similar to the growth of the brick & mortar specialty niche stores – single subject, or ‘vertical’ within that subject, we will see the growth of vertical or community based online websites. Websites built around a single subject, quilting, antiques & collectibles, gardening, health, etc, will flourish. They exist now but the vast majority are thin when it comes to today’s internet strategies which are based on communities, forums, social media, video, and direct marketing. Who knows who will start these new robust website communities – a publisher, or a retailer, or an entrepreneur?
And what about your future role selling books? Are you that type of publisher who owns some ‘space’ in a category? Or are you a general interest press? You certainly have a better shot of success by owning some ‘real estate’ in a category. Either way, your major decision about your future website will be; will I sell direct to businesses (B2B), or sell direct to consumers (B2C)? Will you merely provide information for other retailers and wholesalers about your books, or will you build a website and business around selling direct to consumers.
It is a huge step, but once a publisher decides to sell directly to consumers they need to start thinking like a retailer. For many publishers this is a considerable task. In the past, publishers have had one, two, three, or more, degrees of separation between them and their customers. Publishers who decide to adopt the B2C strategy need to educate themselves in how to communicate, market, and sell. The publisher’s website is the ideal platform for a B2C storefront.
What kind of store will you create? Think about your favorite stores and you will begin to think clearly about your website. A great bookstore is comfortable, attractive, exciting, stimulating place. Can you create the next Politics & Prose or Tattered Cover online?
Some interesting websites to check out……
Next: More on the B2B