The Future of Selling eBooks Beyond 2015 is Direct to Customer

The Future of Selling eBooks is Direct to Customer

Today we are in an environment where third-party retailers such as Amazon dominate in selling eBooks and books to customers. For many in the industry it is difficult to see how this will change. At eBooks International we are now experiencing a significant shift towards publishers and even authors selling their eBooks direct to customers from their blogs, author websites and publisher websites.

The advancements in payment technology and affordable eCommerce solutions have been enabling this change along with customers wanting to be able to read their eBooks on any device and to not be tied to one device such as a Kindle.

Establishing relationships directly with eBook buyers is one significant opportunity that will drive the sale of eBooks direct from publisher to customer.  Penguin has a successful ‘relationship building’ campaign going on via social media where they have established  communication between publisher and eBook buyer through Penguin’s Twitter Book Club.

This works in a positive way where Penguin invites its Twitter followers to join a discussion of a Penguin title each month via the hashtag #readpenguin. Readers then talk with one another, with Penguin, and often with the author directly. Ultimately Penguin has successfully found a way to facilitate the conversation where consumers understand that Penguin is enhancing their reading experience.

Engaging readers is exactly what Penguin must do. Their next step is to convert this ‘engagement’ into greater eBook sales. Selling direct to customer is their big challenge which can easily be resolved once they start to own the niche sites, stores and communities online.

So Why Hasn’t Selling eBooks Direct to Customer Taken Off in Previous Years?
The reason this ‘Direct to Customer’ model has been unsuccessful to date on a large scale is due to the dominance of Amazon and their model in forcing readers to download eBooks to their Kindle.

When Amazon has seen a threat to their business, such as Goodreads, they buy them out. Imagine if the Goodreads model was applied to specific categories and genres. Surely that would be an enticing alternative to the ‘all-in-one’ Goodreads community for readers and fans.

Amazon has also blown competition away by offering some products at a ‘loss lead.’ They had the ability to take on this initial loss to gain a sizable share of the market.

The internet has revolutionized the way consumers buy books and eBooks. These online retailers also often experience lower overheads than a bricks and mortar store and as a result have driven many corner book stores into the ground. Digital products such as eBooks are sold online and delivered instantly to the customer.

As the Internet continues its disruption of the traditional publishing business, we will see more print books and eBooks being sold online through direct channels. I have previously spoken how Pottermore has succeeded in doing this via their website. Publishers are now turning their ‘corporate’ websites into online stores and reading communities.

But they are missing one key element – that they are just becoming another ‘all-in-one’ store. They must be more targeted in the way they engage and connect with audiences of specific genres. Why would a customer change their habits in buying from Amazon and move direct to the publisher’s website if there is no additional benefit?

What is Changing?
One very powerful platform some of the ‘early adopters’ are finding advantageous is to own the niche eBook community sites and online stores which target a specific genre or category. Amazon sells eBooks in all genres and categories. Their search tool provides a way for readers to search through eBooks in their chosen genre.

However, what we are finding is that readers are more attracted to websites that specifically cater to their preferred genre. Along with finding new eBooks; readers can also read author interviews, find new and undiscovered talent, read press releases, receive free eBooks and feel a part of a community of interested readers.

Immediately upon landing on the home page of these niche sites readers are presented with everything they want to satisfy their needs, wants and interests.

To ‘play’ on Amazon’s ‘One click’ term; these readers are now in their element without clicking once! They arrive at the front door and are immediately presented with what they want without searching for their chosen genre.

Amazon has created and now controls a closed ‘eco-system’ that I believe will be challenged by this new ‘direct-to-customer’ model. When I say ‘challenged’ I am not saying it will remove Amazon from its dominant position. It will however take back some market share.

A significant threat would only come from a publisher that is able to take control of a significant number of these niche genre platforms and sites. Individual niche sites are succeeding on a small scale and until they are owned on mass by one publisher they will remain only a small annoyance to Amazon.

So which publisher will be the first to catch-on and start buying up or investing in these highly valuable platforms that already engage the audiences of specific genres in which they sell eBooks? Not just one or two sites, but ten, twenty plus sites that live in their owned branded ecosystem? Or will they continue on the path or trying to start from scratch and start their own platforms that cater to all genres?

Selling every genre of eBook from their publisher website is not the ‘revolutionary’ answer and it only makes them another ‘all-in-one’ retailer. It will come down to their ability to own individual sites on their own key-word rich domain names that target a specific genre that will take then a step closer to challenging Amazon.

Essentially, they need to own a ‘portfolio’ of websites which will create their own ‘ecosystem.’

Simply adding eBooks to an existing website will not convince eBook customers to move away from Amazon and to a new site on a mass scale. It will also not convince Google that their site should all of a sudden be ranked higher in search results for the exact same product that Amazon sells.

A Website Must Appeal to Google by Doing More. That is:
•    More fresh content.
•    More interactive features.
•    More encouragement for sharing content.
•    More related content to a niche audience.
•    More unique content (adding an eBook that exists on thousands of other web pages is not unique).

Google will often bypass the home page of a website and go direct to the page that best matches the search entered by the viewer. Imagine how a ‘content rich’ page or article will succeed in doing this. If you do not achieve this, guess what? Amazon will win out again in the search results.

Where eBook and Business Marketing Strategies Differ
eBooks are digital products. Selling eBooks require a ‘product strategy’ whereas a publisher requires a ‘business strategy’ to re-gain some market share. The marketing strategy for selling an eBook and that of a website or platform are different.

So far the ‘business strategy’ for many publishers has completely failed due to lack of vision and not really understanding how and why people buy online. I will use a term from my days working as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and that is ‘Specificity!’ When training athletes we created programs specific to the sport and the individual.

The same applies in selling eBooks. Create ‘specific strategies’ for the audience of each specific genre.

The Big Question?
The big question remains – who in the publishing world will be the first to recognize that in order to challenge Amazon they need to control the key online assets and IP (key-word rich domains for niche audiences)?

For immediate results this would require buying out those ‘influential’ blogs, stores or websites that cater to a specific genre. Not starting another ‘All-in-One’ store. Before you write to me saying publishers are already doing this; I would agree that yes some are doing it, but on a small scale that only slightly chips away at Amazon without packing a big punch.

HarperCollins is one such example that is now selling books and eBooks directly through vertical portals like Narnia.com. There are other publishers who are also pursuing this option but only on a small scale.

Footnote:
Just a few days after writing this post, news has just come out that Amazon has bought digital comics company comiXology. This just provides even more substance to the above point that Amazon grows through acquisition and understands what is required to continue evolving.

By buying ComiXology, Amazon now has even greater access to authors which is of great benefit to their growing publisher business. They identify those existing companies in a niche market and then go after then to gain access to their readers and authors.