Books, instant reports, PDFs, eBooks, eDocs, article
compilations, one-offs, etc. Whatever you call them, books in any
format are a significant source of ancillary revenue to many
Publishers who focus on ad sales have told us they expect 2-5% of
their overall revenues to come from book sales to their audience.
Subscription-focused sites can make a much higher amount (sometimes 10-25% of revenues) because they already have a
relationship with and database of content buyers. For
tightly niched email newsletter publishers (such as
MarketingSherpa) book sales may be the lion's share of revenues.
Mary Westheimer, President BookZone, has been helping book and
ebook publishers market online since 1994. Currently more than
3,500 publishers use her services. We interviewed her this week
to get some useful tips on which formats sell best, overcoming
DRM hassles, and improving online marketing.
-> 1. Print vs. electronic: Which format sells best online?
The short answer is print, by 80%. Westheimer advises
publishers that while you are fussing about format, most buyers
"Delivery method is secondary. The value and benefit to them is
the information. If I want info, I'm going to go online and try
to find it, then ask, 'great, how is it sold, can I get it
delivered?' Publishers make a mistake when they think they are
selling books. They are not. They are selling information or
entertainment. When they begin to look at what they own that
way, they can see other ways to slice, dice, and deliver."
eBooks in the most formal sense of the word (i.e. books that may
only be read using an ebook reader) are selling to a small,
highly dedicated audience "very much like audiobooks." Palm is
the most popular format.
Do not expect this market to expand in any big way until someone
starts selling an ebook reader for under $200, and it sells like
hotcakes (i.e. Not anytime soon, although Westheimer has high
However, when you broaden the meaning of 'ebook' out to include
PDFs, HTML, and even Word Docs, that are sold online then the
marketplace is much, much bigger than most official industry
stats even begin to hint at.
"The official numbers are undercounted," notes Westheimer.
"There's this undercurrent, a lot of people who are seeing
successes who are under the radar." Mainly because they are not
divisions of traditional book publishers so traditional stats
people do not count them.
Westheimer sees three big opportunities for overall electronic
a. Sell e-slices
This is an especially huge opportunity in the non-fiction market
because consumers often surf the Web looking for an answer to a
particular question. It ranges from single article sales, to
chapters, to micro-focused reports. Also, by selling a slice,
you are avoiding channel conflict with brick and mortar stores
selling the whole book.
b. Sell an "e-plus-print" package
Instead of making consumers choose either/or, offer them a third
option of getting both the e-version instantly plus the print
delivered in the mail for a special package price. This
satisfies the online shopper who wants instant gratification plus
the comfort of a nicely bound copy.
c. Use e for review copies
If you are spending a lot sending out printed review copies, try
sending e instead. If a particular reviewer really wants print,
give them a $5 or at-cost price for it. Westheimer says some
publishers are testing this in the academic marketplace right
-> 2. DRM: Protecting your copyright
Which brings us to the one subject many publishers are fretting
most about: DRM (digital rights management) and protecting
Westheimer advises several low-cost solutions:
a. Use Psychological DRM
Many copyright abuses are due to people just not knowing better
("You mean I'm not allowed to forward this PDF to my friends?"),
or thinking they are being clever beating a big profit-mongering
company ("Oh, it never occurred to me this also hurts the
In this case, clear friendly communication is your best tactic.
Instead of (or in addition to) your copyright notice in legalese,
add a note explaining the situation clearly both in your online
store, and in the book itself.
b. Update frequently
A stolen copy is not much use if it is obviously outdated. If you
have an update schedule, promote that in the content and even
title of the book so it is clear to people they need to visit your
site for a new edition.
If you sell versions that require being online to view, you can
lock the file to just one single computer per user by using
d. Use deeply personal passwords
If a password is too personal, chances are consumers will not share
them with friends. Westheimer's favorite is using the customer's
credit card number as their password.
You also have the option of using one of the DRM technologies on
the marketplace. However, be forewarned most of these require
that your customers download software to use them which can place
an additional load on your customer service department. Very
high ticket B2B products may want to consider this though.
On the other hand, Westheimer reminds everyone, "One of the least
secure formats is the printed book. All you have to do is scan
it and do OCR." She advises that publishers stop fretting so
much about DRM. "You get drawn away from what you're supposed to
be doing, publishing."
Plus, a few pass-along copies can help your sales because it
spreads the word about your product.
(Note: We can attest to this. Our most "stolen" report ever
which was a password protected PDF also ended up being our best-
seller even though we publish titles on more popular subjects.)
-> 3. Marketing tactics to increase online book sales
Because online and/or books are ancillary for most publishers,
they do not put much energy into marketing, which turns into a
vicious circle of lowered sales. Here are Westheimer's tips on
the three major book marketing topics, long copy, micro-sites,
and niche online bookstores:
a. Long copy
Most publishers write very short copy, a paragraph or two,
especially when placing their book on the virtual shelves of an
online store. However, online you are not limited the way you
would be with a print catalog. Do not artificially limit your
Westheimer says, "It goes back to direct mail principles. You
get an eight page letter and 32 little pieces of paper that fall
out in a typical package. Why? Because your best prospects want
to read more."
"The more information you give them, the more you enable the
buying process. It's human nature. I want enough information so
I can make a buying decision and not be made a fool of. I want
to know I'm doing the right thing by buying this book."
This means, include an author bio, a detailed table of contents,
notes from reviewers, buyer testimonials, lovingly enumerated
benefits, and yes, sample chapters if possible.
"Buying domains is so cheap now, a special mini-site for a book
makes abundant sense irregardless of whether you also have a
store with other books in it. You can cross-pollinate with
links," advises Westheimer.
Plus, according to MarketingSherpa's research, search engine
clicks that land directly on a Web page specifically developed to
convert buyers to the particular item they were searching for,
often get 50% or more higher conversion rates than clicks sent to
more general pages.
Westheimer says while publishers often do a good job with micro-
sites in terms of look and information, they forget a critical
factor: The call to action. Just because "buy the book" is
implicit does not mean you should not add an urgent "buy the book"
to your micro-site.
Also, do not forget to add that call to action to the author bio,
the table of contents, sample downloads, every single page,
not just one page.
c. Niche online bookstores
If you have several books on a single niche topic, also consider
creating a niche store for it. It is far easier to get other Web
sites to link to a niche topic store than a general one. Plus,
your shoppers are more likely to upsell themselves to other
related products, and to return when they need additional items
on the same topic.
Westheimer notes, "There's a guy I know in North Carolina who's
published two books on pipefitting. He built a Web site with
more than 200 additional hard-to-find books on pipe-fitting and
related tools, and he grossed half a million last year and is on
his way to doubling it this year. And he lives on a dirt road."
His site is aptly named, Pipefitter.com
Other niche online bookstores Westheimer praises for smart
tactics include Chinaberry.com who specialize in children's books
and isabellacatalog.com who specialize in women's titles.
Tactics that help them profit include:
- Integrating their inventory, print materials, customer
database, and Web site so the site is never outdated.
- Sending email broadcasts to visitors who have joined their
mailing lists (it is a lot easier for a specialty store to get
people to subscribe to, open, and click on emails than a general
all-purpose bookstore would find it).
- Adding offers during the cart check-out process to encourage
purchases of related items. (If the offer includes a hotlink for
more details, make sure that launches a separate window and
does not take traffic away from the cart.)
- Automating their site's content so that different titles,
testimonials and quotes appear on the home page and other key
pages without a human being having to change things by hand.
Revolving content keeps a site looking fresh more easily.
- Phoning up related sites in a dedicated link building
effort. It is not enough to email a note to 'webmaster@' and
expect them to link back to you anymore. Webmasters are deluged
with these sorts of pleas and generally ignore them.
- Testing PPC relationships with referring sites such as
CatalogCity, Google and Overture
- Long copy (but you already knew that).