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 content sites.
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 are not.
"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 hopes.)
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 sales:
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 now.
-> 2. DRM: Protecting your copyright
Which brings us to the one subject many publishers are fretting most about: DRM (digital rights management) and protecting copyright.
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 author.")
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 cookies.
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 copy length.
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
The views and opinions expressed in the articles of this website are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect in any way the views of MarketingSherpa, its affiliates, or its employees.