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June 27 2012

Direct sales should be a publisher priority

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


We're focusing on retailing topics this month at TOC, and when it comes to digital sales, one of a publisher's highest priorities should be building a strong direct channel. The shift from print to digital means publishers can be less reliant on retailers. Retailers are still an important partner, of course, but the direct channel brings many additional benefits. For example, establishing a direct sales channel is the best way to learn what your customers really want, and Logos Bible Software has done a terrific job on that front. I recently spoke with Logos president & CEO Bob Pritchett (@BobPritchett) about his company's strategy of placing so much emphasis on their direct channel.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Direct doesn't just mean "online" — In addition to their highly successful e-commerce site Logos direct channel includes in-person sales at conferences as well as via a good old-fashioned phone sales team. [Discussed at 00:50.]
  • Selling the network, not the book — This is an innovative approach Logos has pioneered where they take a more holistic approach to their sales efforts and help customers understand the benefit of the entire Logos library, not just an individual title. [Discussed at 1:55.]
  • Customer engagement is the key — Don't assume that if you simply put up an e-commerce site customers will start buying from you. Logos has made significant investments to establish customer dialog and build community. Direct sales are great but sometimes just getting insightful customer feedback is even more valuable. [Discussed at 4:30.]
  • Logos made the shift from retailers to direct — And so can you! Retail represented about 80% of Logos sales initially but Bob realized the changing landscape meant he needed to focus more on the direct channel. As physical bookstores diversify their product mix with gifts and other goods it's time for publishers to diversify their channel mix as well. [Discussed at 5:50.]
  • Can anyone beat Amazon now? — Bob says "absolutely", and he's an Amazon Prime member. He points out the advantage of the in-person experience and focusing on more specialty merchandising. He also notes the Ancestry example, where their content is offered as an online service rather than a book through a retailer. [Discussed at 6:52.]
  • Downward pricing pressure — In many ways, publishers are their own worst enemy when it comes to the race to zero. One answer is to look at selling in different ways. [Discussed at 9:17.]
  • Subscription models — Monthly access to a broad library of digital content is likely to be a much more attractive for many publishers and consumers going forward. The sampling and discovery options with this approach are enticing. The cable TV model, where you get basic channels and pay more for certain packages, is also one we can learn from. [Discussed at 15:09.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
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June 13 2012

For many publishers, direct sales is an untapped opportunity

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Our June TOC theme is retailing, and there's never been a more important time for publishers to build a direct sales channel for their customers. Far too many publishers still ignore this opportunity, claiming their existing retail partners already do a good job and they don't want to compete with them. That should put a smile on the faces of the biggest book retailers who are only too happy to compete with publishers by creating and distributing their own content.

OR Books isn't like these other publishers. I recently spoke with company co-founder John Oakes (@johnghoakes) about the importance of a direct-to-consumer channel and why OR Books has made it a priority.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Start by scrapping distribution & production — It's a classic example of how a startup isn't weighed down by The Innovator's Dilemma; OR Books is an alternative publisher in many ways. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Requires title-specific marketing — Because OR's books cover many different genres, they have to develop unique marketing campaigns for each rather than just trying to get a bunch of copies stocked at a retailer. [Discussed at 2:07.]
  • Another DRM-free advocate — Despite the fact that all OR Books products are sold DRM-free, John points out that piracy has never been an issue for them. [Discussed at 4:07.]
  • Non-returnable, prepaid basis — Those are the terms OR Books has with print book retailers. It probably means they don't get huge placement, but it also eliminates the pain and expense of returns. [Discussed at 6:30.]
  • Less gambling, more hand-selling — John feels there's still an important role for brick-and-mortar retailers, but they need to change their purchase and selling models. [Discussed at 10:55.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

Related:


November 23 2011

Why publishers should build direct sales channels

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Building a direct sales channel is still one of the most significant opportunities many publishers still have in front of them. Some have resisted up to now, fearful of rocking the boat with their retailer partners. O'Reilly has done a terrific job building a direct channel. In this TOC video podcast, we hear from the head of O'Reilly's online and marketing groups, Allen Noren (@allennoren). He shares his opinions on deep discount campaigns, membership programs and how to compete globally, especially in fixed-pricing countries like Germany.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • What drives direct ebook sales success? — In addition to having a great brand and knowing your audience, the ecosystem you build and your relationship with your customers are both critical. [Discussed at the 0:48 mark.]
  • Don't just think that if you build it, they'll come — Why would a customer buy from you rather than, say, from Amazon? You have to offer much, much more than just a set of catalog pages. [Discussed at 3:15.]
  • The reality is, "we live in a Walmart world" — We can wish deep discount models would go away but it's even more important to embrace those models and see what can be learned from them. [Discussed at 4:16.]
  • Are we training our customers to expect these deep discounts? — Deep discount deals need to go one-off purchases. It's just another mechanism to bring customers in and the expectation is they'll discover other products as well. [Discussed at 7:15.]
  • Converting a one-off sale into something more — Allen talks about how "verticals" are the key. [Discussed at 10:08.]
  • What can we learn from the fixed-price territories? — Plenty! You're forced to come up with other ways of getting the sale when price is no longer an advantage. [Discussed at 13:45.]


  • Membership has more value than one-off, deep discounts — Allen talks about the different types of membership programs. Which one is best for your company? [Discussed at 17:10.]
  • What's the solution to the discoverability problem? — Learning paths are one solution, particularly when your customers see the value they offer for their personal growth and careers. [Discussed at 20:06.]
  • Where does Allen look for insight and innovation? — One of the keys here, he says, is to focus outside our industry. [Discussed at 26:34.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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