The process of selling books has not changed much in many years. Publishers publish books that are sold through bookstores to their customers. Granted, the arrival of Amazon.com altered the dynamics of the playing field, but it is still the same field.
Some publishers think more strategically and try to break from this crowded turf by differentiating their content from competitive titles. But that is still not enough. Long-term success will not be achieved through product differentiation alone, where the focus remains on the book and competitive titles. This strategy is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
A smaller group of entrepreneurial publishers recognizes that long-term business growth comes from content differentiation, and using it to generate fresh demand in new markets. Few publishers make this transition because of their need to conform to “the way it’s always been done.” This self-induced trance becomes an impediment to progress, and will eventually crush the possibility of significant long-term expansion.
The payoff to developing new markets for your content can be enormous. Consider the difference between Apple and Microsoft. Between 2001 and 2015 Apple has made significant moves to create or enter new markets by introducing the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, the App Store, the iPad and the iWatch (and soon, online television). Its sales and profits increased massively. Over the same period Microsoft’s revenue went from nearly five times that of Apple to about half of Apple’s. Close to 80% of its profits resulted from two businesses (Windows and Office) with no compelling market-creating moves.
It is difficult to step out of one’s comfort zone and go against ingrained assumptions to think about how books could be sold. But here are a few things that you can do to develop new sales opportunities without causing undue mental stress or discomfort.
1. Focus on your non-customers. Book sellers focus on their customers — the people who have always purchased (or could purchase) their books. Their sales are limited to the number of people in that group. Conversely, market-busters think about the people who do not buy their products, and why they do not.Think back to 2006 when Sony introduced its ebook reader (the Portable Reader System). Their goal was to open the e-reader market to a broader base. They researched e-reader customers who were dissatisfied with the size and display quality of the existing selection. Sony introduced a thin device with an easy-to-read screen. Yet, Sony lost the battle to Amazon’s Kindle because it failed to understand why people were not buying e-readers – the shortage of worthwhile books to read. Amazon understood this and offered four times the selection available from Sony’s reader and captured the market.
Instead of dwelling on why people buy your books through bookstores, think about prospective buyers who are not purchasing your content. How could people in corporations, associations or schools use the information in your books to help them solve a problem?
2. Focus on commonalities, not differences. Defining the needs of buyers in ever-narrowing niches is not the same as identifying new markets. The latter often requires de-segmentation by defining key commonalities across buyer groups. This creates differences in strategies and tactics.
Here is an example of applying this to book marketing. When selling my book, Job-Search 101, I initially sought to define niches — graduating college students, high-school students, blue-collar workers, unemployed people who were 55 or more in age – and tried to sell to them with different approaches. But the common element across all these niches was that people wanted a secure future and a source of that security as quickly as possible. I changed my promotional strategy to address this subtle difference and increased my sales, revenue, and profits.
3. Do not confuse the terms “book” and “content.” People do not buy books per se, they purchase what the information in the book will do for them. With non-fiction they purchase wealth gain (success), weight loss (beauty) or health (longevity). Fiction readers want relaxation, distraction, a sense of romance or adventure.
4. Capture a leadership position in your new market. When Job Search 101 was first published, I could have sold it through bookstores and gone head-to-head with the entrenched market leader, What Color Is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles. I knew that would be a difficult battle to win.
Instead, I sought to gain a foothold in new segments, then build my name-recognition and product line to create a leadership position. I began selling Job Search 101 to buyers in other markets who could benefit from my content. These included academic markets and state governments. I began conducting on-site presentations and workshops as well as personal consulting. When I introduced new titles (Coping With Unemployment and Help Wanted Inquire Within), people purchased them with little hesitation because I had established a reputation as a reputable supplier with unique and valuable content.
Similarly, I soon determined that little job-search information was available to Hispanic job seekers. I had Job Search 101 translated into Spanish (Elementos basicos para buscar trabajo) and captured a leadership position in a non-competitive market.
5. Sell in new markets more profitably, even at a low selling price. When selling to non-retail buyers in corporations and associations, sales are made directly to the people making the purchase decision. There are no fees for distributors. Discounts are based upon the number of books ordered, sometimes with no discount for small quantities. And when selling to non-retail buyers, books are sold on a non-returnable basis and the buyers pay the shipping charges. With these lower costs you can sell your books at a lower price but more profitably than if sold through bookstores or other retail stores.
You do not have to abandon bookstores to pursue a strategy of entrepreneurial publishing. Expand upon your core business to develop additional revenue streams. This long-term strategy for business growth does not necessarily entail a different physical product, nor must you find new ways to differentiate your content from competitive titles. It requires marketing to new buyers, communicating to them all the ways in which they will benefit from your content, in terms that are important to them.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books.