New products demand new ways of thinking. Right now, most publishing houses are creating “straight conversions” of their content in order to make it available on eReader devices. Others have begun to think about functionality and how they can improve the user experience of reading eBooks. But, what about marketing having a say in product development?
The current print cycle goes something like this: editorial acquires a “title”, receives a manuscript which they then edit (with everything that entails), then sends said manuscript to production who oversees copyediting and typesetting. Production subsequently shuttles the manuscript to manufacturing. In the meantime, the design group is designing a cover which ends up in at manufacturing at the same time as the manuscript does. Some time around the production and manufacturing phases (often depending on the title) marketing and publicity start a campaign to raise awareness and promote the title. Many times, sales result for the marketing department’s ability to get the book into the right hands (read: in the hands of reviewers) and for the requisite buzz to be created in the market place. Sadly, the same seems to be the process with eBook production.
What if we started using the functionality offered to us by eBooks and eReaders in a strategic way? In fact, even minor changes made to metadata for eBooks and small considerations from the marketing department before the development phase of an eBook can boost sales.
Some things to consider
- SEO: How can you heighten searchability of eBook titles through data, content and metadata? With a digital product, you have to consider that the only distribution will be online, which is governed by rules of search. Consumers are not going to find your book just because it’s there; like any other web property, you must drive traffic to your eBooks in order for them to sell. Whether we are selling direct to consumer on your website or through Amazon, Sony, BN.com or Apple, it is imperative that we as publishers lead our consumers to our products. Upon quick glance: titles should be adapted for search optimization, metadata should be vetted by marketing for SEO opportunities and tweaking, content itself should be optimized for search. Ideally, the entirety of eBooks content would be written with SEO principles in mind. While this is not always possible, many times new introductions, epilogues, postscripts, conclusions and connective matter are created for eBooks that are different from their print counterparts. These items can be exploited. It is also possible to hide keywords in the proverbial front- and back-matter, regardless of where they appear in an eBook.
- BISAC: If you are considering SEO and product development, BISAC just became your best friend. For a publisher’s print business, BISAC is important to ensure that your book is shelved in the right place in a bricks and mortar retail store. But, when there are no shelves, BISAC categories are literally extra bits of information that defines you book, yet rarely will show up on an online retailer’s product page. Every eBook should have three (as) diverse (as possible) yet pertinent BISAC categories, to cover the gamut of possible demographic groups.
- Marketing as content: Can strategic marketing be inserted in between chapters? Is the (incredibly) soft sell an option? How about ‘back ads’? Every eBook, just like it’s print counterpart, has a natural progression with breaks in the text. How can marketing exploit these digital nooks and crannies to gently remind customers of other products in which they might be interested? This strategy is delicate to execute, but could pay off nicely: if the consumer is oblivious to you marketing to them in this way, you’re doing it right.
- Customization: While it seems that no one has been able to collect substantial user data yet, data is coming and it’s coming quickly. Publishers are beginning to crack the nut of what could be a proverbial treasure trove of user data. As new data and user analytics roll in, product development should be consistently (and nimbly) adapting to integrate trends and stay ahead of future developments. Data analysis and market research leads to better understanding our customer; this is our opportunity to deliver a truly customized product. Also, what about custom bundling of products with other products or other formats? The technology needed to offer dynamic bundling is possible now.
- Bridging the gap: The eBook market is a virtual playground for experimentation and innovation within our business. While editorial may be experimenting with new contracts and royalty structures, marketing should be experimenting with new ways of reaching audiences, growing audiences and maintaining audiences. New opportunities present themselves every day, new technology makes things possible that was not possible just one week before. One area that has huge potential is the offline-online campaign; combining components and both offline and online elements to create a truly interactive campaign. This is something that has yet to be done in a successful way, and is an area of almost infinite opportunity with regards to digital products.
- Incentives and loyalty: eBooks are a great way of creating brand loyalty: the cost of entry is low and the the delivery method simple and cost-free (for all intents and purposes). In regards to their customers, more then ever, publishers should consider putting the next product in their hand. Why not offer two for one? Or offer a survey which leads to data gathering and better demographic information? Because of the costs involved, we can not only afford to give away free copies of our eBooks, but we are teaching our customers to come back to us for digital products when they are ready for more.
In terms of digital books, the rules have yet to be defined. While the marketing department may not have had such breadth of reach into product development in the past, it’s time to start breaking the conventional rules of print publishing and experiment beyond anything that we ever dreamed possible with print matter. The ideas laid out above are merely the tip of the iceberg of what can and should be possible within our new digital business plans. It seems that the greatest barrier to entry to becoming strategic digital publishers is getting past the “that’s the way it’s always been done” sentiment. However, the major flaw in that argument is this: when it comes to eBooks there is no “way it’s always been done.” It’s the wild wild West, now go and find some gold.