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Is Customization the Answer for Boosting D2C Publisher Sales?

31 August 2013

From Publishing Perspectives:

Nearly every publisher is chasing the direct-to-consumer market. But the question for consumers has always been, “why should I buy a book direct from a publisher at full price when I can buy the same book from an online retailer, such as Amazon or Overstock, at a deep discount?” The answer is likely to be this: personalization and customization.

This can take a variety of forms. To cite just one example, Illinois-based Sourcebooks offers the Put Me in the Story app, which allows parents to personalize a selection of Sourcebooks titles, as well as licensed material from Sesame Street and The Berenstein Bears, by making their child a character within the text.

. . . .

The question remains “what happens when publishers begin offering even more radical personalization and customization?” Imagine the potential of a Big Five trade house offering you the opportunity to choose your binding (leather, cloth or paperback), typeface, font size, trim size, even color of the book, adding whatever options you want, and having it POD drop-shipped to your house in a day or two (see: Nike ID). Maybe you want the entire run of Penguin Classics in pocket-sized editions made to look like Moleskine notebooks? The technology already exists, but the question is how to leverage it on a large enough scale that it becomes a disruptive force. (Want to steal back customers from Amazon, this may be the way to get it done.)

. . . .

Raccah says that Sourcebooks expects by the end of 2014 at least 20% of the firm’s sales will be the result of direct-to-consumer transactions. That said, she counterintuitively adds, rather than perceiving so many sales shifting to D2C as a problem for her retail partners, who might view those transactions as lost sales, it’s really an “advantage.”

“The stuff we’re selling online is not typically stuff that could be sold in a retail environment,” she says. “For example, we might sell complementary materials that are exclusively available via our retail partners, which would bring them new customers that the didn’t have before because they were only buying online.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Eric for the tip.

PG says the last part of the article raises an interesting issue for publishers despite the hand-waving by Sourcebooks’ CEO. Going direct-to-consumer doesn’t just cut Amazon out of the sale. It also cuts physical bookstores out of the sale.


35 Comments to “Is Customization the Answer for Boosting D2C Publisher Sales?”

  1. Offer your customers the opportunity to be one of the characters in your book. Have a list of characters with a brief description. Make sure your software can do a Project replace (Scrivener does), and include First Name, Last name, middle name/initial, and nickname options.

    Might be a real big seller for romances! Would probably work for detectives.

    I have no idea what it would do to copyrights, but what a birthday present.

  2. So basically they want to turn books into RPGs without any sort of combat system or decision tree? Yeah, that’s going to save big pub.

    The idea of customizable high-end book production, though, that sounds pretty cool. How long do you think until CreateSpace or another POD company offers that?

  3. JFC. Have they ever once thought of using Amazon as a tool to sell more books? Surely the strategies that indie authors have used to great success are open to traditional publishers as well? Modify them if need be, but accept that publishers don’t control what the retail landscape looks like, and then adapt.

    I’m so confident that traditional publishers are fundamentally unable to do this that I’m actually willing to talk about it on the internet.

  4. The phrase “Dreaming in Technicolor” comes to mind. When you do all that customizing you lose your big, low-unit-cost, print runs – and thus your (big) margins. Ain’t gonna happen – not from Big Pub.

  5. They’re assuming that people still want physical books. That might be true in some cases but I don’t see it on a large scale.

  6. Why stop there? Why not customize fiction to specific tastes? Choose what type of ending you want; which gender of character; which gender of love interest; which level of explicitness of violence and sex and language; setting; type of prose (transparent vs. poetic) etc.

    • That already exists, WHM. It’s called “browsing”. 🙂

      • Yes, but that ‘browsing’ thing leaves control of the actual story in the hands of those dreadful writers. We need to hammer them down and make them into good little assembly-line widget producers who will do exactly as they are told. If someone wants The Brothers Karamazov to be about a 10-year-old girl from Indiana and her pet beagle, and to have a scene on a Ferris wheel and a happy ending, then Dostoevsky must comply.

      • I know. I was being a bit sarcastic. But here’s the thing: with a few exceptions, the browsing experience is pathetic in terms of what we learn about the creative works (and how those can be surfaced via search terms/category browsing). Even Amazon’s is limited, and it’s far better than B&N or the publisher’s own websites.

  7. Low priced books from Amazon is what kills the book stores. Customization doesn’t come cheap, and it will be a POD book. We already have POD books, which are more expensive than mass printed books. Small publishers may be able to do this, maybe. Or in partnership with specialized book stores with POD capabilities. Not the Big Pubs. For them is either printing books like cookie stamping, or they’re finished.

  8. Small niche market. There is no such thing as “the answer” to anything.

    • Especially when it’s the answer to a question nobody asked. 🙂
      They keep looking for magic bullets…

  9. If we take a short step back in time to the introduction of ebooks and how the regular book was going to be dead because software could be written into the book set up in such a way that there could be choices, yes or no options, for the reader as the reading went on through the book and the reader would take an option in the plot one way and then take another option and send the plot another way. Read any of those lately ?

  10. Customised books like these have been around for ages. I had one of those as a child, featuring (I think) Sesame Street characters.

  11. Well, it’s happening now, on a small scale. It will probably continue in the future. Once print becomes a specialty item, small on-line stores might offer specialty print books like this.

    I honestly don’t know if there would be a market for specialty e-books. I doubt it, because of the competition – if someone offered a specialty e-book outside of Amazon, someone could come up with the same thing and offer it on Amazon, with a much greater discoverability factor.

    The primary reason this won’t work for Publishers now is it would be expensive if they wanted this to be a major seller, i.e. advertising costs. You’d have to find a way to let the reader know about it, if you wanted to provide it to a large consumer base. But I haven’t seen any signs Publishers are willing to front the millions of dollars of advertising it would require to build a brand and lure readers directly.

    Your point, PG, about the bookstore, is an excellent one, too. I will say, though, I’m a little confused about Publishers stance re. bookstores. They seem to go back and forth. The recent idiotic boycott of Barnes and Noble by one of the Big Five (was it MacMillion) is a good example of that. I don’t know if they think indie bookstores will save them, or they can make it in the on-line world, or what? Their strategy here baffles me.

    • It was S&S that B&N was at war with, and it wasn’t a boycott by S&S; it was B&N refusing to stock S&S midlist titles to try to squeeze bigger “promotional” funding.
      After close to a year the staring contest ended. Whether one side or the other blinked is unclear.

      • @ Felix – that’s right, it was S&S! No idea why I would get one Publisher confused with another.

        I know B&N did their thing, but I’m pretty sure S&S came back with a boycott….

        • Oh, the “no author signings” thing?
          Yeah, they did “counterattack”.
          I guess we could call it a boycott…
          …if anybody besides the authors noticed.
          I always found it amusing that outside the industry media nobody noticed the great “war” between those “titans”.

  12. Fifty Shades of Barbara? In a special wink-wink leather bound edition with complimentary handcuffs and hot sauce. But wait! Act now and you can get two copies for the price of one! One for you and one for Mom on Mother’s Day. Just pay extra shipping and handling (more winking).


  13. I think there would be a market for receiving the book before official release date. If prepaying for HOT RELEASE through BigPublisher.com got the reader Favo Rite Author’s book a week before it showed up from Amazon… there are people who’d pay full price to get it.

    • Oh, there is.
      BAEN has for years been selling eARCs at a hefty premium over their regular releases. But the buyer gets it three months before the print edition ships, not a mere week.

      • And I’ve been buying those for years… Generally getting both the eARC to read immediately and the print copy later.

        I don’t get why others haven’t copied the model.

        • You have to care about your readers and authors, first.
          Once you care about their interests you can proceed to serve them and get paid for the privilege.
          eArcs, omnibus editions, multi-author bundles, free ebooks to promote series…
          Customer behavior isn’t hard to fathom *if* you make at least a token effort instead of randomly throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks.

  14. Most people don’t want to have to enter their credit card information at a million different sites. Guess who already has mine.

    • Exactly. I’d have to want something very badly to even consider giving another store any personal information, let alone my credit card information.

      Actually, I think I would have to NEED something rather than WANT something before doing so. I’d rather do without than open another account.

  15. I’ve been wishing for years that POD would take advantage of the specialty edition possibilities, but I never thought publishers would be the platform. Why shouldn’t bookstores work directly with POD technology to offer boutique editions? Then customers could create whole libraries to their tastes, rather than relying on options offered by the book’s publisher.

    As for using POD to deliver options in direct-to-reader sales, how did that work out when Cory Doctorow did it years ago?

  16. Wow! So exciting, a radically new technical innovation to deliver a whole new experience to consumers…

    From the people who can’t nail down the basics of book formatting and uploading and who, like parents looking up slang terms to decipher their kids code words, just figured out what indies mean when they say meta.

    Ok. I’m waiting in line already 😛

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