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The Critical Marketing Challenge in Digital Times: What to Work on Next

25 May 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Every publisher with more than a handful of published titles has a daily challenge to assign the marketing resources available to where they will do the most good. Efforts no longer have to be restricted, as they sensibly were until the most recent past, by what titles have inventory in front of customers on store shelves. With more than half of book sales — and for many titles half of the print sales — taking place online, the lack of availability of copies in stores is no longer the insuperable barrier it once was to getting sales when a title has appeal in the marketplace.

In fact, better allocating their marketing resources may well have become the single biggest opportunity for publishers to improve sales in the digital age.

. . . .

What Pete learned through data-driven experimentation, which has been leveraged by OptiQly, is that Amazon reads dozens of ranking signals to determine its own marketing position on any book at any time. So the Amazon product page becomes a window into a title’s online positioning, if you know how to look through it.

From the user’s perspective, OptiQly looks at each book and gives it two “scores”: one for the “brand” (which most of the time means the author’s online footprint and credibility) and one for the “product”, which is the book itself. The higher the score, the more likely the product is to be successful within the online retail environment.

. . . .

OptiQly looks at the ecosystem outside of Amazon — as Amazon itself does — to find out whether there is interest in the title and the brand. But then it looks inside Amazon to see if people can find the title and whether it is positioned correctly. As Ruszala explains it, the book’s Amazon “page” is its storefront where the title can be — metaphorically — face out at eye level or spined on an ankle-level shelf.

Amazon is trying to put the most appealing title for you in front of you, and what Amazon considers the most appealing titles are merchandised directly by Amazon in a variety of ways, guaranteeing an uptick in sales, with no added marketing expense to the publisher.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Big Publishing, Mike Shatzkin

18 Comments to “The Critical Marketing Challenge in Digital Times: What to Work on Next”

  1. “… the lack of availability of copies in stores is no longer the insuperable barrier it once was …”

    Too bad that same lack is killing off all those bookstores.

    “Every publisher with more than a handful of published titles has a daily challenge to assign the marketing resources available to where they will do the most good.”

    Hey now, Mike, we know they don’t do that; they’re more likely to blow their dough donating to an ex (or wannabe) pres than to actually pay writers that might actually come up with a hit. And marketing? They spend that on bragging about those ex-pres and what they think/hope/pray will be their .0001%ers, not on any midlist/new writers/books.

  2. Shatzkin is selling his OptiQly product (he’s one of the OptiQly “team”). In this post, to the Big 5 (4,3,2…). In his earlier post (http://www.idealog.com/blog/authors-need-help-digital-presence-still-not-getting/), to agents and groups of authors.
    It will be interesting to see what fish bite, how much it costs, and, when there’s more info, what Kris Rusch and DataGuy think about this. Optiq.ly hints that a version for independent authors is coming in the fall. Let me guess that anyone who can afford it doesn’t need it.

  3. This bothers me.

    “For six years, Pete ran a marketing innovation lab for Random House (before the Penguin merger). He had a staff, a decent budget, the biggest list of commercial books in the world and the assigned mission to “figure out how books will be sold in the future”.

    At Random House, and following that, through dozens of consulting projects with a variety of publishers, Pete conducted hundreds, if not thousands, of experiments. He developed a pretty thoroughly articulated picture of how Amazon reacted to a wide variety of stimuli.”

    Let me get this straight. Working with publishing houses, they didn’t study their metrics from bookstores, or from customer behavior. They studied Amazon and what Amazon does. I mean, yes, that’s logical, but these are the same people touting expertise in B&M marketing and claiming expertise in knowing (or intuiting) what readers want (and will want.). Yet here they are basically vamping off/relying on/a prisoner to Amazon’s work and will simply set up a feed back loop that will amp!ify Amazon’s marketing decisions, i.e. give even more control over marketing to Amazon.

    • I think they accidentally admitted Amazon is far, far ahead of them, so they spend their time trying to figure out Amazon’s magic.

      • Felix J. Torres

        Remember, these days BPH print runs are determined by Amazon pre-orders. So what Mr. Pete was most likely doing was correlating Amazon preorders to launch window sales. It fits the time period…

        • Steven Zacharius

          Felix, I don’t know what your comment is based on, but all print runs are based on getting orders in advance of printing. Publishers don’t print books without orders in hand. Their reps solicit orders from all of the accounts and then factor in a guess for replenishment of sales.

          • It’s based on this: and “As for print, Amazon controls 64 percent of sales of printed books online.” since in your words: “all print runs are based on getting orders in advance of printing.” With the shelf space in bookstores shrinking, how much influence do retailers offline really have on print run and how large percent of all pre-orders do they represent? For Kensington, except for a rare authors, I don’t believe it’s even a double digit. But you tell me.

            • Felix J. Torres


              Since Amazon has much lower returns, their data has more weight with the BPHs than the over-ordering B&M stores.

              The need for Amazon pre-orders is why Hachette finally stopped dragging tbeir feet and started negotiating during their oh-so-public catfight.

            • Steven Zacharius

              Elka, Amazon is one component of the print run. One of maybe 10 major accounts. And depending on the formats and genres that you publish, they may not be a big percentage of your business. In Kensington’s business which is heavily geared toward mass market books, Amazon is under 10% of our print orders. Of course they make up a larger percentage of ebooks because of that though. All retailers carry the same exact weight when coming up with the print order. Amazon is a demand retailer. If they don’t have the stock, they will get it from Ingram, Baker & Taylor or Bookazine for immediate resupply. Or the’ll have those accounts send out the books for them directly in an amazon carton. Readers wouldn’t know the difference. So for us, it’s the other pieces of the retail physical book business that is much larger than Amazon’s business. WalMart, Target, B&N, Books-A-Million, Hudson News for airports, Ingram, etc.

              • Nobody said that Amazon is the only one online business that sells printed books, it’s just that it’s the biggest. The fact that you via retailer that controls 64% of online printed books market only sell 10% of your books, sounds like you’re missing out on quite a lot of books sales. You should do something about it, for your authors’ sake.

                It would be interesting to learn how much of that 90% of Kensington printed books business is sold offline? And how many of Kensington authors in year, in percent, are available in WalMart, Target and Hudson News for airports? Because you make it sounds like all are or a large percent is, but we both know that’s not the case. Like we also know that not all Kensington books, despite being listed in Ingram, see the inside of bookstore, don’t we?

                • Steven Zacharius

                  Almost all of our mm books are available in WalMart. We are their second largest seller of mm. Many of our trade titles are carried their and target as well as of course BN and other accounts. No indie store carries all books. They don’t have the room or the market for all of them. Hence online stores. Amazon is a demand retailer. They take what they can sell and they order resupply from the publisher or a wholesaler. This is not a matter of doing better with Amazon for the authors. They will order every book and sell and reorder as necessary. Almost 100% of our books are available for sale at any account. Airports only take what they think will be an impulse buy for their customers. Ingram and Baker carry everything and will sell to libraries and all indies. Of course not all indies order every book. Online sales from almost any other retailer are insignificant. There are very few in the print world. Digital is different.

                • @ Zacharius
                  I find it interesting that you didn’t say almost all of our authors but mm books.

                  I would be ever enlightening to learn how large percent of your authors falls into “almost all of our mm books,” since from my personal experience the large percent of printed books published by trade publishers available in offline stores in including Walmart, Target, etc, represent only a small percent of publishers’ authors, so it would be interesting to learn how many authors those “almost all of your mm books” present for your publishing house.

              • Felix J. Torres

                We know Kensington is different from the BPHs *we* are discussing (the so-called Big5) because you were never named in the Agency Conspiracy Trial (good for you!). But, by the same token, Kensington ethics, practices, and results are not necessarily reflective of the known behavior and outcomes of the BPHs.

                It is a known fact that the BPHs are much more dependent on Amazon than other, smaller publishers. The degree varies but we’ve seen credible reports that put Hachette at over 70% Amazon dependence.

                It is also a known fact that the BPHs are actively transitioning away from mass market paperback originals which means they will have a different distribution pattern than publishers that rely more heavily on mass market. (The NYT factored that into their latest list engineering: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/72605-new-york-times-cuts-a-range-of-bestseller-lists.html)

                Fact is, it makes perfect sense to scale your initial print run to some proprietary multiple of the pre-orders of the distributor moving over half the product, a distributor with very low return rates, and a distributor known to have a deeper than average understanding of consumer behavior. At least it does if you are Hachette and its ilk.

                This may not reflect your reality but it does reflect their observed behavior and results.

                • Steven Zacharius

                  Felix, Hachette does not have anywhere close to 70% of their bus Ness dependent on Amazon. No publisher does unless you’re just referring to eBook sales. But certainly not print. Also RH was not involved in the agency pricing lawsuit although Penguin was. But they weren’t one company at that time.

                  All publishers regardless of size work the same way. We solicit orders based on the buyers seeing covers of the books, learning about the books and comparative sales of other titles. This happens six months before the pub date approximately. All of the orders come in about three months prior to pub date. We then add inventory and voila. We have a print run and watch sales rate in hopes of having to reprint.

            • Steven Zacharius

              You are way off base. And preorders don’t exist in the retail store model. Stores order the books but that is not a sale like it is on Amazon. But for almost all of our books the major print retailers would represent double digit percentages of any single author. There aren’t that many accounts left.

  4. “In fact, better allocating their marketing resources may well have become the single biggest opportunity for publishers to improve sales in the digital age.”

    Uh, maybe the Big 5 should consider non-gouging, non-predatory pricing of ebooks as a sales improvement strategy, too.

    Just sayin’ 🙂

  5. I don’t understand what OptiQly is offering. It’s all fluffy marketing speak with no substance. My guess is it’s another metadata tweaking con, same as his other failed attempts.

  6. They’ve got a brand-name problem. I don’t know which came first, but there’s an optiiq.ly streaming media company.


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