Both the supply chain and book marketing are forever changed by Coronavirus

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

Just before the world changed, about five months ago on February 18th, we wrote in this space about two initiatives that made sense for all publishers to employ to raise revenues and profits.

One was Ingram’s Guaranteed Availability Program (GAP), which connects their Lightning print-on-demand capability to their ability to ship within 24 hours, delivering just about any quantity of books to justabout any account in the world. With just about any return address you want on the package. By mid-April, it was clear that the supply chain was already adjusting.

The other was Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program, a highly automated way to sharply improve the performance of ebook titles. The tactics employed include metadata improvements, pricing adjustments, search-optimized discovery that brings in tens of thousands of new readers every day, 8 unique newsletters touching millions of consumers (about whom more and more is known every day), and an array of genre-specific websites that funnel readers to books they love. Building this capability involved many thousands of ebooks tracked across millions of consumers for more than five years.

Both of these capabilities required tens of thousands of titles, millions of dollars of focused investment, and laboriously constructed system support to build. Ignition required a commitment to build an automated marketing effort that works across many thousands of titles. This is not a good fit with a publishing business model that has always focused on a few new titles, not the thousands on the backlist, with dedicated efforts that are largely driven by hands-on human marketers.

It is not likely that any publisher, even the very biggest ones, could build what Ingram and Open Road have created. But beyond whether they could, it is even less likely that they would.  It took Ingram seven years to make Lightning Print efficient and tie it to “third party distribution”, the ability to ship the book “as” coming from somebody else. And Open Road, by dedicating massive marketing resources to build an automated capability that hardly connects at all to the marketing that publishers have always done, built something that it is almost impossible to imagine any of the biggest publishers shifting their focus to attempt.

The timing of the February 18 piece was accidentally prophetic. The world of publishing pretty much shut down less than a month after it was written. It is evident to many publishers that Ingram’s GAP capability has been a lifesaver. In a recent week, five of the top ten New York Times paperback bestsellers were being printed by Lightning. Those publishers know that they wouldn’t have been able to grab those sales with the normal book supply chain.

. . . .

Indeed, sales at Ignition are up 75% in the four months since we published that first piece. Forced lockdowns are good for online sales, and especially good for ebook sales.

. . . .

Publishers market manually. They use humans to examine their metadata and change it. They assign titles to marketers, who are charged with making them more visible to buyers and today that means online visibility for online buyers. They are experts at “publicity”, which means getting their titles featured to other people’s audiences. They have, to varying degrees, built lists of book consumers they can address directly with newsletters and emails. Some have “vertical” websites that give them billboards to feature their books.

But all of those devices are applied book-by-book by human marketers who are directed, intentional, intelligent, and extremely limited in how many moves they can make and how many titles they can touch. And, therefore, very expensive.

This is a very poor match even for a publisher with 5,000 or 10,000 titles on their backlist. The publishers’ standard approach is not at all useful for lists of 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 titles. And that’s why what Open Road has created, the only truly automated book marketing program in the industry, is of such extraordinary value. And unless two or three very big publishers get together to build something that will require millions of dollars and years of work as a joint effort, that will not change.

. . . .

For a variety of reasons, the biggest publishers have been the slowest to join the party. For one thing, Ignition is designed for large and difficult-to-manage backlists. Even though it works for new titles as well, it performs a function — marketing backlist — that publishers with enormous lists built over decades always got along without. The reflex reaction of a publisher seeing the virtue in marketing backlist (and, in the online sales era, everybody does) is to do it the time-honored way: allocating scarce (for backlist) marketing resources where they would seem to provide the most benefit.

Link to the rest at The Idea Logical Company blog

PG will lay out the problem with big publishers.

They don’t really want to change.

And, if a Big Publishing CEO takes a wiggle toward change that costs any significant amount of money, the large international conglomerates that own four out of the five largest US publishers (ViacomCBS, which is all about TV and video, owns the fifth), will shut down that foolishness in a New York Minute or a Gütersloh Minute (Bertelsmann), Paris Minute (Lagardère), Stuttgart Minute (Holtzbrinck) or a New York Minute with an Australian accent (News Corp).

In these conglomerates, publishers play the strategic role of cash cows (not terribly fat cash cows, but, still cash cows). If conglomerate management wants to take a flyer on risky booming growth and capital appreciation, it will invest in something in Silicon Valley through its separate venture capital investment arm. No book persons will be involved.

Furthermore, to the best of PG’s knowledge, none of the five conglomerates which own the Big Five US publishers have made even baby waves in the tech world. The founders of next Google or next Amazon are not looking for money in Stuttgart. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Jose are just a few freeway exits away and everybody there is already fluent in geekspeak and moving very fast is how those investors thrive and survive.

PG hadn’t heard about Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program as mentioned in the OP.

However a quick look gave him the impression that the organization is primarily a collection of book-oriented e-newsletters – see Our Portfolio.

The company touts:

Ebook Promotions

Feature your books in a newsletter that reaches over 1 million book lovers looking for their next favorite read.

Content Marketing

Showcase your brand, product or creator on one of our targeted digital properties. Smart, search-first, audience-focused opportunities.

Maybe there’s some magic juice happening behind the scenes, but Early Bird Books, the company’s largest email newsletter with a claimed circulation of 2.6 million doesn’t seem too special:

Early Bird Books provides a great service to ebook aficionados looking for free and discounted ebooks written by authors they love—and by others that they’re willing to try at a special price.

The Early Bird Books web and social channels provide fun articles, book lists, product recommendations, and other highly relevant content to keep consumers engaged on all of their devices.

Email newsletters, social media marketing and search-engine optimization are standard vanilla services, provided by any number of internet marketing agencies. Analyzing the results of such activities typically comes with the package as well.

But this may be news for New York publishers.