Some suggestions for traditional publishers

Some suggestions for traditional publishers

The agency model has recently caused a significant restructuring in your relationship with readers (and people who buy books…not always the same, of course).

You are now selling directly to customers through your sales agents (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony).  I just wanted to make a few suggestions to you about the perceptions out there, and what you can do about them.

First, does the perception of you matter?  Sure…that’s often more important than the facts are.  If your price is perfectly reasonable but people perceive it as high, that’s a problem.

Oh, and let me tell you a bit about why I’m giving this to you.  I’m a former bookstore manager.  I like publishers.  :)  I have some sense of what you do, and I have some sense of what works with brick-and-mortar customers.

I’m also an independent author in the Kindle store, and a blogger.  Technically, that makes me a publisher, in a teeny, tiny way.

I’m pretty plugged into the Amazon Kindle community (yes, there is one).  I also deal with other e-book areas…while I may love my Kindle, I don’t limit my knowledge or interests to that.  I love books, and I do think e-books are generally a step forward.

So, a few suggestions:

Tell people what you do

Many e-book buyers out there have no real sense of your role in the world.  They think they know what authors do, and they have had interactions with the retailers.  They don’t know what you do that is good for them: how you support authors with advances, take chances on lesser-known authors, publish some things you know won’t be bestsellers. 

They need to know that their favorite books wouldn’t exist without you.

“We bring you Stephen King”

Get authors to talk about the collaborative nature of your relationship with them.  People need to know that authors work with the publishers (editors/proof-readers/layout) to create the book.  Have authors talk about their relationships with their publishers.  I’ve seen that happen here, and it’s powerful.  When Anne Rice says she likes her publisher, that matters.

People need to know that a book isn’t just somebody pounding away on a laptop in a home office.

Put a face on it

There is a perception that you are just corporations.  Let us know the CEOs.  Let us hear about the book backgrounds of people at the top.   We want to know they are booklovers.  Literally a face, by the way…videos, pictures, that kind of thing.  We know who Jeff Bezos is, and his every appearance is discussed.  We should know who you are, too.

Tell us why you stand out

As a bookstore manager, I could hear about a book and have a pretty good guess as to which publisher was releasing it.  The public needs that.  They need to know what makes Penguin different from Macmillan, and so on.  You aren’t generic, but people think you are.  Talk about your imprints…talk about your philosophy.   Why do you pick a book to publish?

Hire some retailers

I don’t think pricing is based on formulas.  A good retailer knows when to raise and lower the price, and I think that takes experience you aren’t going to have right now.  You probably have a good idea which books will sell well, but you don’t know when to put it on sale.  You are going to need that kind of expertise, and it’s partially learned on the job.  You may be surprised at how complex it is…how the release of a movie can change the sales of a barely related title, how a media person’s endorsement can matter, how the school year affects it.  You need people who can do this by the seat of their pants.

Give people information on the prices

Right now, the people who are following this think that any higher price is your fault, and any lower price from you is a fluke.  They think you are doing away with the $9.99 price point.  Let them know about the lower priced books you have.  Let them know how many books you have priced below ten dollars…even if they already were before you got there.  Are…eighty percent of your books less than $10?  If they have paperback equivalents, they probably are.

Embrace the technology

The e-book market will continue to expand rapidly, even more rapidly now that the iPad is here.   People think you are fighting that.  Let them know you welcome technology.  I know you all update those Wikipedia pages.  Give us blogs and Twitter and Facebook.  Let us know that you are the leaders in e-books.  You are…tell us that.  Let us know that we should be with you in the future, not with somebody who is up and coming.

Tell us you respect the past

That may seem contradictory, but we all grew up with paperbooks.  Almost everybody out there thinks of a book as what you have done before.  You will continue to make paperbooks…independent publishers can’t do it the way you can.  “There’s something special about a book.”  Show the paperbook, but don’t make it a “this or that” scenario.  Show us a family reading, through the decades.  Maybe a 1930s kid reading Winnie the Pooh in a hardback, then growing up and having their kid reading a paperback, then that kid growing up and reading an e-book…and giving grandma’s old hardback to a child.  Show that as a cycle…it’s all about the book, but hardbacks matter.

Let us know about your community involvement

I know, you donate tons of books every year.  We should know that.  

The key to change management

What’s the most important thing in change management?  Telling people what isn’t going to change.  Do that: “We’ve been bringing you John Grisham for ten years…and we’re going to keep on doing that.”   You’ve been the New York Times bestseller list…and you are going to continue to be.  “We’ve always brought  you the highest quality books possible: and we still do.” 

The key points

The main thing is that we need to think of you as human, as booklovers, and as aligned with the authors.   We need to know that you respect us, and our choice to read e-books.  You don’t want us to think of you as a monolithic industry (you should probably avoid referring to it as the “publishing industry”).  We want to know that you are on the art side of all this, the creative side.  We would never have read most of our favorite authors if it weren’t for you.  Make us root for you.

You need to manage the perceptions…ultimately, it’s not about you versus Amazon…it’s about keeping the readers on your side. 

Tip of the day: you can reach publishers through Publishers.org

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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