Marketing in the eBook Era

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April 2014
by Lauren Klouda

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Doing my job means fighting for shelf space for digital books. Yes, this is necessary even though the space is virtual. In fact, the whole process of marketing e-books is very similar to the whole process of marketing printed books, as I’ve seen in my role as digital marketing manager for Independent Publishers Group.

Despite the fact that e-book vendors make all our e-book titles available on their storefronts, their “shelf space” is strictly limited, often even more limited than shelf space in a bookstore.

Many e-book vendors have only about 25 feature spaces in a given category on their Websites or apps. Customers searching for a specific title will find it in the virtual warehouse. But having a book featured on a vendor’s site where it can be discovered and embraced by browsing customers is often crucial for its success.

Like bookstore staffers who buy print books, the editorial teams at e-book vendors who curate featured categories have a huge influence over what will sell from their store. As a result, publishers need strong arguments for including their titles rather than titles from competitors. For IPG, which serves many independent publishers, it is easiest to get a book featured on major sites such as Apple, Amazon, and Kobo when the book has a strong position in a niche and/or when it has topical relevance because it ties to a developing news story or to a person major media are focusing on.

Editorial teams also pay attention when an author or publisher is extremely active online. An involving blog, a big following on Twitter and/or Facebook, and campaigns that generate buzz all help sway the teams when we include links to particular vendors in content about a book and where to get it. And, of course, anytime a publisher we represent or a member of our PR staff lands even a brief mention of one of our titles in the New York Times or other major media, I use that, and it can really help.

Other ways to increase customer awareness and encourage vendors to feature certain books on their sites include discounting e-book prices and even giving e-books away for a short time. But because so many publishers are doing promotions of that sort now, we constantly seek additional outlets for publicizing special discounts or giveaways. Using social media to let the general public know these deals are available is one possibility; another is using various Websites and services that we have established partnerships with, such as BookBub, EbookDailyDeals.com, even Reddit (reddit.com/r/ebookdeals).

All Together Now

With similar marketing challenges for e-books and print books, the best plan entails releasing digital and print editions simultaneously. Separate marketing and publicity campaigns are expensive. And when the marketing budget is limited (and when isn’t it?) you want the most bang for your buck.

Sometimes the success of a print edition helps an e-edition succeed; sometimes the reverse is true. Accordingly, I think we need to change our thinking. Instead of conceptualizing “p” pitted against “e,” we need to make the two formats work together to produce one strong result. A book is a book regardless of the shape it takes. There should be just one unified marketing push.

That marketing push needs to generate consumer interest so people will search for a book on vendor Websites, at their libraries, and/or in brick and mortar stores. The print edition is the one that usually generates the most income for publishers so far, but when we release print and e-editions simultaneously, the marketing we do increases awareness and sales of both.

For the past nine months, we have been tracking the sales of books as we promote them on social media, having utilized social media for several years. And we have been doing some comprehensive analysis to see just how our efforts there pan out. Interestingly, this underscores the interrelationship of print and digital marketing, since we tend to do the most tweeting, posting, and pinning to share successes in traditional media.

What we’ve seen is that Pinterest offers the most book-friendly network, although it is also the most time-consuming one for us to develop. Among the major platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and so on—Pinterest has driven the most traffic and the most potential customers to our site and our books. Posting book covers there shows us yet again that covers certainly do sell books.

Especially for E

Both e-books and p-books have special advantages, of course. As we all know, e-books are great because of their convenience. Regardless of a book’s subject or a person’s reason to be interested in it, instant gratification is a very big deal when someone wants to purchase or check out a title.

That said, certain kinds of books may benefit most from the convenience advantage. Series do really well because consumers have a clear idea what they are going to get; when a reader finishes the second book in a trilogy at 1 a.m. desperate to know how it ends, an e-book store is open and ready to send the third book in a matter of seconds. Likewise, a student facing a final exam on the principles of microeconomics who left the hardcover textbook at home over break can do a quick search of an e-textbook vendor’s site and download the material onto a tablet in no time.

Genre fiction always performs extremely well in e-book formats too; mystery, romance, and popular fiction stand out. Interestingly, how-to guides and books on parenting and hobbies are standouts among our perennial e-book bestsellers. And to our surprise, biography is a really strong e-book category for us.

Today, we distribute e-books on a great variety of subjects to roughly 75 primary e-book vendors, including but obviously not limited to the household names—Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and the like. And we distribute to about the same number of subvendors. We’re partnered with Ingram and others that sell our books to additional accounts, and we partner directly with major libraries to help them build their digital collections.

One reason we use so many vendors is that we want to encourage the budding diversity of the e-book community. Different vendors are serving different niche markets. We’re seeing this with Oyster and Scribd, as well as with emerging vendors targeting sections of markets, including Qlovi, Reading Rainbow App, and BrainHive with children’s books. As consumers continue to explore various platforms and storefronts and buying options, more vendors are actively curating their offerings for specific audiences, and providing distinctive consumer experiences.

Fighting their way into the industry, looking for new angles and audiences, these vendors are doing just what our indie publisher clients are doing. And many of them are intensely interested in our indie titles because the books are unique, unusual, off the beaten path. Independent publishers are a natural fit with many of these new players, and we will be paying close attention as some of them steadily gain market share.


Lauren Klouda is digital marketing manager at Independent Publishers Group, which was the first independent press distributor and is now the second largest. This article is derived, with permission, from an interview with her conducted by Curt Matthews, IPG’s CEO, and posted on his blog (ipgbook.com/blog).

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