As part of our marketing campaign this year, we’ve reviewed a heck of a lot of publisher / magazine / book retailer websites, and while a lot of them are taking positive steps; as a whole, the industry is still a little bit off the pace for what the Internet can truly deliver. Most publishers are still faced with dwindling book sales overall, particularly since the slow-down of the ’50 Shades of Grey’ phenomenon which briefly invigorated the industry.
There’s been an obvious transition from traditional books to ebooks and electronic formats, but still the general public reads far too few books each year as a whole. The publishing industry has somewhat forgotten that they are part of the Entertainment Industry and are competing with clever innovations in Television like Netflix, Spotify for Music and 3D + Atmos sound at the Cinema. Publishing needs to get more innovative and produce a richer, more immersive experience. Publishers need to engage their customers better, give them more ways to access and interact with their published works, and a deeper, more affecting long-term relationship.
The typical book-selling websites simply just list books, with generic descriptions, ISBN codes and one or two prices. The more clever add industry reviews and author details, but relatively few enable proper interaction via commenting, forums, recommendations and the like. Social Engagement is not just key to getting customers more involved with books and magazines, it’s also essential for the promotion of the same.
This has been done before, but not nearly enough - letting readers become an active part in the writing / direction of the narrative. I’m not talking about succumbing to a mob mentality, but more about creating an ongoing and active means for readers to get involved in their favourite works. There’s lots of examples of crowdsourcing for various creative endeavours - and this is just the kind of thing publishers can do to make themselves more relevant and more accessibly to their customers.
Advanced hierarchical topic-tagging is essential for accurate recommendations of like works. In my article ’How Taxonomy and Recommendations are key to a successful Christmas Retail Season’ I touched on how smart filtering and navigation were critical in getting customers to buy more of the same (or similar). Most readers are keen on specific genres, and can be easily inspired to read similar authors, as long as the recommendations are accurate and closely match the reader’s own personal bias. More needs to be done to tailor a site’s navigation towards the personal preferences of a singular customer. This is much more than ’customer who liked X also liked Y’ - it is about making salient and relevant recommendations which ultimate improve the customer’s experience of your offerings and lead to more sales.
The reason one of our most enduring customer websites (Gateshead Library) has done so well when others in the same industry have faltered - is that it continues to appeal to its local community with relevant historic and cultural events. In the same way, publishers can host insights and interviews with authors - or even meet-ups, poetry nights, book readings and the like. There’s often talk of ’making a book come alive’ - and there’s no subsitute for personal interaction for this. I recall my history teacher from St Michael’s - a Mr Jones - who could put you slap bang in the middle of the Battle of Agincourt with his theatrical expositions - you really felt you were experiencing history almost first hand. With Social Media and online participation, publishers can do much more to enliven and enrich their published works.
Reader Book Clubs are another feather in Gateshead Libraries’ cap, and a feature you often find on other community sites - BBC, Guardian, Times etc. but rarely on the publishers’s own websites. What better way to give their readers a richer experience of their books than to empower a community to discuss, add insight and cultural depth to what they’re reading.
I touched on this in my ’Next big changes in publishing ...’ article - in how to get book consumers to contribute more revenues to publishers while overall book sales dwindle. The answer of course is to go down the Spotify / Subscription route - giving readers access to an extended library of works for a monthly renewable fee. As the typical UK Citizen barely buys one book a year, so much the better that they buy into a long-term subscription which gives ongoing revenues to publishers. For the subscription route to work long-term, publishers must also learn to bring back excitement and richness to the overall book interaction experience, as the availability alone is never enough so secure a successful future.
The music industry has moved from being dominated by album sales to single sales. In the same way, Publishers need to embrace granularity and new formats of publishing that allow readers to consume books in different ways. This is particularly important within education, where only certain chapters of a book may be relevant to a curriculum - students and their teachers will want to be able to pay only for what they access - i.e. 3-4 chapters rather than the whole book. There’s really an either / or route here, as I see Subscriptions as the way forward for the Publishing Industry. The book formats need to be changed though to accommodate ’playlist-like’ reading lists which aggregate various chapters from different books.
Tablets are taking over as the standard home computer, they are also starting to have serious impact on higher education at least. Going forward, more and more course-works, testing apps, revision aids and the like will find their way to tablets. Education Publishers will find that most of the future revenue growth will be in this area. The first publisher to offer an all-encompassing education environment with all the course books, study aids and tests in the one subscription-based system will have a significant first-mover advantage...