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Ten things we learned at our September DMQ
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Posted by IPG
Our Digital and Marketing Quarterly event on 17 September tackled the hot topic of direct to consumer sales. Here are ten of our takeaways

1 Digital is about much more than ebooks

“Ebooks are neither the beginning nor the end of digital publishing,” said Vearsa’s Gareth Cuddy in the DMQ’s first session. Amid all the hype about ebooks, there has been a clear risk of overplaying their impact. “Ebooks aren’t revolutionary or disruptive—they’re just another method of delivering the same content,” said Cuddy.

2 D2C is spreading

Whatever content publishers sell now, the numbers selling it direct to their consumers have risen sharply over the last few years—especially in the specialist niches in which many IPG members operate. A show of hands at the meeting suggested that around one in three now sell in this way, and Nielsen’s Steve Bohme later estimated that around 1.5 million books were bought direct from publishers in 2014. As more than one speaker pointed out, if you have not yet given D2C some thought it is high time you did.

3 D2C improves margins, control and marketing

There are numerous advantages to selling direct, said James Woollam of F+W Media, a publisher where D2C now accounts for nearly half of all sales, compared to 10% five years ago. By cutting out middlemen it can dramatically improve profit margins and increase the control you have over your content and distribution, he pointed out. And connections with customers help to build a valuable database of customers to promote and sell content to. “It’s perfectly suited to niche publishers.”

4 D2C demands a strategy

Selling direct requires much more than putting a few PDFs up on your website. Plan carefully, advised Gareth Cuddy: “Think about your desired outcomes on D2C and work backwards from them.” He also recommended outsourcing work to the experts where appropriate, and focusing on discoverability. Unfortunately a publishing brand isn’t much use here—so think about using your content’s subject areas and authors to get it found online. “It’s sad but true that most people don’t know who publishers are. So how are they going to find your books?”

5 Don’t be put off by technology and price

Barriers to selling direct have been dismantled, Woollam said. D2C web platforms are more affordable than ever, and much of the work to grow communities—email, social media, author promotion, branding—can be done for just the cost of people’s time. Even technology once thought too much for publishers to handle, like video production, is accessible now. Woollam said F+W’s first short film was shot with an iPhone; now it has one of the richest archives of video content in publishing.

6 DRM splits opinion

As our recent blog on the subject made clear, Digital Rights Management is an issue that divides publishers—but it is one that everyone needs to tackle. “DRM is the most important question when you are selling direct to consumers,” said Gareth Cuddy. “It’s a deterrent to the majority, but if someone really wants to get round it they will.”

7 Educational publishing needs to be focused

“Marketing textbooks is both a science and an art,” a DMQ session from Jaime Marshall and Katie Thorn from Macmillan Education heard. It is definitely not a one-size-fits-all business, and each book needs a specific plan. Marketing also needs to target decision-makers—lecturers—as well as end-users—students. As Thorne pointed out: “You can only market to students for three or four years—but lecturers stick around.”

8 E-reading is plateauing

A round-up of industry statistics by Steve Bohme told the DMQ that ebook sales accounted for 29% of the market in the first half of 2015. That is a substantial share, but it is down from 32% in 2014. The sense of print sales recovering some of the ground lost to ebooks over the last few years has been backed up by other figures lately.

9 Children’s and non-fiction books are winning in print

E-reading devices remain a very popular platform for generic fiction, Bohme said, but in many areas of non-fiction and children’s books there are signs of readers returning to print. The limitations of ebooks are becoming particularly apparent in illustrated and interactive content.

10 Books are competing with other distractions

Digital devices like tablets have opened up new horizons for reading—but publishers have to tempt consumers away from other entertainments first. Bohme said around 84% of adults now use tablets to browse the net, but only 40% do so to read books. The conflict is even more apparent among children: 31% of them use tablets to read books, but that is dwarfed by the 83% who use them to play games. Books have to fight harder than ever for consumers’ attention.

The IPG’s next Digital and Marketing Quarterly is on Thursday 26 November.

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