Stop dilly-dallying, it’s time to be direct!


In our latest guest post MA Publishing student Melanie Kydd describes how John Blake Publishing tackle the challenge of selling direct to readers.

I love bookstores. I can spend hours wandering around admiring cover designs and absorbing blurbs; discovering names I’ve never heard of, and titles by old favourites I didn’t know existed.

I don’t pretend to believe this behaviour is the norm – the decline of high street bookstores is damning evidence of such. It stands to reason then, that if people aren’t browsing the displays in their local Waterstones or checking out this week’s top ten recommendations in WHSmith, publishers are pouring a high percentage of their marketing budgets down the drain.

At last month’s London Book Fair (LBF) seminar Whose role is it anyway? What the digital landscape means for marketers and publicists chair Martin Neild made the point that as recently as two years ago if you asked a publisher who their customers were they would state ‘booksellers’. Today the same question would be answered by ‘consumers’. Similar views were shared at the FutureBook conference last year and the Digital Minds meeting just before LBF. Whether all this talk is an observation of what is happening, or an ideal of what should be happening, is debatable, yet some publishers are beginning to embrace marketing techniques that reach consumers directly.

Publishers are increasingly trying to engage directly with previously distant readers.
Image courtesy AlexisNyal, Flickr.

I had the chance to see this direct approach in action, and its unexpected success, on my recent work placement at John Blake Publishing. Called in a week early because the office was unexpectedly busy, I wrongly assumed the cause of increased activity to be the death of celebrity Whitney Houston – and the re-release of her biography by Blake.

Jamie Foreman plays the role of Derek Manning in BBC soap opera EastEnders.

In fact, I was required early because of a celebrity, but not one I had ever heard of. Blake had advertised a promotion in the Daily Mail for hardman EastEnders’ actor Jamie Foreman’s autobiography, Gangsters, Guns and Me. Readers could call the office directly and order a copy of the book at a discounted price, before it was released to retailers. Given that the title hadn’t been picked up by one of the major chains in the UK, perhaps such a direct approach was taken out of necessity. Even if this was the case, the promotion was still an overwhelming success, and the phone was ringing off the hook.

Sales of the Foreman book weren’t the only positive gained from this approach. Blake capitalised on the direct communication channel by including a second offer for a similar title when sending out the Foreman orders. This saw a fantastic return rate, and also resulted in consumers seeking out further information about Blake’s list.

But, apart from sales and profit, why is direct marketing to consumers so beneficial for publishers?

The advantage of the data provided by direct-marketing has been discussed in depth by publisher Joe Wikert on O’Reilly Radar. Of note is the fact that book retailers will only share some of their customer data with publishers (or in the case of Apple and Amazon, next to none), often slanted in ways that meet their own motives and agenda. By going direct to consumers Blake were able to add hundreds of names to their database, along with information about the titles that interested them. Engaging in direct conversation helped them learn exactly what their customers preferred, and could open up opportunities to discover issues never previously considered – surely a competitive advantage regardless of whether the consumers you are reaching are existing or new?

Of course, there are downsides to being direct. While Blake sold hundreds of copies of Foreman’s book, these figures were not included in Nielsen data and therefore didn’t contribute to published bestseller tallies. Such tables can still influence the success of a new title, and their significance will not be easily forgotten. But, if, as Random House CEO Gail Rebuck has stated, “relationships are at the heart of what we do” as publishers, it makes sense to ensure we have a direct relationship with all our stakeholders – and that includes the people who read our books.

Melanie Kydd is a student on Kingston University’s MA Publishing course. She worked on placement at John Blake Publishing.
Follow Mel on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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