There is a unique way to trap monkeys in the islands of the
South Seas. The natives drill a small hole in a coconut, hollow it
out and fill it with rice. Once a monkey puts its hand in the
coconut to get the food, it cannot remove its clenched fist.
Refusing to let go of their prize, the monkeys are unable to escape.
Publishers can get caught in a similar trap if they become
conditioned to avoid risks and persist in using strategies that were
successful in the past, without evaluating whether they are still
relevant today. Their grasp on a comfortable feeling of security
yields the same sense of contentment the passengers on the Titanic
experienced moments before it struck the iceberg. Success in a
rapidly changing industry demands that you evaluate past triumphs to
determine if you should introduce new titles using a different game
Blind adherence to the programs that led to past marketing
to inertia. A sense of rigidity develops when a successful
publishing company fails to recognize market drift -- a gradual but
substantial shift in customer preferences, business conditions and
competition. Instead, remain focused on the fact that success is
determined more by addressing the dynamic predilections of today's
customers than by blindly following historical marketing formulas.
Don't just do something, stand there!
Stop yanking at the coconut, let go of your past and pause to
ponder what you are doing and where you are going. Go back to the
basics of marketing and create a plan that defines your mission,
generates objectives, establishes strategies and stimulates a
program of specific tactics.
Your mission statement is a concise answer to two questions.
First, "What business are we in?" This may seem obvious
because you are a producer and purveyor of books. But this is a
limiting concept because you are really a provider of information
that people need and are willing to pay for. Publishers essentially
put into practice a customer-satisfying process that
begins with market needs, not a goods-producing process that ends
with the sale of a book.
Second, "Who are we trying to serve?" Are your
customers the companies in your distribution channel? No, because
the sale of a book does not end when you ship it to your
distributor. Nor does it end when Ingram places it in their
inventory. And it certainly doesn't end when bookstores place it on
their shelves. The purchasing process of one title concludes when a
satisfied customer purchases the next title by that same author.
Decide who your crucial customers are or could be.
Focus on the needs of the ultimate readers of your books. The
best way to reach them may not be through the traditional system of
distribution, but through non-traditional channels. Find out why
they read the types of books you publish and how they buy them. Then
give your customers what they want.
Use your business assessment to investigate and evaluate
alternatives. Then decide upon your mission, your definition of
where you want to ultimately be. Examples are found in the stories
behind such people as Ray Kroc (McDonald's), Leon Leonwood Bean and,
of course, Jeff Bezos, the person who started Amazon.com. He quickly
became the proprietor of the "Earth's Largest Bookstore"
by pursuing his vision to prove the appeal of Internet shopping to
The purpose of objectives is to divide your long-term vision into
attainable goals. Traditional business planning requires that
objectives be written, functional, measurable, specific and
time-oriented. However, objectives must be more than that or they
simply remain good intentions.
First, objectives should be operational. They must be capable of
being converted into assignments that instill action in those
responsible for their attainment. Dynamic objectives become the
basis as well as the motivation for work and achievement. In
addition, objectives must make concentration and allocation of
resources and efforts possible.
Marketing objectives. Maintain the
focus on your customers and what you are really selling to
them because each will buy your titles for a different reason.
Remember that you are not selling books. You are selling
solutions to problems. Know what your various customers want,
give it to them and make sure they know you are the one giving
it to them.
Innovation objectives. Rapidly
changing technology is creating many opportunities for people
in the book business. Print-on-demand, electronic books and
Internet marketing have changed the way we all do business.
The whirlwind pace of mergers, acquisitions, strategic
alliances and IPOs is changing the territory in which we
perform. Creativity must be applied to find new titles to
bring to market (or new markets for existing titles),
different distribution channels, novel ways to offer price
incentives while maintaining your margins and original ways to
promote your titles above the ever-increasing clutter of
competitive advertising, sales promotions and publicity.
It is not necessary that you be the first to innovate a product
or process. Just be the best at what you do. For example, Henry Ford
did not invent the car and he was not the first to manufacture it.
And he was not the first to come up with the concepts of automation
or interchangeable parts. Instead, he honed and perfected concepts
others invented and fulfilled his vision to build a car for the
Once you feel comfortable with your overall objectives, create
the strategies that will direct your efforts to achieve them. Think
of your strategies as statements of the general direction you will
take in each of the four areas of marketing concentration (Product,
Place, Price and Promotion) in order to reach your objectives.
Product Strategy. The word product forces you to think of all
merchandise you can create that will satisfy the needs of your
customers, not just about books. In the process, think about
these decision alternatives.
1. Should you change your product strategy? Historically, you may
have defined yourself as a book publisher. Perhaps it is time to
revisit that decision. Certainly, you could continue publishing your
current line of books, but you might add books-on-tape, books
online, video tapes, audio-cassette programs or any medium that will
deliver your information to your customers in the form in which they
want to receive it.
2. Could you maintain your current product line, but change the
strategy? There are still decisions to make even if you decide to
remain a printed-book publisher. Now you must decide which of the
two general product line strategies to adopt: a limited-line or a
In a limited line strategy, the publisher attempts to cover a
broad market with a single title or a limited line of titles. For
example, Publishing Directions company addresses the need for media
training with three products: a video program (You're On The Air)
and two books (Perpetual Promotion and It's Show Time).
The main competitive weapon in this strategy is product
differentiation to remove the titles from price competition.
History has derived the Rule of Three that states a stable market
will have only three significant competitors, and their market share
will be in the proportion of 4:2:1 (50%, 25% and 13%). So, if there
are already three major players in the niche you are considering
entering, you must have a significant point of difference in order
to succeed. In other words, do not try to unseat a market leader
with a me-too title. Maintain a limited line of books so you become
the big fish in a little pond.
Conversely, a broad-line strategy relies on identifying a series
of pockets of demand, each with peculiar and distinct
characteristics of its own. In this case you would publish more,
different titles for deeper penetration into each segment. This
strategy is preferable if your ultimate objective is to achieve a
more sizeable total market.
A broad-line strategy is usually more successful because stronger
titles support weaker ones, customer recognition spills over to the
entire line, your titles will display a greater presence in
bookstores and your promotional costs are spread over more titles.
The broad-line approach has market segmentation as its main
competitive weapon. In order to be successful, you would vary the
physical characteristics of a book to fit identifiable market
segments. An important consideration is that you may have to use
production techniques that could limit your bookstore sales. For
instance, you may have to publish books
utilizing die cutting or comb, spiral or three-ring binding.
While these books may be required for penetration in certain niches,
they are typically shunned by bookstores.
3. Should you introduce new titles/products? If your backlist is
strong, you might consider introducing new titles to breathe new
life into your front list. Or, you could contemplate product-line
extensions such as a calendar, television show or party game based
on your title.
4. Should you reposition the product or line? A viable title may
go stale even if the information contained within is not obsolete.
In this case, a makeover may be necessary to rejuvenate the title.
This does not always require a new edition, but simply a new cover
design, a new promotional concept, new markets and/or new uses.
5. Should you discontinue the product or line? After your title
has spawned several offspring, its sales will eventually decline.
Your distributors' sales efforts vanish, and many of those books you
thought were sold are returned. You may be near the point at which
consider cutting your loses and taking the title out of print.
There is always the alternative of remaindering your books to
recoup part of your investment, but do not choose that path too
quickly. Instead, look for ways to leverage your investment. For
example, think about creating a publicity event to give away books.
This could assist in establishing contacts among people in the
media, opening the door to future coverage. You can accomplish the
same result by finding groups and organizations in need of your
books. These could include prison libraries, shelters, nursing homes
or hospitals. The good will and contacts you create will be worth
more than the money you would make through remaindering.
Place refers to the distribution
network you design to bring your books to the ultimate
consumers. Careful consideration must be given to this
decision, because once made it is difficult to change. Most
distributors require an exclusive agreement that may be
cancelled only at certain times throughout the year.
There are three overall systems of distribution: direct, indirect
or a combination of the two. If you have historically sold your
books through bookstores, you probably utilized some variation of
the traditional distributor _
wholesaler _ bookstore network.
Alternatively, you might consider the technique of marketing
directly to non-traditional, or special-sales markets. On the
positive side, you will not be subjected to the 65 - 70%
distribution discounts. But on the other hand, you are now
responsible for all the sales activities previously performed by
your distributor. Your promotional expenses will increase and you
may still have to discount your books. Or, you could market your
books using a combined direct/indirect strategy. The point to keep
in mind is that there are multiple paths available and you should
evaluate the pros and cons of each before deciding your final
The common practice of book pricing asks that you multiply the
unit printing cost by seven or eight. However, this maxim can lead
you to trouble. There are five major components to consider as you
determine the retail price of your book. The first three are hard
numbers, distinct and explicit: your direct costs, the discounts
taken by your distribution partners and the profit you expect to
make. The other two are more intuitive: the goals you have set for
yourself and the psychological impact your price has upon the
prospective buyer. These five factors play upon and interact among
themselves much like the ingredients of a recipe. The way you
combine them (with a dash of intuition) determines your ultimate
price, sales and profitability.
Pricing is as much an art as a science because of the impact of
your judgment upon the quantifiable ingredients of your pricing
recipe. For example, the discount taken by those I your distribution
network is fixed upon agreement, but which distribution system will
you choose? What costs will you allocate to your book and for what
time period? How will changes in promotion affect your costs and
sales? Is a strategy of penetration pricing (the lowest price)
always better than a skimming (high-price) policy? Will penetration
pricing maximize sales and profits? These are some of the
considerations that must be addressed before deciding your pricing
Promotion is one of the most important functions of marketing. It
makes people aware that your books exists, and makes them understand
why they need to buy it. There are four general promotional tools
you can use at different times to accomplish these goals. These are
sales promotion, publicity, advertising and personal selling.
Your job is to determine when and how to use each of these tools
to optimize your sales. For example, suppose your author is about to
conduct a book signing. It will be more successful if you precede
the event with an awareness campaign. This might include an
enlargement of the book's cover featured in the store (sales
promotion), press releases sent to the local media (publicity); post
cards mailed to prospective customers (advertising) or media
appearances promoting the signing (personal selling).
Creating and implementing a successful promotional strategy will
be more effective if you match your promotional mix to:
1) The title's life-cycle stage. If your title is in its
introductory stage, mass communication techniques should be
emphasized. Initially, people need to understand why it is in their
best interest to purchase your book. Later, they need to be reminded
to buy it.
2) The personality of your authors. Authors who loathe media
appearances might be better suited to a promotional mix heavy in
direct mail, publicity and advertising. Others may thrive on
national exposure and excel in performing on the air and in personal
3) The nature of your product line. A list heavy in fiction lends
itself to a strategy weighted toward sales promotion, publicity and
advertising where mass communication's low cost per exposure
stimulates demand most efficiently.
4) The nature of your markets. A nonfiction title destined for a
tightly defined market niche dictates personal communication
implemented through a targeted campaign of direct mail and personal
Next, in each of the four strategic areas, describe innovative
and specific actions you will take to employ your marketing weapons.
This tactical portion of your plan creates a "To Do" list
of activities that will apply your strategies and fulfill your
objectives. Rarely will historical tactics meet the needs of current
titles, so they must be customized to each title and
author's circumstances. Be specific and add a deadline for the
accomplishment of each action.
If you chose a strategy that would expand your product mix, list
the actions you will take to do so. For instance, which current
titles are candidates for books-on-tape? Do you need to acquire new
titles? If you want to sell books online, how must your web site be
changed? Or on what other web site could you sell your titles? Which
current titles could be extended with video or audiocassette
Your decision to continue with the traditional distributor _
wholesaler _ bookstore channel is
now a preference rather than a habit. Now you can plan new ways to
work with your distributor's sales people to help them sell more of
your titles and books. Is it possible to address their sales
meetings to describe your new titles?
Now define unique programs for price reductions or increases.
What will your price be? Basing the price on your costs plus a
standard markup is a simple system, but it fails to consider today's
competition, customers' buying habits, volume benefits, special
sales opportunities, economies of scale and profit objectives.
On the other hand you could simply meet competitors' prices. But
this assumes your costs and objectives are the same as theirs. Or,
you could focus on cost/benefit relationship to your customers to
determine the highest price the customer is willing to pay that will
optimize revenue and maximize net profit. Choose one tactic and set
1) Sales promotion utilizes items such as premiums, giveaways,
brochures and coupons for generating awareness and stimulating
demand through short-term awareness campaigns. They can easily be
tied in with other promotional tools. List those you will put into
2) Publicity, such as press releases and reviews, is perhaps the
most economical element of the promotional mix. It increases
awareness and credibility through third-party testimonials. Now,
what will you include in your press kit? To what media will you send
them? On what shows will you schedule media appearances? Will you
hire a publicity firm to do that for you?
3) Advertising, including direct mail, can reach many consumers
simultaneously, with the same message and with a relatively low cost
per exposure. It can increase awareness of your titles and educate
people about the benefits of buying them. Which titles will you
advertise and in what media?
4) Personal selling can be the most persuasive selling tool
because it allows two-way communication. Now is the time to line up
book signings, personal appearances and media tours.
The planning process is similar to using a kaleidoscope. There
are a finite number of pieces, but you can create an infinite number
of combinations simply by rearranging them. However, you can also
spend a great deal of time searching for the ultimate combination.
Instead, manipulate the data you have until you feel comfortable
with a given plan and then take action. As you proceed, new
information will be added to the mix and you will need to
re-evaluate your direction and progress. But each turn will bring
you closer to your ultimate, long-term objectives. The process is
challenging, but motivating and manageable.
Don't be afraid to evaluate what has
worked for you in the past and try new strategies if
necessary. Aim high. Set big goals that will motivate you to
action. Remember, some people thought Goliath was too big to
hit. David thought he was too big to miss. Whether you have a
stone in your sling or your hand in a coconut, you may need to
let go to succeed.