At last year’s BEA I heard a Big Six executive state that her company didn’t want to build a direct consumer channel because they’re totally happy with their retail partners. She said it as though the two channels are mutually exclusive. They’re not, of course, and any publisher that isn’t working on building a robust direct-to-consumer channel is missing out on an enormous opportunity.
One of the reasons I think so many publishers haven’t moved forward here isn’t that they want to be reliant on retailers but rather because they don’t have a household brand name. They have one the publishing industry knows, but not one consumers are talking about. As the saying goes, nobody goes into a bookstore looking for the newest book from Macmillan, Random House, Penguin, etc.
Authors and, in some cases, series, are the household brands here, not the publishing house. That was OK in the old days but the more our industry goes digital the more every publisher has a terrific new opportunity to build and leverage a household brand name.
It’s not just about capturing 100% of the revenue. That’s just part of the benefit. There’s also the ability to engage directly with your customers, something you can almost never do when a third-party retailer is involved. In the direct-to-consumer world you finally have a chance to speak with your customers, learn what they like and don’t like, discover new ways to serve them and create new revenue streams.
You’ll never be able to do that unless you have a household brand name. And you won’t simply build that overnight. That process begins with a commitment to community.
Btw, it might not make sense for the bigger publishers to try to turn their industry brand names into household ones. They need to go more granular based on target audience. I don’t see much of that happening today though either, or at least I’m not seeing the fundamental building blocks required here: community engagement. You might have a website for your author/series, but what reasons have you given consumers to come to you rather than Amazon? If you’ve got nothing more than a collection of catalog pages you haven’t given me a reason to buy direct.