by Joseph T. Sinclair
Traditionally the writing and publishing business has been one of throwing publishing products against the wall to see what sticks. Marketing has been haphazard, and marketing and advertising by publishers has been very unreliable from an author’s point of view. The traditional media has not had enough bandwidth to carry inexpensive marketing and advertising for all publishing products (i.e., run-of-the-mill books).
The Internet, however, has changed the game. It hasn’t happen overnight, but today it is clearly evident that the old throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks publishing has lost considerable market share in regard to “How To” books and other information publishing products and will continue to lose market share in the foreseeable future. Keep in mind I’m discussing information products, not stories. Today it is possible to find out what consumers want. It’s no longer a speculative function of throwing information products against the wall to see what sticks.
How has this happened?
First, the Internet (Web) has enabled a new kind of publishing: digital technology combined with ubiquitous network delivery.
Second, analytic tools now exist that enable authors and publishers to ascertain what consumers search for on the Web thus providing a definitive indication of demand.
Third, social media provides authors and publishers the opportunity to interact with consumers and thereby develop a sense of what consumers want.
Fourth, the Internet has enabled new kinds of publishing products to facilitate the satisfaction of demand.
Fifth, much information on the Internet is now available to consumers free.
Let’s consider these one by one.
Digital Technology and the Internet Enable a New Kind of Publishing
- Publishing writings in digital form enables easy and inexpensive replication. It even enables easy and more efficient creation and production.
- Delivery via the Internet is instant, low cost, and available to almost all consumers. One doesn’t need to go a bookstore to buy a book or magazine.
- The Internet is open to all authors and publishers for doing business at a low cost. Anyone can be an author or publisher. The supply gates have opened. You can satisfy demand efficiently and inexpensively.
You Can Ascertain Demand with Web Analytic and Communication Tools:
- Google AdWord Planner and similar tools enable you to measure the search traffic for key words.
- Forums (and other online participation formats) on specific topics can give you an understanding of what participants are interested in.
- Webpage analytics, particularly click-through rates, enable you to test demand.
Social Media Provides Opportunities to Come to Know and Understand Consumers:
- Facebook and the like enable you to have a give-and-take relationship with large numbers of potential consumers.
- Twitter enables you to keep in touch with your market while staying aware of demand.
Digital Technology and the Internet Have Enabled New Kinds of Publishing Products:
- With digital technology there is no requirement that an information package (e.g., a book) be a certain length. It can be any length. Ebooks of 25 pages (comparable to print books) are common and answer real needs of consumers. Blog posts, text tutorials, and YouTube tutorials have reduced the publication of information to smaller and more specialized chunks. A consumer who wants to learn how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have to buy a book on general cooking or a book about cooking poultry. He or she can find a specialized tutorial on the Internet about cooking turkeys in a written, audio, or video format. If the information is truly complex, one can find a short ebook on the subject. Publishing printed books to sell into the information-product market is passé.
- The ideal of the free publishing products is possible due to the very low marginal cost of replication and distribution. For instance, you can replicate a written tutorial in a digital format and distribute it for a very low cost compared to doing the same with a printed tutorial product.
- New formats such as blogs, podcasts, online tutorials, YouTube tutorials, enhanced ebooks, specialized websites, and the like have been successful.
- Publishing products don’t have to be just ebooks. They can be enhanced ebooks infused with other media to provide consumers with a higher value to be sold at a higher price. Or, they can be high-value training courses to be sold at a premium price. One prime technique to use for promoting high-value publishing products, such as courses, is to use a blog to generate an emailing list. Then use the mailing list to further promote your high-value publishing products.
A huge amount of the information on the Internet is free (or very inexpensive) for consumers. Are these Internet publishing products really free? Sure. Many are free to the consumer. But what about the publisher? How does an author or publisher make money?
- Many information products are published by publishers with no expectation of revenue for their efforts. There are emotional and non-monetary reasons why someone might give away their creation-for nothing, and we all understand this. But for most people, doing serious publishing in the digital realm does have an expectation of revenue, and authors and publishers generate the revenue in various ways.
- One way to generate revenue is to include advertisements as part of your publishing product. For instance, it’s common for blog pages to have AdSense ads; that is, Google automatically generates specialized ads based upon the subject matter of the blog post. Google webpage ads are quite common, and they’re not necessarily visually intrusive. They are typically just plain text.
- Another kind of advertisement is the banner ad. Although generic banner ads don’t work well, specialized banner ads that are related to the content work much better.
- Many websites publishing free information are supported by affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is simply highly specialized advertising appropriate for the subject matter. There is a payment directly from the advertiser to the publisher. Affiliate marketing schemes have generally become distasteful to authors and publishers because they have been used generically. Who wants to see an ad for auto insurance while reading a blog post on the finer points of quilt making? Nobody. On the other hand, who wants to see an ad for auto insurance on a blog post about how to cut your car expenses? A lot of people. Affiliate programs (advertising) are most effective when carefully chosen and specifically arranged by an author or publisher. (With AdSense Google decides through its marketing algorithms what ads will go into a particular webpage or YouTube video, and the advertiser pays Google which then pays the author or publisher.) With affiliate marketing the author or publisher chooses the affiliate marketing ad and makes arrangements to get paid directly.
- There is a vast number of information products given away on the Web today. They are simply high-value giveaways to promote a service or product, usually a specialized service or product that requires information for an intelligent purchase or for subsequent use. These giveaways are part of intelligent and savvy marketing schemes. For instance, you might publish a booklet for real estate investors on how to read property descriptions in order to promote your title insurance business. Indeed, this sort of marketing has become very widespread, and there is high quality information available free in regard to a wide variety of topics.
- Author and publishers also give away information products to promote the sales of their more hefty information products. Authors and publishers give away free digital copies of chapters and even free copies of ebooks to generate interest in buying their books (in either ebooks or printed formats). Authors blog for free to promote their ebooks or printed books. Publishers insist that authors develop an author’s “platform.” The platform is acknowledged to be a promotional platform, which may include blogging, article writing, participation in social media, or other promotional endeavors online.
Digital Marketing A good example is to give away a free chapter of a book to entice customers to buy the book. Moreover, a prime technique for marketing a book is to give away as many free copies of the book as possible in order to get a buzz (word of mouth) going about the book. Those that hear about the book but don’t know how to get a free copy will buy it. If you need to give away 20,000 ebooks to sell 10,000, that’s not necessarily a bad deal; but it’s certainly a deal you can’t match with printed books and still make money.
So generating revenue is easier than one might expect. There are plenty of tools to assist one in generating the most revenue for the least amount of marketing effort. Figure out demand and give consumers what they want for free. What a great business model! The sales resistance is low.
Although marketing publishing products is not the favorite activity of authors, it’s easy to learn and easy to do. And it goes with the territory. Whether you do your marketing to promote your own publishing products as an author or whether you do your marketing to promote the publishing products that a publisher publishes for you, you will need to do some marketing.
For instance, suppose you have your heart set on publishing a photography book on fire engines. You have photos of hundreds of different fire engines, most of them very colorful and fun to look at. You also have information on each fire engine. You do a search in Google Adwords Planner and find that there is no demand at all for such a book. You use search words such as “fire engine,” “fire engine photos,” “fire engine specifications,” “fire engine capabilities.” and you find nothing that will work to create any significant demand. In your searching via Adwords Planner, however, you use the words “fire engine history” and find that there’s a healthy demand for such information.
You have much of the data and enough expertise to write a book, complete with the requisite photos, that will satisfy the demand. You will have to choose from all your fire engine photos and information a progression that demonstrates the history of fire engines. And you will have to do some historical research. That’s not the book that you want to write, but it’s a book that’s not only within your capabilities but one that is in demand.
Thus, by using Adwords Planner you have avoided the throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks technique of publishing. You can find out exactly what people are searching for and satisfy the demand. If you’re good writer, like to write, and hope to make a living writing, satisfying demand might not be the ideal life. Almost any author would rather write what they want to write rather than write what readers want. But satisfying demand can be a financially rewarding career for doing what you like to do (i.e., write).
Google Adwords Planner is not the only tool available to discover demand. A savvy author or publisher will seek out other ways to digitally ascertain demand effectively and efficiently.
Each body of knowledge has its own effective format. For instance, some information is best conveyed through videos while other information is best conveyed via writing or even an audio presentation. Likewise, each publishing product has its own most effective mix of marketing. You might reach most consumers by using affiliate marketing for one information product, while video marketing is most effective for another information product. There is no one-size-fits-all for marketing.
Authors and Publishers
What should authors and publishers think about the new demand publishing? Those who are used to writing and publishing printed books might think of it as a big setback in publishing. After all, books (and similar lengthy printed publications) have been the inspiration of humanity since ancient Greek times. But lengthy information products are simply obsolete for many purposes. In fact, the lengthy printed formats were dictated by physical and economic realities that resulted in a type of one-size-fits-all package. In modern times the size of a printed book to be published economically has been 200–600 pages.
In the digital realm, the subject matter determines size and format rather than the physical and economic requisites of printing on paper. This creates huge opportunities for authors and publishers.
Authors and publishers can provide straight-to-the-point writings on subject matter that’s in demand. They can provide such writings free to consumers. And they can get paid for their effort by the various means outlined above. Moreover, they can use such publications to lead into other information products, which are free to consumers (and paid for by advertising) or sold to consumers at very reasonable prices, prices lower than publications in print.
For instance, suppose there is a person who has anger problems, and he knows it. This particular person is immediately concerned that his anger problem is affecting his job performance and making it difficult to get along with other employees. His immediate need is not for a book on anger management in general but for a specifically focused short writing on how to manage anger in the workplace. That’s what he’s most likely to acquire immediately.
Nonetheless, once he acquires and reads a good and useful writing on managing anger in the workplace, he’s likely to expand his interest to additional topics covering other anger problems he almost certainly has:
- Managing anger in personal relationships
- Anger management at home
- Anger management for sports
- Avoiding anger and frustration in raising children
The writings might be online magazine (zine) articles, blogs, ebooklets, email newsletters, and even ebooks. One leads to another, but each serves what the angry person needs and wants (demands). The person is not required to obtain (buy) a publication (printed book) that includes a lot of subject matter that’s not directly relevant to their immediate and specific situation.
There are many more advantages to digital publishing than just appropriate size. For example, in a publication that requires photos, one can include many more photos at little additional publication cost, something one can’t do in print.
Thus, authors and publishers can break free of traditional forms in publishing and respond to consumer demand efficiently and lucratively by using digital technology. It’s just a matter of delivering what people need and doing it with focused products that generate leads to other related information products and services. The key is to discover demand and then respond to the demand.
What about stories? Well, this is a blog post about information products, not stories. How you extrapolate this demand marking information to stories is another story altogether.
The throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks publishing model didn’t work very well. There were limited means of discovering demand within reasonable expense parameters. Many books published did not sell well, and the number of books published was constrained. Few books received the marketing necessary for sales success. In the digital world, however, demand is discoverable, ebooks (and other information products in digital form) are less expensive to produce, and ebooks can be inexpensively marketed and distributed.
In a world that’s rapidly transitioning from paper to LED screens, authors and publishers can look forward to financial success by using and developing new business models that start with discovering demand and use digital production to publish in new formats.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2015 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.