Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Publishers in push to sell direct online

The Bookseller reports on publishers' moves to sell direct to consumers online. They reported on Random’s launch of their direct-to-consumer site, which offers discounts of up to 20% and signed copies, HarperCollins’ intent to sell direct by Christmas, Penguin’s re-launch with titles discounted by up to 25% and Hachette’s new look web sites all aimed at selling direct to consumers. Hachette is also aiming to offer next-day delivery as well as "added value" products such as signed editions.

The market is a finely balance one which accommodates, supermarkets, book clubs, independents, special sales, bargain books front and backlists, used, remainders etc. We have all seen that changing one aspect without due thought of others can have an overall negative impact. Some would say that addressing the Net Book Agreement without addressing sale or return was a recipe for disaster. The discounting for the sake of discounting, without looking at the lack of price pointing and the freedom for publishers to put any price on a jacket to retain margin, was another. Today we have some who would argue that backlist should be firm sale and others who may question the impact this may have on a channel that has rarely had to make hard buying decisions.

There will always be publishers who have a strong enough brand or width of appeal where direct selling will work. Examples are many; Penguin, Kogan Page, Mills and Boon etc but in the main this will not be the case and the effort not rewarded.

However, many publishers today ‘sell direct’, but they outsource their customer service to a drop ship service. The publisher merely wants the increased margin, marketing and high level contact and not the customer service and operational one.
Any bookseller who has analysed basket sales will tell you that consumers are very eclectic in their book buying and although there will always be ‘winners’ their also needs to be lots of ‘also ran’s’ to satisfy consumer taste and demand.

There is no harm in publishers direct marketing and promoting online. This is a must for all today. But unless publishers want to fully service their customers, merely passing them onto a drop ship services at the expense of the existing channel may have a detrimental impact on a channel. The channel that still will provide its major source of revenues, after all we must remember that the music industry turned its back on its channel and look at it now.