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May 23rd, 2009

12:01 AM

Dead Tree Publishers and Online Relations

With the recent drama about how Avon had the temerity to say that online folks didn't really influence the sales of books much in the long run, I hesitate to say this, but I think I can understand where the Avon folks are coming from.

A few authors have shared with me some publishing stories (dead tree, not electronic) and it seems to me that when it comes to dead tree books - and this is an important qualifier, because ebooks are obviously a different story altogether - that the biggest determinant of what makes a book sell great is the stocking of those books in chain stores like Wal-Mart. As increasingly widespread and vocal as the online community can be, I have authors telling me that online sales are still very small compared to sales in stores. For example, an author told to me that she made about 400-500 online sales, but she sold over 70,000 copies in real life. And out of those, easily half are sold in chain stores. And conversely, good online viral marketing won't help you if for some reason those stores don't stock your books.

We have no actual (numerical) evidence that reviews and online blog viral marketing helped pushed those sales. We have instead anecdotal evidences about how a number of people claimed to be influenced by this blog to read a certain book, but when you look at the scheme of things, what's an extra 50 copies sold via an upbeat promotion by Beatrice the Blogger compared to 70,000 books sold off-line?

And Avon is no small press where an extra 50 copies sold could be good news for an author whose books have limited distribution. Avon doesn't need that much promotion. They have a brand name, they have a solid hold on the historical market with loyal readers (although I suspect Berkley who is swallowing every other author in the universe is fast catching up, if it hasn't beaten Avon to the punch already).  Naturally, it makes sense to me that Avon would concentrate the bulk of its marketing budget on advertisements aimed at getting those dead tree books in the hands of readers who shop at Wal-Mart, Borders, Barnes and Noble, et cetera, as opposed to worrying about whether people are talking about a book online. If they want to, hey, that's nice, but Avon doesn't have to. If I'm a businesswoman and 90% of my sales happen off-line, you bet I will focus the bulk of my advertising efforts off-line.

And are they unwise in not seeing the importance of online blogs and such? Well... I guess it's up to us to show them, and right now, I don't think we have the evidence to back up our presumed worth. We may be getting there, but we don't have solid evidence to prove that we're there. And without those evidences, Avon can't be blamed for believing that they should focus the bulk of their marketing efforts on tried-and-true methods.

That's the way I see it anyway.

18 comment(s).

Posted by vein:

Mast I heard online sales were still not much more than 10% of the toal, and buying online does not mean doing other things online. I know people who use Amazon and Ebay but literally don't know what "blog" means. Sure, blogs are worth a few books, but are they worth serious advertising dollars? A few of the top ones might be, but not too much more than that IMHO.
May 25th, 2009 @ 1:52 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

Oops, pressed the submit button before finish making my point.

As I was saying, I'm starting to wonder whether this is a case of bloggers being annoyed with Avon's downplaying their importance as opposed to what Avon is actually doing to publicize their books online. If Avon doesn't feel that online reviewers are important, why would they be sending books to AAR, DA, etc for review?
May 24th, 2009 @ 12:50 AM

Posted by Ann Bruce:

Actually, there is evidence. In the study commissioned by Random House, a third of readers said they depend on online reviews, and more than half of readers browse for books online.

Who did they survey? How was the survey conducted? If the survey was on-line, that might skew the results.
May 24th, 2009 @ 12:48 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

Out of curiosity, Katie, what do you consider "progressive action" that Harper is doing while Avon isn't?

Avon actually makes their books available in eformat to worldwide audience while Random House don't allow Malaysians like me to buy their ebooks, for example, so in this case, I'd say Avon is actually more web-savvy than Random House.
May 24th, 2009 @ 12:47 AM

Posted by Katie Mack:

Katie, but again, we don't have any evidence (yet?) that Amazon's sales are driven by online promotion. Or that people care about online reviews.

Actually, there is evidence. In the study commissioned by Random House, a third of readers said they depend on online reviews, and more than half of readers browse for books online.

Random House knows this because they are progressive enough to actually do the study, instead of just assuming that online reviews don't have much of an impact. Avon really has no clue how much of their sales are impacted by the online community because they rely on anecdotal accounts (as they admitted in the interview). THAT is the difference between a forward-thinking publisher and a shortsighted one.
May 24th, 2009 @ 12:38 AM

Posted by Gennita Low Jenn:

Pardon the typos and grammar mistakes. It's difficult to spot them in this tiny box that bravejournal gives for comments!

--> Amazon's forums...ARE
--> comment and cross-comment

Also want to add:

The KINDLE (and Oprah's promotion of it) is certainly helping to expand the casual readers' buying experience. Perhaps, with its ability to get blogs and newspapers in front of these readers, we'll see a growth in interest in online review sites in time.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 11:43 PM

Posted by Gennita Low Jenn:

These are just my thoughts on readers who just buy printed books:

I think casual readers do care about reviews but not enough to go in search of special blogs or sites for them. For example, I'm sure they read up the opinions and even add their two cents on Amazon and BN.com. This also includes anything they're buying, be it a laptop or a toy.

To them, that's what "reviews" mean--other buyers giving it a rating. I do think that Amazon's forums, although a nightmare to navigate, is giving these readers a starting point to expand their internet travels because after a while, those who are interested in dialogue and discussion will search for more.

Unfortunately, another side to this is, after a while one finds that those who comments and cross-comments in these forums are also the same 30-50 readers under different handles. That makes one conclude that most readers are just interested in one discussion, returning to glacing-at-reviews-at-buying-site status when they're bored/done with it.

I talk to many, many readers at conventions/conferences and I'd say, just from quick questions, 80 percent don't read online review sites although they do order books from Amazon or similar sites. 50 percent don't use the computer for book-shopping, preferring to go pick them up at Walmart/book/grocery stores. Most of them aren't aware of who/what SB or DA or AAR are. They visit authors' websites for book updates and get new recommendations from--TADA--booksellers and librarians, two wonderful groups of people who really know their books. The key to promotion is to be known by librarians and booksellers. JMHO, of course.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 11:33 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Katie, but again, we don't have any evidence (yet?) that Amazon's sales are driven by online promotion. Or that people care about online reviews. We can assume, but those marketing people will want solid numbers before they change their mind.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 9:56 AM

Posted by Ann Bruce:

@Katie Mack: When a company has only X dollars to spend on marketing, it's going to spend it on going after the bigger market. It makes very little sense to spend 80% of your money on 20% (or less) of the market.

And sometimes I wonder if reviews really do affect sales. I ask because many on-line reviewers dismiss JAK and SEP, but I keep buying them. And, Lord knows, I learned to steer clear of books that receive glowing reviews because they don't live up to the high expectations inspired by the reviews.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 9:18 AM

Posted by Katie Mack:

Mrs. G - I wasn't just referring to just e-books, I was referring to ALL books sold online. I was pointing out that Amazon outsold the brick-and-mortar chain stores (both Borders and B&N) for the first time in 2008, and I think they will continue to do so. But I don't think that Borders, B&N, Walmart, etc. are redundant yet.

Given the number of books sold online, I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to think that a lot of these online buyers may be looking at reviews online before buying. Additionally, there is evidence of this in the Zogby study referenced in AAR's article (which was commissioned by Random House).

Bottom line, I think Avon is shortsighted regarding the current/future influence of the online book community. What's worked in the past isn't necessarily what will work in the future. Other publishers have realized this, but Avon seems to be holding tight to those traditional sales models. I think it will hurt them in the long run if they don't adapt.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 8:19 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

Especially since online book sales have now eclipsed brick-and-mortar sales.

I don't believe this is the case. I believe I read on accrispin.blogspot.com that figures showed that last year ebook sales were on the rise, but they made up only 1% of the number of books sold that year. And the number of books sold through Amazon is still, IIRC, not quite there yet to make real life stores redundant.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 7:29 AM

Posted by meh:

maybe someone could tug nailini singh over hear and get her opinion - wasn't her blog blitz because she's overseas? Didn't it work out well?
May 23rd, 2009 @ 7:24 AM

Posted by Emmy:

I don't think that blogs should be entirely discounted, but I can also see how they probably don't contribute significantly to overall print sales. And there's really no way at this point to capture data to show otherwise. You can install a nifty blog counter to show that you get a million hits a day, but how does that translate to sales?

I wouldn't say that the same applies to epubs, but again, no way to capture that data to prove differently. People who sell things are, not surprisingly, driven by hard, countable, facts.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 4:41 AM

Posted by vein:

I agree. The online communities are such a tiny part of the readership for large presses, it probably doesn't count for much.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 4:26 AM

Posted by RomanceReader:

I think Avon is probably right in saying that print sales aren't influenced very much by online promotion. I've been a romance reader for a long time, and I'd never heard of any of the prominent/famous/infamous romance blogs until a couple of years ago when I became involved with an online romance group. However, I would think that ebook/electronic sales would largely depend upon online promotion.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 2:53 AM

Posted by Katie Mack:

I think the point really is that Avon is short-sighted in dismissing any amount of readers, even a small number. Sales are sales, right? To me Avon seems totally focused on the right now instead of right now AND the future, and businesses that aren't forward thinking won't be as successful in the long run as businesses that are. Especially since online book sales have now eclipsed brick-and-mortar sales.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 2:52 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

Of course. We're talking about Avon, so of course I use dead tree authors as an example.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 1:03 AM

Posted by meh:

Very interesting. I do wonder the situation surrounding the referenced author's low ebook sales. I'm pretty much a no name, but even I can sell 500 ebooks on at least half of my electronic titles. If an ebook releases early enough in the month at one of several prominent epublishers, I can have 500 sales in the first month - but, 3 to 4x that in print sales on the title would be my personal max - Walmart online may stock erotica/romantica, but it isn't going to do it in its store. Doubt target will either. That doesn't have favorable print implications for even the most successful epublishers like EC, Samhain and Loose-Id. (But how much do they care?) A non-erotica/romantica ebook publisher is ever so unlikely (to date) to build enough online sales to get Walmart or Target distribution of those titles in print in store, either.

I can only imagine that the referenced author was a print author, with print oriented methods of promoting her work and a print oriented fan base.
May 23rd, 2009 @ 12:57 AM