The Inevitability of Change:
As traditional models for print media are becoming less sustainable and the Internet is continuing to demonstrate an increased efficiency as a distribution channel for content, the publishing industry is facing a number of challenges including a decline in readership, a shift by authors towards self-publishing, and the digitalization of content. These changes in the publishing world have lead to a reduction in subscriptions, circulation, and ad sales, forcing the publishing industry to look at their role in the content marketplace in a new way. Many publishers have subsidized their print publishing with an online counterpoint, but there are other moves the industry can make in order to survive the push to digitalize. Publishers need to put themselves in the mindset of a content marketer in order to mitigate the problems that have infiltrated the publishing industry over the last several years.
Traditionally, a publisher’s expertise has focused primarily in producing and packaging content for an audience, not in monetizing that content online. As the digital model of content consumption becomes more prominent, the publishing business model must evolve into one that leverages the user-centric nature of the medium. However, in order for a new model to succeed, the support of the magazine and newspaper industry is essential so that a publishing company’s input can still be heard and so that they can maintain their status as the primary distributor of online content.
Subscription services, mobile apps, and E-books, are already cropping up as viable alternatives to the old write-bind-push model. The stats show that there is no denying the trend toward tablet- and e-reader-based consumption, which should comfort publishers that they can surely find success in this channel:
- E-books are already a fact of life for booksellers, having readership by Americans aged 16 and older increase from just 16% to 23% in 2012 (Pew). At the same time, amongst that same demographic, the number of those who read printed books fell from 72% to 67%.
- In a Forrester survey (via Publishers Weekly), 23% of publishing executives report that 50% of book sales at their company are in the digital format, not physical.
- As early as June of 2010, only 32% of frequent buyers were purchasing their books from a brick-and-mortar store, and that number still decreased to around 20% by the end of 2012 (Forbes).
While going digital appears an easy fix, the publishing industry can be doing more. In the Internet age, everyone online has the opportunity to be a publisher. Thus, full-fledged publishing companies need to differentiate themselves from the typical blogger in order to become “Content Kings.” Editors already curate the best content, now they just need to refocus audience support from their “printed brand” into online territories, therefore increasing awareness of new opportunities to buy premier content and eventually boosting sales.
Social Sales Strategy and the Power of Peer Suggestion:
Publishers have a big advantage for “social” engagement over other industries, because their consumers, or readers, are fond of sharing their opinions and generating content of their own. Therefore it’s not surprising that word-of-mouth and social media are the go-to tools for empowering the audience to buy a book, for example, and then recommend it to a friend. Social media provides an ideal opportunity for publishers to capitalize on readers’ love of sharing their opinions with others, despite the act of reading itself being a solitary activity. Goodreads, a social networking site for book lovers and an example of this opportunity, allows users to organize libraries, write reviews, track reading progress, search recommendations, and more, all while connecting with their friends. Social networks also provide unique opportunities to converse with the authors themselves, publishers, and fellow readers. According to Otis Chandler, Goodreads CEO, peer recommendations account for the largest source of book discovery and are the most convincing factor when deciding whether or not to read a book.
Word-of-mouth is a powerful influential tool that is crucial to sales, proving social marketing to be a major boon to publishers moving forward, be they printing houses, multi-tiered publications, magazines, booksellers, or even bloggers. Robust social marketing campaigns aimed at turning consumers into creators of content are sure to help publishers to increase awareness of their brand (or support the existing brand), generate revenue, and enhance the user experience. Publishers can implement social reading platforms in order to create a social reading environment for their content, or at the very least, utilize social networks in order to interact with customers.
What Does Social Reading Look Like?
A prime example of a successful move to the online space via social reading is the well-known publishing brand, Scholastic. They have implemented a platform called Storia in order to create an interactive experience for their readers. Storia is an app that can be downloaded directly from their sites, and it includes mobile and desktop E-reader capabilities, resources such as dictionaries, a text-to-speech read-aloud tool, and note-taking tools, and learning activities. This sort of user-centric functionality creates loyal consumers, in part because they have a one-stop-shop for all things related to Scholastic. This puts the power not in the author or title, but in the platform itself.
On the other hand, sites like Bookish are focusing more on placing the power with “the people,” where the influence of the platform is driven by the community Interactions are focused more on each other as opposed to the content. Co-owned by Penguin, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster (three of the “Big Six” publishing houses), Bookish is for print what Hulu is for television: a mechanism for discovery, brimming with content from all of the major players, as well as self-published authors. Although the site is still in its infancy, there is a lot of potential to connect readers to authors, publishers, critics, and each other.
Regardless of which route a publishing company takes, it is clear that implementing some sort of social marketing strategy is essential for surviving this period of industry flux. Those that prevail will be the ones that provide value for their readers beyond the initial purchase of a magazine issue or book. Publishers need to be able to convert readers from passive consumers of content into active participants. Publishers are already content curators: the next step is to engage audiences, and use that engagement to bolster the library of content.