Carol White is an author, speaker, writer, and book marketing coach. Co-author of the award-winning Live Your Road Trip Dream, she is a frequent guest speaker at conventions such as the national AARP Life @ 50+ and The Great North American RV Rally, and she has spoken about publishing to groups including IBPA’s Publishing University, the Northwest Association of Book Publishers and the Bay Area Independent Publishers’ Association. She serves clients in the U.S. and abroad through her book marketing consulting practice. To learn more, visit

Today’s book business is becoming nearly unsustainable with the pricing and distribution models we’re accustomed to using. In addition, technology is allowing and encouraging disintermediation like never before.

Look at these statistics:

* More than 1,000,000 new titles are now published each year – that’s 2,700 a day

* In 2008 more books were published outside the “traditional” publishers for the first time

* 20%+ of print, audio and e-book book sales now occur online

* 40% of book sales to consumers occur outside traditional “trade” locations

* Bookstores, including the chains, now account for only about 40% of book sales

* Only 5% of all books sell more than 5,000 copies

* E-book sales are growing at more than 100% per year

* E-books accounted for 3% of all book sales in 2009, up from 1% in 2008; 2010 is expected to be about 10%

With the universe of publishing options growing fast, publishers and readers have a difficult time picking the next great books. And with distribution methods multiplying – think e-book readers, downloads and the cloud, for example – the reading public may be chasing a nearly infinite number of choices with limited dollars to spend. The winners will be those who give the reading public what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

As publishers contribute less and less to the author’s success, how do we market our books to stand out in this crowded landscape and still make a profit from the royalties? I maintain that much of what successful smaller publishers have always done now applies to traditionally published authors too. The publisher still fills a critical role in producing a quality product that fills a need; pricing that product correctly for its market; and making sure the product can be found in many places where the reader it’s meant for will go. But even that last item is in question. And certainly, promotional help is dwindling.

As a publisher, an author and a book-marketing coach, I think the changes we need to consider fall into three categories: product changes, distribution changes and interaction changes, all of which have implications for how we market our books in this new world.

Product Changes

It looks to me as though all books will eventually be only digital, with many options available to the consumer and retailer, who will be able to order a “digital file” as a print book (trade paperback, mass-market or hardcover), as audio, as an e-book (probably in several formats for a while), as a download, as a CD, or in other forms still to come. (See Exhibit 1)

If this happens, publishers will have to manage their businesses to cover their costs based upon this variable model. Each choice a publisher offers will carry a different cost to the retailer or the end user, depending in part on the perceived value. Retailers will be able to manage inventory more closely and returns may become a thing of the past. Consumers may look for books in Expresso-like machines in stores, kiosks in the mall, coffee shops, hospital gift shops, cruise ships and more. Publishers are finding they can sell on their websites too, but where does that leave their loyal retailers? Consumers may also be able to subscribe to services from a publisher or retailer that offers limited or unlimited downloads for a fixed monthly fee.

So what will these new “digital files” look like that will make readers prefer them over traditional print books? What if they were interactive, with games, video, audio, links to related articles or other information, cartoons, or social networking apps about a particular book? What if readers could customize them at purchase with their own faces in the illustrations, or choose an avatar to join in the story? And what if – gasp – the files had advertising in them, much like a movie trailer before the main feature, or links to the manufacturers of things featured in the book? The possibilities are endless. Remember, books are becoming more and more about entertainment – just like our society as a whole.

Distribution Changes

I think most of us would agree that the only companies benefitting from the distribution scheme now in place are UPS and other delivery services. Besides being a huge environmental issue, trucking books back and forth all over the country is costly and inefficient. It is unsustainable and unnecessary in a digital world.

With readers demanding content on the fly and technology able to deliver it, we are just beginning to see what could happen. It seems clear, though, that stores will have to change or die, and that serious issues of digital rights management will have to be addressed.

Interaction Changes

When all formats arise from the same simple digital file, consumers can choose the add-ons they’re willing to pay for. Want a hardcover book? No problem; it will just cost more and take a few days to arrive. Want the book on a Kindle, a nook or an iPad? Of course – just a download away. Want an audio version for an iPhone? You bet. Bored on a cruise ship? The Expresso Book Machine has just what you need. Delivery will be wherever, whenever. The consumer will be in control.

But what about Harry Potter, Stephen King or Oprah’s next pick? Yes, big-box book departments -- Walmart, Target and progressive book stores will stock them, but they won’t bother with returns. They’ll just use markdowns for books, the same way they do for that mauve knapsack nobody seemed to want.

What This Means for Marketing

Nobody’s crystal ball ever gives a perfect picture of the future, of course, and I may be wrong about some specifics. But for sure big changes are happening, so how the heck do we prepare for them and how do we make sure our pocketbooks adjust positively to today’s shifting sand?

Marketing always has been and will continue to be an art, not a science. What works for one author and book would fall flat for another. But paying attention to a few principles should help you move through the minefield:

* Now more than ever, build a following. Start well before each book is published. Write a blog or Facebook page and get it known; become an “expert” online and/or through speaking. Maintain a web site people want to visit. As the author, you are in the prime spot to do this. Just look at traditionally published author and blogger Seth Godin’s latest endeavor: He is totally embracing the new way of publishing. Why? Because he can. He makes more money with less effort. BUT, he spent years cultivating his “tribe” to get to this point.

* Start building your own customer and media list. You will surely be in a position to chart your own destiny if you want to in the future. You may choose to be the next Seth.

* Go where you find your audience. This doesn’t have to mean Tweeting five times a day or mounting a soap box in the town square, but it does mean understanding who wants the entertainment value your book encapsulates, going where those people hangout and letting them learn about you. You can probably find some of them online, but you might also find them at quilting shows, horse shows, library readings, rock climbing or RVing. Who doesn’t love romance? But some love it more than others. Find them.

* Be open and stay current. Watch what is going on in the industry. Know what your plan is as the changes become more dominant. Join organizations and participate actively in industry events.

And my final piece of advice? It is what I tell all my clients: Do something to market your book every day and you will be rewarded. Read that e-book article, make that follow-up call, write that blog post, schedule that book signing, research additional new distribution outlets. All this will make us all successful year after year. In short, never close your eyes to the possibilities; never give up; never quit marketing.

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Filed as: Industry Guests, Marketing/Promotion, The Writing Life