A few days ago I got a query from Judith Applebaum, editor of The Independent, the terrific monthly magazine from the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association). She is researching an article for a future issue about the way publishers use their websites or blogs.
Keep in mind that the IBPA has many members who are independent publishers who issue print books and distribute through the existing book distribution channels to national retailers.
There are also lots of small presses and many self-publishers, too, so the audience for this magazine is pretty diverse as far as publishers goes.
Although those of us who spend a lot of time online may forget, there are still many businesses finding their way in the digital world. As book discovery and purchasing increasingly happen online, the question of how to establish, build and profit from an online presence can become an existential task for a publisher.
I was happy to respond to the survey, and reproduce it here (with Judith’s permission) because it can make you think about how you use your online assets, too. I know it stimulated a lot of thought and gave me some insights into the way we do our business.
Here’s the questionnaire, with my responses added.
For a feature story in an upcoming issue of the IBPA Independent, please tell us what your website does for you.
For instance, does it:
* Let you get information about people in your market directly from them?
That’s what’s so great about using a blog as your publisher website. Reader comments are an outstanding source of information about my market, and I also use readers surveys with inexpensive tools like SurveyMonkey.com to get actionable market information directly from the source. Readers who come to the blog are, by definition, interested in the topics around which I’ve built my books and other training products.
* Help you build your mailing list?
Using free information products on my blog has enabled me to quickly grow a sizable email list. This is crucial for solo entrepreneurs and small presses. There’s nothing move valuable, from a business sense, than your own “house list.” I don’t see this any differently than the list of over 10,000 people we had built up in our publishing business in the 1990s.
* Serve as a sales channel for your books?
Just this month we’ve added what amounts to a “store” for books, tools and training programs to the site. Although I don’t sell print books or epub or Kindle ebooks on the site, we do have PDF ebooks.
* Serve as a sales channel for products related to your books?
Yes, and this is really important for our business. Like many nonfiction self-publishers, books are a great way to establish authority, create awareness and open opportunities. But book sales are not always the chief source of income, and the products related to the same subject areas (in my case, indie publishing and bookmaking) are crucial to our success.
* Give you a chance to respond to complaints before they go public?
Well, not exactly. One thing about blogging and being visible in social media is that you automatically start operating your business with quite a bit of transparency. Virtually all the “complaints” are received through blog comments. This allows me to address them in full view of the community, and I think that adds quite a bit to the trust readers have in what they read here.
* Help you generate interest in specific books?
The blog is a perfect tool for generating pre-publication “buzz” for books (and other products). Partly this has to do with the ongoing conversation that happens around a blog, and partly because the blogger controls his or her own publication schedule. For instance I announced a new webinar series on the blog, and it has built a lot of interest as we get ready to offer the first of these educational sessions.
* Help you draw people to events?
Although I use the blog to advertise live appearances, I don’t have any accurate metrics on how successful this is. People pretty regularly come up to me at industry events to say hello (I love that!) and to tell me they “met” me on this blog. This weekend I’ll be speaking at the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference, and I would advertise it here except it usually sells out anyway. (Info here: SFWFC)
* Give writers and potential rights buyers an easy way to propose books and deals?
Well, I don’t hear from many rights buyers since I don’t have a very long list of titles I’m publishing, but I hear from writers every day. This is more interesting than it might sound. In the past week, for instance, I’ve been pitched several guest articles, and from past experience I know that getting to know other authors who are also bloggers has helped me grow the reach of my business. And deals are almost non-stop, with offers to affiliate or joint-venture on one project or another coming in quite regularly. This is one of the valuable but little-discussed advantages of having an active blog or website.
Many thanks in advance.
Editor, IBPA Independent
My pleasure Judith, and thanks for the great questions.