The rise of the eBook saw retailers and technology companies such as Apple and Amazon providing publishers with quick and simple routes to market via their platforms. Although this was initially beneficial, it resulted in publishers becoming reliant on a few dominant retailers. By ceding control of the eBook value chain, publishers have become limited in their ability to take full advantage of the opportunities presented.

Publishers face significant challenges when they attempt to reduce this reliance and seek alternative and more direct routes to market. Building and maintaining a direct sales offering can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming, and there are myriad regulatory requirements to comply with. Many of those who have braved these obstacles have achieved a disappointing return on investment, as they have struggled to create a differentiated offering and a compelling value proposition for readers.

At Erudition, we embarked on a range of experiments to find new approaches to direct sales that can be highly beneficial for a wide range of publishers. One of our most successful projects was the development of a direct sales offering for a small publisher of digital resources for musicians called InformanceDespite being a small publisher in a niche market starting from scratch, Informance was able to build a profitable business with more than 95% of revenue from direct sales to customers in over 70 countries.

How was it achieved? Here are a few things that worked particularly well for this publisher.

  • A simple, one-page guest checkout, making it as easy as possible for customers to make a purchase without onerous registration steps upfront
  • Using this checkout as a landing page with discount offers for online marketing campaigns via platforms like Facebook and Google AdWords
  • Bundling eBooks to increase the value of each transaction
  • Moving towards a value per customer rather than transaction model, using email marketing to upsell
  • Leveraging other retail platforms as discovery channels by making some publications available on them
  • Offering other pricing and revenue models, including the unbundling of content for online subscriptions and bulk licensing and sales to institutions.

Not all these ideas will be applicable to every publisher, but our overarching take-out was that businesses can’t simply build a direct sales offering and expect customers to flock to it. Publishers need to offer a compelling value proposition that is based on more than just loyalty. This doesn’t need to be a complicated undertaking, and even simple things like offering different product and pricing options can be highly effective.

Our forays into direct eBook sales led us to develop Erudition Direct – a platform to provide publishers of all shapes and sizes with a simple way to build direct relationships with their readers. It was initially launched to distribute free copies of eBooks (e.g. review, desk or inspection copies), distribute eBooks in bulk and a provide a quick and easy way to sell eBooks and bundles directly using white-label landing pages.

Building on this initial foundation, we’ve recently extended Erudition Direct to support new revenue models such as “download-to-own” subscription models and eBook clubs. These have been met with significant interest as a means of testing new revenue models and thereby enable development of compelling, differentiated offerings for readers. As a result, we’re working with a variety of publishers on various flavours of the eBook club models.

In closing, we’d strongly encourage publishers to take proactive steps in exploring possibilities and opportunities offered by direct eBook sales. Ceding control does not need to be a foregone conclusion and the pitfalls that plagued so many early attempts at direct sales can be avoided by adopting a pragmatic approach. Furthermore, the barriers to entry have been substantially reduced as there are now many tools and platforms exist, making initiatives previously only viable for the largest publishers within reach of just about any publisher.

Please click here to find out more about Erudition Direct.