The report on direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing for university press books that I have been working on is now available. You can download the PDF here; you can also get a copy at the Web site of Rutgers University Press or at Scribd. The Scholarly Kitchen does not have an archiving policy, so the strategy of posting copies in multiple places seems like a prudent one.

archery target
Targeted marketing is important. Image via Alberto Barbati.

The report itself was made possible with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The sponsor was Rutgers University Press, whose director, Marlie Wasserman, served as the principal investigator. The project was significantly enhanced by the efforts of the staff of RUP and the unstinting support of the AAUP. I especially wish to thank the many members of the university press community who filled out the online questionnaire and made themselves available for telephone interviews. The work was also supplemented by many other publishing professionals from outside the world of academic publishing.

D2C marketing of books is a small part of academic publishing today (it runs about 1% of sales now, with some presses reporting figures as high as 3%), but it has the potential to become a more significant channel. It is highly improbable that it could become the primary channel, however, as the exposure other channels provide (Ingram, YBP, Amazon, etc.) is of great importance to publishers. The challenge for a press is how to make D2C work in the context of a multi-channel strategy.

One thing that became apparent during the research is that many presses have not fully comprehended how Web marketing works. Their sites are not optimized for building traffic, and without Web traffic, there can be little commerce. An interesting follow-up exercise would be to experiment with an investment in an entirely new Web design, one that is fully optimized for online discovery and commerce.

Digital publishing (and, for that matter, digital discovery of print books) does not end with the use of a computer to find a book online; mobile computing–smartphones and tablets–are a major and growing area of activity. Publishers now have to accommodate those platforms as well. This is an area where the university press community has much room to grow. Content, both metadata and the full texts of books, must be easily readable on small screens. This in turn means that presses must explore the licensing of e-reading apps and publishing using such new technologies as HTML 5.

Beyond that is the world of social media. It’s hard to know precisely what to make of such services as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the scores of others that now clamor for attention. Is a medium chock full of goofs and pranks, not to mention pictures of cats, a suitable environment to market, say, a serious work on public policy or a book outlining the basic tenets of computational biology? My tentative answer to that (offered with discomfort) is yes. Publishers of all stripes have to bring their wares to their readers, and that means not only the hushed environment of our great research libraries but also iPhones and Twitter. This leads to the metaphor of “marketing in the stream,” which is developed at some length in the report and was previewed on the Scholarly Kitchen.

I have gradually come around to the view that effective marketing of academic books will increasingly be a D2C activity, and that presses will evolve better to enable those direct relationships. This brings us into the world of content marketing (creating material expressly for marketing purposes) and also of verticalization, where a publishing program is built around a small number of subject areas, or even one. It is many years since Bennett Cerf cofounded a company called Random House, but no one would start such an enterprise now. Publishing can no longer be “random”; now it has to be targeted.

The conceptual issue facing university presses is whether they should aspire to be universal. The case for specialization is strong and becoming stronger. This in turn puts pressure on the delicate ecosystem in which presses operate today, in which they attempt to support many of the disciplines of importance to their parent institutions, especially in the humanities. We may be entering the era of the non-universal university press, and it is the opportunity in D2C marketing that will lead us there.


Joseph Esposito

Joseph Esposito

Joe Esposito is a management consultant for the publishing and digital services industries. Joe focuses on organizational strategy and new business development. He is active in both the for-profit and not-for-profit areas.


6 Thoughts on "D2C Marketing Report Now Available"

Is any of the survey data available? I do not see it in the report, except occasional mentions.

The surveys were submitted in confidence. The information will not be made public.

Joe does not mention it, but this study has lessons not just for traditional university presses that operate on a market-based model but also new presses like Amherst that operate on an “open access” model. One point we on the search committee for the new director there discussed is the need for good marketing even when you are not trying to sell anything. An OA press needs eyeballs as much as a market-based press does.

The report provides valuable information from the publishers’ point of view, but what about the “C” in “D2C,” the consumer?

Speaking only for myself as a book buyer, I often look to Amazon or eBay because I can find a good used copy at a more affordable price. Or, I can download a Kindle edition readable on my PC. If the ebook is one of those conversions from a scan, I will be disappointed. There is rarely any hint of this defect, so I like “used.”

In short, three major obstacles in the way of D2C success are (1) unaffordable pricing, (2) a used book marketplace made robust by the Internet, and (3) the failure to format ebook editions to be read on computer screens and take full advantage of HTML features such as “find,” hyperlinks to endnotes and back, as well as a potential for affordable pricing.

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