Today we’re in conversation with Norman Nehmetallah, who works at red-hot Canadian indie press Coach House Books. Norman’s responsibilities – among many others – include running Coach House’s website, which as of last fall is powered by ReaderBound.

The Coach House Books website has a singular, irreverent editorial style that is a key reason the press has a notably large and devoted subscriber and social media following. Coach House’s sales campaigns are right in line with their overall brand.

We chatted with Norman about two campaigns in particular: the Error 404 sale that ran just after the new ReaderBound-based site launched in early-fall 2016, and the Coach House holiday campaign that began in November 2016. We also asked Norman for broader insights on best practices in contemporary digital marketing.

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ReaderBound: You’ve run two major sales campaigns so far: the Error 404 sale and your Holiday 2016 campaign. Can you tell us a little about the Error 404 sale?

Norman Nehmetallah: The Error 404 sale was kind of a necessity: in the summer of 2016, our old site was compromised. The site went down – for a month – just as we were about to launch one of our biggest titles of the year: Andre Alexis’s follow-up to Fifteen Dogs, The Hidden Keys. After a few weeks, people started to notice of course, so when the new ReaderBound-based site launched, we decided to acknowledge what had happened in a self-deprecating way. The Error 404 campaign gave readers 40.4% off all backlist in our site when they used a promotional code (404, naturally). We got a lot of positive feedback on it, because people were laughing along with us even as they got amazing deals. It was a great way to recoup some sales that had been lost during our month in the dark.

ReaderBound sites come with a targeted, adjustable banner on the homepage so you can highlight your most important news or releases. We used it to highlight the Error 404 sale.

RB: How about the holiday sale?

NN: In late November, we launched our holiday campaign aimed not only at maximizing sales but also at building deeper connections with readers. For this one, we really took advantage of ReaderBound’s product bundling feature that allows publishers to group books according to criteria such as author or theme – or basically whatever organizing principle you want to use – and price them as a bundle. In other words, the bundle becomes a distinct product on the site, with its own listing and own price. The idea here is to encourage readers to discover and ideally read more than one book on your site.

We created three-book bundles based on common reader archetypes including:

  • The Boy Poet Starter Kit
  • The Dysfunctional Family Kit
  • The Drunk Uncle Kit

Traditional archetypes like that. We sold a lot of bundles. And even when we didn’t make a sale, we heard from readers who just really enjoyed the way we did the bundles, and that means a lot to us, too. We care about reader engagement as much as making sales. It’s a long-term business approach.

We also became personal shoppers: we formed the Coach House Holiday Response Unit. Until December 20th, harried Christmas shoppers could send us a description of someone for whom they wanted to find a perfect book, and Coach House staff (aka the crack Holiday Response Unit) would then send the shopper a personalized book recommendation. Shoppers were invited – but not pushed! – to buy the book off the Coach House site, which then triggered us to gift wrap the book in press sheets with a personalized note – for free. Also free: personalized shipping for Canadian orders. Four times out of five with this element of the campaign, the shopper ended up buying the book we had recommended.

RB: These were the first campaigns that you ran on your new ReaderBound site. What was the experience like for you, and how did the new site help you roll these recent sales promotions out?

NN: The experience was positive because the user interface is simple and intuitive. I don’t think of myself as a technology expert and the ease of use is a big advantage. Other things we appreciate about the ReaderBound platform include:

  • The e-commerce shopping cart, which makes it super-fast and easy for (1) customers to buy a book (everything they need to fill out is on one page) and (2) publishers to design and implement sales promotions/discounts within minutes, look at detailed analytical reports, and see how people are moving through the cart. In cases where someone doesn’t complete a transaction, you can make educated guesses as to why, and figure out ways to remove that obstacle for them. You can also communicate with readers directly through the shopping cart; for example, they might have a question about shipping and they can ask it right there and we can respond to it in the cart, as well, rather than through personal email. It’s responsive and fast.
  • Because of the shopping cart and the analytics attached to it, you can learn how to adjust pricing and marketing tactics. For example, if shipping costs look to be a common problem on the more expensive books in your catalogue, you can make a decision to remove the shipping fee in order to make the sale. You lose a bit of money because of not charging the customer shipping, but you gain it back and more because you actually make the sale instead of losing it.
  • ReaderBound auto-generates Canada Post shipping labels when you reflect accurate dimensions and weights in the data, saving you the trip to the post office. In peak sales times, I’d say this saves me five minutes per order, a significant time savings when things are really busy.
  • ReaderBound lets you import bibliographic data once to have it appear in the same format wherever you want it shown, so you don’t have to format it four or five times for whatever digital platform. This streamlined process saves us a lot of time, too.

RB: What’s one standard you always aim to meet with each digital sales campaign? What does it always have to do?

NN: It has to do more than sell books. We think of each campaign holistically, and we want each one to be memorable and to deepen our relationship the kind of readers who are most likely to be interested in what we’re doing and in our books. We’re interested in branding, and branding is not just about selling books – it’s created by a meaningful conversation between a press and its readers.

RB: Which new Coach House title are you most excited about these days?

NN: I’m passionate about our Exploded Views series. The books in this series explore important cultural events, figures, and trends – they’re non-fiction, but lyrical non-fiction. One of the Exploded Views books I’m particularly excited about is Julia Cooper’s The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy, which will be released this May.

RB: What’s one tip you would pass on to any publishing intern interested in digital marketing?

NN: Engage with real people. People are used to tweets and FB posts; there’s nothing novel about them anymore. How meaningful is a retweet today? It’s nowhere near as important as a real conversation with a reader. Take the time to be real. Too often that gets lost in the idea of digital marketing.