We were recently asked by major industry funders to elaborate on the business case for publishers to invest substantially in new business systems. The following is an adapted version of our response. Any points that you would add or argue? Please feel free to be in touch at hi@readerbound.com.

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It is no overstatement to say that publishers need to make an ongoing investment in new systems that allow them to promote and sell their books online. Publishing is all about finding audiences for authors’ works, and audiences now live online as much as offline.

Consider:

  • BookNet Canada reports that, as of 2016, reader awareness of books – that is, the means by which readers discover and select new books – is equally split between offline and online channels. In other words, a full 50% of all book discovery now happens online, either via an online bookseller, social channels, or other community sites.
  • More than four in 10 (42%) book recommendations received by readers are now transmitted by online channels. Given the critical role that word-of-mouth and personal recommendations play in influencing purchase behaviour, this is a powerful indicator of the extent to which conversations about books have now transitioned to the web.
  • A 2016 BookNet Canada consumer study found that 48% of respondents’ book purchases were made online. This speaks not only to the increasing prominence of online sales channels, but also to consumer expectations with respect to pricing, service standards, stock availability, and user experience when buying books on the web.

The e-book is not the most profound digital transformation in book publishing. Rather, it is the great extent to which discovery and purchase of books has now moved online.

For the majority of Canadian publishers, this creates an urgent need for investments in the following areas:

1. Improved efficiency in leveraging bibliographic data. While most firms have invested in strengthening the ONIX data they supply to trade accounts, these data feeds, with rare exception, are not well integrated with publishers’ websites.

This triggers substantial hidden costs in terms of double data-entry and maintenance of duplicate data sets, as well as inconsistent or incorrect product information. Meanwhile, the consumer expectation is for rich and reliable title information for every book, including covers, reviews, award information, excerpts, tables of contents, and more. Publishers, therefore, need improved systems that can leverage their investment in bibliographic data by drawing that same data feed into their website and by automatically cycling new/updated records on an ongoing basis.

2. Better performance across all mobile and desktop devices. The standard for website engineering has increased over the past three years, particularly with respect to page load times and responsive designs that adapt across desktop and mobile devices. In 2016, 55% of all Internet usage was via mobile devices, and consumer expectations in this respect are clear: book buyers expect to be able to browse, sample, share, and purchase just as easily on mobile devices as on their desktop computers. Publishers that cannot deliver this experience incur real costs in terms of lost sales.

3. Improved user experience with respect to purchase, shopping cart behaviour, and checkout. This is another area where consumer expectations are uncompromising, shaped by new customer experience and service standards established by the dominant online booksellers. Most publishers have considerable room to expand their direct sales – to authors, to institutional accounts, and to end consumers – via their own websites. To do so, however, they need to offer readers a best-in-class shopping experience, one that removes as much friction and difficulty as possible from the buying process. If the new service standard in online book shopping is “one-click ordering,” publishers hoping to compete in the online space must get as close to that standard as possible.

4. Greater efficiency with respect to reader engagement and direct sales processing. The operating context for every publishing house is that its capacity, particularly with respect to staff time, is already overstretched. The tremendous opportunity of the shift in book discovery and purchase to online is that every publishing house can now find new ways to engage directly with readers, and to sell more books directly as well. But for publishers to capitalize on this opportunity, they need new tools that allow them to efficiently process and fulfill direct orders, smoothly convert reader interest into email and social opt-ins, and easily implement online sales promotions and marketing campaigns. To the extent that these things can be done quickly and with minimal demand on staff time – or, better yet, automated to a great extent – the publishing house can realize significant operating efficiencies, an improved competitive position, and closer ties to an expanding base of readers and customers.

Which brings us to ReaderBound

ReaderBound is a new made-in-Canada system for producing publisher websites. It was created to respond both to the opportunity of the consumer shift to online as well as the related competitive and operating challenges that Canadian publishers are facing today.

  • The system revolves around a best-in-class application that has been built specifically for book publishers and that offers a full range of features to drive online promotion and sales.
  • A dedicated team provides ongoing training, incremental development, coaching, and support  to ensure that publishers are able to use all features and tools to the best possible effect.
  • An updated version of the application is released every quarter. Every release includes new features that help extend the capabilities of ReaderBound websites and ensure that they stay current with best practices for online book marketing and sales. In this sense, every ReaderBound client is part of a community of publishers that participates in the development of the system, with each publisher helping to shape the roadmap of new features and services that are rolled out every three months.

In short: The system results in a fully featured publisher site that is also built to last. The engineering behind the platform helps ensure that sites can remain technically current and adaptable to the evolving needs of publishers over an extended period of time. And publishers gain considerable control and expanded capabilities that allow them to directly reach and engage with readers.

Image: Empty cart display on a ReaderBound site.

Consumer expectations and buyer behaviour will continue to change, as will service and performance standards for publisher websites. Adaptable, extensible, and efficient systems such as ReaderBound are the new business imperative for publishers who need to expand their capacity to bring their books and authors to new audiences.

Image: Site admins get messages as soon as orders come in.