Lessons from the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Shift to D2C

The annual Frankfurt Book Fair always provides a sense of top-level trends, challenges, and opportunities in the book publishing industry, and this year’s event in October was no exception. Kicking things off at the opening press conference was the assertion, by Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle, that right now, making books discoverable to readers is “one of the industry’s greatest challenges.” 

Dohle emphasized that publishers need to reinvent how they publicize and advertise new books and understand that there must be a shift from a B2B mindset to a B2C orientation:


“In an online world we publishers must become more reader-centric and we must establish direct connections with the reader. We need a completely new approach to marketing books. We have to be able to generate demand for our books, and at scale. We basically have to reinvent how we advertise and publicize new books. This is the true challenge of digital.”—Markus Dohle


In Canada, at least half of books are discovered online. Here’s a more visual expression of that fact: half of the potential book buying audience in Canada is, at one time or another, wandering around the web looking for their next read. And we do mean wandering: they are not limited to the square inches of a bookstore, but rather moving in and out of online sites and discussions, sometimes participating in them and thus sharing news of their discoveries. Almost always, they are right near the checkout, because the checkout is at most a click away and almost like breathing at this stage.

This makes it absolutely essential for publishers to present their books beautifully online, with rich metadata simulating the way book browsers pick up and evaluate books in physical bookstores. When they do invest in their websites and data, they are marketing directly to consumers – not to another business – and significantly upping the chances of their books being bought. Their books become discoverable for readers, for librarians, and for booksellers, who can then choose to purchase them online or offline.

Because online book browsers are so poised to buy books on the web once they discover them, an increasing number of publishers are selling directly to consumers off their websites. Some of them are doing it well, and some are really not. There is little room for error in this regard: provide consumers with a poor shopping experience and they won’t try to purchase from you again. The largest online booksellers have effectively set the standard in terms of availability, shipping, service, and ease of checkout. Publishers that hope to sell from their websites have to get as close to that customer experience standard as possible.

Online discovery converts to offline sales

Investing in metadata and in a great website influences offline sales as well. Bricks and mortar booksellers pay attention to online channels; they notice when there’s a buzz around certain books and authors on social media, for example. And when they do sense excitement around a book, they become more interested in stocking it in their store. This is, somewhat ironically, the B2B upside of marketing directly to consumers: bricks and mortar bookstores (and libraries) become aware of what’s hot to some extent as a result of what consumers are saying is hot. This is particularly important for indie publishers, who have always relied heavily on local bookstores for their sales.

Sales down the line

Going back to Markus Dohle’s comments, specifically “we publishers must become more reader-centric and we must establish direct connections with the reader … we have to be able to generate demand for our books, and at scale,” one of the implications is this:


You have to have a way for people to put their hand up and say they’re interested in your book.


Social media is part of that equation and should be a driver of demand, but it’s email that remains the trump card. When publishers gain the permission to email booklovers, they automatically have the opportunity for forging a strong relationship with them with a carefully considered schedule and content strategy. Think of it this way, too: everyone is on email. Most are on Facebook, but it’s virtually impossible to get any results on Facebook anymore unless without paying for them through ads or sponsored content. Twitter, meanwhile, is less and less effective: it’s in a rut, to say the least, with poorer engagement metrics than Facebook or Instagram, and with a fleeting quality that makes it easy for posts to be missed.

The art of email marketing is one to master. Stay tuned for our next post, which covers how to gain email opt-ins and how to encourage subscribers to engage with your books and authors.


ReaderBound was built with these purposes: to make publishers’ books more discoverable, to make their books easier to purchase online, and to help them create loyal communities of fans. Check out how we do it and drop us a line anytime with questions or for more information.