Sticky Books Sell

In 2007, Chip Heath and Dan Heath released a hugely successful business book: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other Die. The book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 24 months, went on to be translated into 29 languages, and keeps on selling. The audience for it, as identified by the Heath brothers? Pretty much anyone.

Anyone wanting to make their ideas, products, or services resonate is the target market for Made to Stick. That’s a huge potential audience, and the book delivers on its promise.


Screenshot 1: Short and sweet audience cues on the Heath Brothers’ website.

Intriguing an Audience in Just Six Words

“I want my ideas to stick.” That gets your attention. And it’s in line with the overriding message of the book: keep it short, make it memorable, and make people curious.

Why are we writing about Made to Stick today?

Because a couple of weeks ago, we chatted by phone with Peter Hildick-Smith, the founder of Codex-Group, a firm that specializes in book audience strategy research through quantitative pre-market testing. According to Peter, a major challenge book publishers face today is making their messaging stick, where messaging is understood to be the quick story a publisher puts out about why readers should buy a book.

Peter had recently led a presentation titled “Getting to Yes: Converting Book Browsers to Book Buyers in the Age of Overload” at the Digital Book World 2017 conference. In that session, Peter noted that somewhat paradoxically – given the amount of choice and pricing options they now have – book browsers are actually getting slower at making decisions about book purchases. They face billions of messages out there about other books and it all becomes a swirl of noise. Readers ricochet between competing offers, and while they may pay a split second of attention, say on Twitter, to news of a new book, they aren’t exactly “discovering” the book unless it leaps through the noise.

Peter contends that readers need at least two proper “exposures” to a book – that is, each time a reader hears about or sees a book – before they consider buying it (in our own research, we have found that the number of required exposures can be as high as five or six). Each exposure is a chance for a publisher to move the reader toward a purchase, a chance that shouldn’t be squandered.

How to Increase the Chance a Book Will Be Purchased

1. A book needs to be easily discovered online, which is dependent upon good metadata.

2. If the reader can’t quickly grasp what the book is about, it’s hard for them to move toward a purchase. The book needs a strong, short hook (à la Made to Stick) and then a great description. In Peter’s experience, too many books are missing that quick, evocative, “This is the book, and this is why you want to read it” core message.

3. The hook and description must be bolstered by good reviews, award information (if available), a jacket, and other persuasive metadata – aka social proof. Some research has shown that positive social proof is more influential in moving people to act in a certain way (e.g., to buy a book) than discounting is. That’s because social proof – such as another influential reader tweeting ecstatically about a book – eases the worry of the potential book buyer that their purchase will turn out to be a mistake.

Once readers are interested in making a purchase, of course, the book has to be priced correctly and it has to be easy to buy.

Talking with Peter dovetailed with a lot of our thinking at ReaderBound. The past few months have been instructive as we worked with publisher clients on their websites and learned about features they find particularly helpful and exciting – which not surprisingly align with what it takes to sell a book today, both according to Peter and to us.

Best Practices

Make books discoverable. Books need good data to be visible and attractive all over the web. ReaderBound has a state-of-the-art data import system that uses every bit of a data record to present books consistently and accurately throughout a publisher site.

Present books compellingly. ReaderBound sites can easily be configured to present the most persuasive case for a book. If a book has received a bucketful of awards, then that can be the visual lead on a ReaderBound webpage. If it’s a new installment of a popular series, the series itself can be brought to the fore. If it’s being discounted to stimulate sales, that, too, can be highlighted – and immediately, with a couple of taps on the keyboard. See Screenshot 2.


Screenshot 2: Discounting on the Wilfred Laurier Press website.

Make books easy to buy. Like, really easy. For example, putting buy links right beside a book jacket and description (see Screenshot 3). ReaderBound sites also feature a delightfully simple one-page checkout that takes a minute to complete.


Screenshot 3: Prominent buy links on the Coach House Books website.

Stimulate impulse buys. No good reader wants just one book. They may think they do, but they don’t, so help them realize it! See Screenshot 4 for an example of a subtle prompt to buy more.


Screenshot 4: Suggestions for more purchases on the Coach House Books website.

Encourage the buyer to come back. ReaderBound allows publishers to place sign-up box right beside key conversion points and on popular pages (see Screenshot 5).


Screenshot 5: Invitation to stay in touch on the Coach House Books website.

Validate the reader’s interest. There’s nothing like great review or an award to help sell a book. Think of how readers pick up books and examine them at physical bookstores – they look for award stickers, blurbs, and reviews, and these often carry as much weight as the actual book descriptions themselves. If you look at Screenshot 6, you’ll see that Wilfred Laurier Press has an entire navigational tab and section devoted to award-winning books in their catalogue. ReaderBound makes it easy to pull in all review and award information onto a book title page.


Sticky. That’s what we’re shooting for at ReaderBound.