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August Article

Monkey Traps and Marketing
By Brian Jud

There is a unique way to trap monkeys in the islands of the South Seas. The natives drill a small hole in a coconut, hollow it out and fill it with rice. Once a monkey puts its hand in the coconut to get the food, it cannot remove its clenched fist. Refusing to let go of their prize, the monkeys are unable to escape.

Publishers can get caught in a similar trap if they become conditioned to avoid risks and persist in using strategies that were successful in the past, without evaluating whether they are still relevant today. Their grasp on a comfortable feeling of security yields the same sense of contentment the passengers on the Titanic experienced moments before it struck the iceberg. Success in a rapidly changing industry demands that you evaluate past triumphs to determine if you should introduce new titles using a different game plan.

Blind adherence to the programs that led to past marketing successes leads

to inertia. A sense of rigidity develops when a successful publishing company fails to recognize market drift -- a gradual but substantial shift in customer preferences, business conditions and competition. Instead, remain focused on the fact that success is determined more by addressing the dynamic predilections of today's customers than by blindly following historical marketing formulas.

Don't just do something, stand there!

Stop yanking at the coconut, let go of your past and pause to ponder what you are doing and where you are going. Go back to the basics of marketing and create a plan that defines your mission, generates objectives, establishes strategies and stimulates a program of specific tactics.

1. Mission

Your mission statement is a concise answer to two questions. First, "What business are we in?" This may seem obvious because you are a producer and purveyor of books. But this is a limiting concept because you are really a provider of information that people need and are willing to pay for. Publishers essentially put into practice a customer-satisfying process that

begins with market needs, not a goods-producing process that ends with the sale of a book.

Second, "Who are we trying to serve?" Are your customers the companies in your distribution channel? No, because the sale of a book does not end when you ship it to your distributor. Nor does it end when Ingram places it in their inventory. And it certainly doesn't end when bookstores place it on their shelves. The purchasing process of one title concludes when a satisfied customer purchases the next title by that same author. Decide who your crucial customers are or could be.

Focus on the needs of the ultimate readers of your books. The best way to reach them may not be through the traditional system of distribution, but through non-traditional channels. Find out why they read the types of books you publish and how they buy them. Then give your customers what they want.

Use your business assessment to investigate and evaluate alternatives. Then decide upon your mission, your definition of where you want to ultimately be. Examples are found in the stories behind such people as Ray Kroc (McDonald's), Leon Leonwood Bean and, of course, Jeff Bezos, the person who started He quickly became the proprietor of the "Earth's Largest Bookstore" by pursuing his vision to prove the appeal of Internet shopping to millions.

2. Objectives

The purpose of objectives is to divide your long-term vision into attainable goals. Traditional business planning requires that objectives be written, functional, measurable, specific and time-oriented. However, objectives must be more than that or they simply remain good intentions.

First, objectives should be operational. They must be capable of being converted into assignments that instill action in those responsible for their attainment. Dynamic objectives become the basis as well as the motivation for work and achievement. In addition, objectives must make concentration and allocation of resources and efforts possible.

Marketing objectives. Maintain the focus on your customers and what you are really selling to them because each will buy your titles for a different reason. Remember that you are not selling books. You are selling solutions to problems. Know what your various customers want, give it to them and make sure they know you are the one giving it to them.

Innovation objectives. Rapidly changing technology is creating many opportunities for people in the book business. Print-on-demand, electronic books and Internet marketing have changed the way we all do business. The whirlwind pace of mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances and IPOs is changing the territory in which we perform. Creativity must be applied to find new titles to bring to market (or new markets for existing titles), different distribution channels, novel ways to offer price incentives while maintaining your margins and original ways to promote your titles above the ever-increasing clutter of competitive advertising, sales promotions and publicity.

It is not necessary that you be the first to innovate a product or process. Just be the best at what you do. For example, Henry Ford did not invent the car and he was not the first to manufacture it. And he was not the first to come up with the concepts of automation or interchangeable parts. Instead, he honed and perfected concepts others invented and fulfilled his vision to build a car for the multitudes.

3. Strategies

Once you feel comfortable with your overall objectives, create the strategies that will direct your efforts to achieve them. Think of your strategies as statements of the general direction you will take in each of the four areas of marketing concentration (Product, Place, Price and Promotion) in order to reach your objectives.

Product Strategy. The word product forces you to think of all merchandise you can create that will satisfy the needs of your customers, not just about books. In the process, think about these decision alternatives.

1. Should you change your product strategy? Historically, you may have defined yourself as a book publisher. Perhaps it is time to revisit that decision. Certainly, you could continue publishing your current line of books, but you might add books-on-tape, books online, video tapes, audio-cassette programs or any medium that will deliver your information to your customers in the form in which they want to receive it.

2. Could you maintain your current product line, but change the strategy? There are still decisions to make even if you decide to remain a printed-book publisher. Now you must decide which of the two general product line strategies to adopt: a limited-line or a broad-line


In a limited line strategy, the publisher attempts to cover a broad market with a single title or a limited line of titles. For example, Publishing Directions company addresses the need for media training with three products: a video program (You're On The Air) and two books (Perpetual Promotion and It's Show Time). The main competitive weapon in this strategy is product differentiation to remove the titles from price competition.


History has derived the Rule of Three that states a stable market will have only three significant competitors, and their market share will be in the proportion of 4:2:1 (50%, 25% and 13%). So, if there are already three major players in the niche you are considering entering, you must have a significant point of difference in order to succeed. In other words, do not try to unseat a market leader with a me-too title. Maintain a limited line of books so you become the big fish in a little pond.

Conversely, a broad-line strategy relies on identifying a series of pockets of demand, each with peculiar and distinct characteristics of its own. In this case you would publish more, different titles for deeper penetration into each segment. This strategy is preferable if your ultimate objective is to achieve a more sizeable total market.

A broad-line strategy is usually more successful because stronger titles support weaker ones, customer recognition spills over to the entire line, your titles will display a greater presence in bookstores and your promotional costs are spread over more titles.

The broad-line approach has market segmentation as its main competitive weapon. In order to be successful, you would vary the physical characteristics of a book to fit identifiable market segments. An important consideration is that you may have to use production techniques that could limit your bookstore sales. For instance, you may have to publish books

utilizing die cutting or comb, spiral or three-ring binding. While these books may be required for penetration in certain niches, they are typically shunned by bookstores.

3. Should you introduce new titles/products? If your backlist is strong, you might consider introducing new titles to breathe new life into your front list. Or, you could contemplate product-line extensions such as a calendar, television show or party game based on your title.

4. Should you reposition the product or line? A viable title may go stale even if the information contained within is not obsolete. In this case, a makeover may be necessary to rejuvenate the title. This does not always require a new edition, but simply a new cover design, a new promotional concept, new markets and/or new uses.

5. Should you discontinue the product or line? After your title has spawned several offspring, its sales will eventually decline. Your distributors' sales efforts vanish, and many of those books you thought were sold are returned. You may be near the point at which you must

consider cutting your loses and taking the title out of print.

There is always the alternative of remaindering your books to recoup part of your investment, but do not choose that path too quickly. Instead, look for ways to leverage your investment. For example, think about creating a publicity event to give away books. This could assist in establishing contacts among people in the media, opening the door to future coverage. You can accomplish the same result by finding groups and organizations in need of your books. These could include prison libraries, shelters, nursing homes or hospitals. The good will and contacts you create will be worth more than the money you would make through remaindering.

Place strategy

Place refers to the distribution network you design to bring your books to the ultimate consumers. Careful consideration must be given to this decision, because once made it is difficult to change. Most distributors require an exclusive agreement that may be cancelled only at certain times throughout the year.

There are three overall systems of distribution: direct, indirect or a combination of the two. If you have historically sold your books through bookstores, you probably utilized some variation of the traditional distributor _ wholesaler _ bookstore network.

Alternatively, you might consider the technique of marketing directly to non-traditional, or special-sales markets. On the positive side, you will not be subjected to the 65 - 70% distribution discounts. But on the other hand, you are now responsible for all the sales activities previously performed by your distributor. Your promotional expenses will increase and you may still have to discount your books. Or, you could market your books using a combined direct/indirect strategy. The point to keep in mind is that there are multiple paths available and you should evaluate the pros and cons of each before deciding your final distribution strategy.

Pricing strategy

The common practice of book pricing asks that you multiply the unit printing cost by seven or eight. However, this maxim can lead you to trouble. There are five major components to consider as you determine the retail price of your book. The first three are hard numbers, distinct and explicit: your direct costs, the discounts taken by your distribution partners and the profit you expect to make. The other two are more intuitive: the goals you have set for yourself and the psychological impact your price has upon the prospective buyer. These five factors play upon and interact among themselves much like the ingredients of a recipe. The way you combine them (with a dash of intuition) determines your ultimate price, sales and profitability.

Pricing is as much an art as a science because of the impact of your judgment upon the quantifiable ingredients of your pricing recipe. For example, the discount taken by those I your distribution network is fixed upon agreement, but which distribution system will you choose? What costs will you allocate to your book and for what time period? How will changes in promotion affect your costs and sales? Is a strategy of penetration pricing (the lowest price) always better than a skimming (high-price) policy? Will penetration pricing maximize sales and profits? These are some of the considerations that must be addressed before deciding your pricing strategy.

Promotion strategy

Promotion is one of the most important functions of marketing. It makes people aware that your books exists, and makes them understand why they need to buy it. There are four general promotional tools you can use at different times to accomplish these goals. These are sales promotion, publicity, advertising and personal selling.


Your job is to determine when and how to use each of these tools to optimize your sales. For example, suppose your author is about to conduct a book signing. It will be more successful if you precede the event with an awareness campaign. This might include an enlargement of the book's cover featured in the store (sales promotion), press releases sent to the local media (publicity); post cards mailed to prospective customers (advertising) or media appearances promoting the signing (personal selling).


Creating and implementing a successful promotional strategy will be more effective if you match your promotional mix to:


1) The title's life-cycle stage. If your title is in its introductory stage, mass communication techniques should be emphasized. Initially, people need to understand why it is in their best interest to purchase your book. Later, they need to be reminded to buy it.


2) The personality of your authors. Authors who loathe media appearances might be better suited to a promotional mix heavy in direct mail, publicity and advertising. Others may thrive on national exposure and excel in performing on the air and in personal performances.


3) The nature of your product line. A list heavy in fiction lends itself to a strategy weighted toward sales promotion, publicity and advertising where mass communication's low cost per exposure stimulates demand most efficiently.


4) The nature of your markets. A nonfiction title destined for a tightly defined market niche dictates personal communication implemented through a targeted campaign of direct mail and personal selling.


4. Tactics

Next, in each of the four strategic areas, describe innovative and specific actions you will take to employ your marketing weapons. This tactical portion of your plan creates a "To Do" list of activities that will apply your strategies and fulfill your objectives. Rarely will historical tactics meet the needs of current titles, so they must be customized to each title and

author's circumstances. Be specific and add a deadline for the accomplishment of each action.

Product tactics

If you chose a strategy that would expand your product mix, list the actions you will take to do so. For instance, which current titles are candidates for books-on-tape? Do you need to acquire new titles? If you want to sell books online, how must your web site be changed? Or on what other web site could you sell your titles? Which current titles could be extended with video or audiocassette programs?

Place tactics

Your decision to continue with the traditional distributor _ wholesaler _ bookstore channel is now a preference rather than a habit. Now you can plan new ways to work with your distributor's sales people to help them sell more of your titles and books. Is it possible to address their sales meetings to describe your new titles?

Pricing tactics

Now define unique programs for price reductions or increases. What will your price be? Basing the price on your costs plus a standard markup is a simple system, but it fails to consider today's competition, customers' buying habits, volume benefits, special sales opportunities, economies of scale and profit objectives.

On the other hand you could simply meet competitors' prices. But this assumes your costs and objectives are the same as theirs. Or, you could focus on cost/benefit relationship to your customers to determine the highest price the customer is willing to pay that will optimize revenue and maximize net profit. Choose one tactic and set your price.


1) Sales promotion utilizes items such as premiums, giveaways, brochures and coupons for generating awareness and stimulating demand through short-term awareness campaigns. They can easily be tied in with other promotional tools. List those you will put into action.


2) Publicity, such as press releases and reviews, is perhaps the most economical element of the promotional mix. It increases awareness and credibility through third-party testimonials. Now, what will you include in your press kit? To what media will you send them? On what shows will you schedule media appearances? Will you hire a publicity firm to do that for you?


3) Advertising, including direct mail, can reach many consumers simultaneously, with the same message and with a relatively low cost per exposure. It can increase awareness of your titles and educate people about the benefits of buying them. Which titles will you advertise and in what media?


4) Personal selling can be the most persuasive selling tool because it allows two-way communication. Now is the time to line up book signings, personal appearances and media tours.

Kaleidoscopic marketing

The planning process is similar to using a kaleidoscope. There are a finite number of pieces, but you can create an infinite number of combinations simply by rearranging them. However, you can also spend a great deal of time searching for the ultimate combination. Instead, manipulate the data you have until you feel comfortable with a given plan and then take action. As you proceed, new information will be added to the mix and you will need to re-evaluate your direction and progress. But each turn will bring you closer to your ultimate, long-term objectives. The process is challenging, but motivating and manageable.

Don't be afraid to evaluate what has worked for you in the past and try new strategies if necessary. Aim high. Set big goals that will motivate you to action. Remember, some people thought Goliath was too big to hit. David thought he was too big to miss. Whether you have a stone in your sling or your hand in a coconut, you may need to let go to succeed.