“Total unit sales of print books sold through the outlets whose sales are captured by Nielsen BookScan dropped 10.2% in the six month period ended July 3, 2014…” (PWDaily). This is an ongoing trend that will continue, according to most publishing experts. The good news is that there is one area in which you can generate sustained growth in your sales and profits, and that is non-bookstore (special-sales) marketing.
There are advantages to focusing on special sales. Here you can sell your content in any format – ebooks, printed books, audio books or booklets. You can also sell it in many more places, including retailers, libraries, corporations, schools and associations. You can sell your books more profitably with less price discounting. And in non-retail segments, book sales are sold on a non-returnable basis and you are generally paid more quickly. If that were not enough, even more benefits accrue through special sales:
1) Compete in a marketplace larger in size than the bookstore segment. More books are sold to and through non-bookstore outlets than through bookstores every year. And the difference is growing. If you do not seek book sales outside of bookstores than you may be missing half of your potential. Or, to look at it from a different perspective, you could double your sales with additional marketing efforts directed to non-bookstore markets.
2) Experience growth that is virtually limitless. You can create entirely new segments for your book sales. Find out where your prospective buyers shop, meet or work, and have your books for sale there. It could be airport stores, gift shops, associations, yoga-center bookstores or in corporate libraries.
3) Take your titles to the potential buyers rather than waiting for them to go to a bookstore. When you call on large corporations or small gift shops you have the buyers’ undivided attention. And when you call on people who regularly deal with publishers – such as book clubs and catalogs — the buyers are usually receptive to your presentation.
4) Reduce the competition. The majority of publishers ignores non-bookstore markets — with the possible exception of libraries — and relies upon bookstores as their sole source of revenue. Also, when you perform on the air you tell people to go to the bookstore (bricks or clicks) to buy your books. When consumers heed your advice they are exposed to all your competitive titles surrounding your book on the shelf.
5) Minimize discounting since buyers do not have immediate access to competitive pricing. Consumers at bookstores can immediately compare your book’s price and relative value with competitive titles. But if you go to product managers in a corporation who are looking for a premium to boost the sales of their products, they do not know if yours is priced above or below competitors’ titles. They are only concerned with its cost — how the information in your book can help them sell more of their products profitably.
6) Sell books on a non-returnable basis. Although retailers buy on a returnable basis (discount stores, warehouse clubs, supermarkets) most non-retail buyers do not expect to return books.
7) Stimulate increased exposure. Hit (not physically) your target buyers more efficiently and effectively through a variety of promotional tools such as articles in niche magazines, trade shows, direct mail, and media performances. If you are selling a title about improving someone’s tennis serve, your article in Tennis magazine could do more to enhance your sales than a review in Publishers Weekly.
8) Increase your flexibility in negotiations. Discounts are typically based on the number of books purchased. Even if you negotiate a 50% discount with a buyer, you are 5 – 20% better off than selling that same book through bookstores. There are also non-price variables open to negotiation, such as format, terms and payments periods.
9) Improved cash flow, since some businesses purchase your products at list price. Government agencies are obligated to pay you interest if uncontested invoices are not paid within 30 days. In special sales markets, many orders are for multiple copies, minimizing your costs to fulfill orders. Shipping charges are typically prepaid an added to the invoice.
10) Do what you do best. You may not have the time, inclination or skill to call on non-bookstore buyers, but you can still get the job done. Set up distribution to libraries, and non-bookstore retailers much as you would to the trade. Find sales representatives to sell your books to corporations, associations and schools. Then use your time for what you enjoy doing, which may be promoting or publishing more books.
Look beyond the bookstore to find opportunities in a marketplace that is expected to grow by 9% annually and you can sell more of your books, more profitably for more years. The bottom line is an improved bottom line, since the benefits of special-sales marketing can translate into sustained growth and greater profitability for your business.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS – www.bookapss.org– formerly SPAN) and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books. Contact Brian at email@example.com or www.premiumbookcompany.com and twitter @bookmarketing
 As forecast by the Advertising Specialty Institute, for the 10-year period beginning in 2010