When a helicopter is at rest, the dials on its dashboard are all askew with arrows pointing in different directions. But when that helicopter is flying straight and level, with no problems, all the arrows are pointing straight up. The pilot can glance at the instrument panel and quickly see if any dials are out of order, indicating that a problem exists. He or she immediately knows when something is wrong without wasting time evaluating that which is working correctly.
You can apply this same concept to your publishing efforts by setting up a system that quickly points out where marketing problems exist. Once you know what the problem is you can determine its cause and take steps to solve it.
What to measure
If you spend too much time evaluating all your actions you won’t have time to implement your plan. Therefore, look to your key result areas and measure the difference between where they are and where you wanted them to be at this point. Are your unit sales on target? Is your revenue where you want it to be? Are profits up to par? For now, ignore those titles that are on target and attend to those below forecast.
Step One: Conduct a Quantitative Audit
A quantitative audit is objective, comparing numbers that were forecast with numbers that were actually achieved. This can easily be set up in a spreadsheet as shown below (1H = First Half; r = Difference).
Step One: Determine the cause(s) of the shortfall
Act like a helicopter pilot and look only to where a problem exists. In this example, let’s say your quantitative analysis shows that sales are below forecast in bookstores, libraries and associations. In each segment, look to the product itself, as well as its distribution, price and promotion to find possible causes.
Product. Perhaps you are spending too much time trying to breathe new life into a title that should be abandoned. Product quality may be the problem if you cut too many corners trying to save money in the production stage. Your book must have an ISBN, barcode, title on the spine, price on the rear cover and high production quality.
Place. Don’t be too quick to blame your distributor if bookstore sales are awry, but you may be working with the wrong distribution partner. Distributors have strengths and weaknesses just like any other company. It might benefit both of you to seek distribution with a firm more suited to your titles and promotional mix.
Price. Is your title(s) competitively priced? The prices of adjacent books on bookstore shelves are compared immediately. If yours is priced significantly higher than neighboring titles — and does not give sufficient reason for that discrepancy — buyers will naturally choose the lower-priced book.
Promotion. Are your authors promoting their titles properly and sufficiently? Just because they are on television or radio shows does not guarantee sales. They may perform poorly, or the show’s audience may not be in your target market. Similarly, you may be sending hundreds of press releases weekly, but what if they are poorly written or sent to the wrong person? The effects of promotion are cumulative and are more likely to succeed if you communicate the right message, at the right time to the right people frequently enough.
Product. Acquisition librarians may choose not to buy your book for any number of reasons: bindings that are not durable, missing CIP data, if there is no index or if the topic does not fit their core or patron-driven collections. In many cases they do not like fill-in-the-blank books because their patrons sometimes fill in the blanks.
Place. Did you properly segment the library market? There are many types of libraries (public, prison, academic, law, religious, corporate) that purchase books for different reasons.
Price. Is your book priced properly for this segment? Is it priced competitively with similar titles?
Promotion. Did you get reviews in the proper journals? Does your promotional material appeal to their buying motives? Librarians want to help their patrons, and an appeal to profitability or increased inventory turns will not persuade them to buy. Would your authors consider conducting a library tour?
Product. In general, the same characteristics that would make it sell well in bookstores are essential for sales to associations.
Place. Did you reach the appropriate people for selling your book in the association bookstore, using it as a premium to build conference attendance or as a reward for renewing membership?
Price. The primary buying criterion is price, particularly for the charitable organizations. While there is little preference for soft- over hardcover books, softcover may be preferred because if its lower price.
Promotion. There are many ways in which you can work with an association. You could sell your rights to it. You might donate a percentage (or fixed amount) of each sale to a charitable, non-profit organization. The association may be willing to co-promote your book. Promote your title as a fund-raising item. Sales in this category rarely have seasonal fluctuations, but you may find opportunities to tie in with industry events. Find out when they have their annual conferences. Most of these have a unique theme, and your titles may tie in with it or you could speak there.
Interpret Results and Make Changes
Do not be too quick to make adjustments until you have sufficiently analyzed possible causes. Maybe you are not reaching your objectives because they were unrealistic. Was your plan ill conceived or was poor implementation the guilty party? Try to pinpoint the cause, make changes in your strategy and/or implementation, and then try something different and measure the resulting sales at the end of 2007 to see if your changes worked.
If what you are doing works, do more of it. But if what you are doing doesn’t work, try something else. Your sales my fly high if you measure your progress, make necessary changes, set new goals and then implement your fresh marketing programs. Then at the end of the year conduct the entire process again to prepare yourself for 2008.
Brian Jud is a book-marketing consultant and the author of Beyond the Bookstore (a Publishers Weekly book) and The Marketing Planning CD-ROM describing new ways to sell more books to special-sales buyers. Contact Brian at P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001; (800) 562-4357; firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.bookmarketing.com