At the London Book Fair’s Quantum conference last month I listened to Aissetou Ngom talk about Penguin Platform, the young adult brand which she manages. She revealed that market research on the design of the new website had produced something of a surprise: there shouldn’t be a ‘website’ in the traditional sense at all. ‘That feels kind of old-fashioned,’ was the general response from the teens they talked to. So Penguin Platform inhabits the social web: Tumblr is its main home, with offshoots on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. (And if you’re a publisher and you’ve been congratulating yourself on finally getting your website sorted, I’m sorry.)
Might online bookstores one day become equally passé? The social web is where we share ideas and consume content, and increasingly it’s where we purchase, too.
In the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast this week I talk to Marcus Woodburn, Vice President Digital Products at Ingram Content Group, about Aer.io, their new social selling tool (Ingram was an early investor in Aerbook, which became Aer.io, and acquired the start-up at the end of 2015). I am hugely excited about this, and I don’t think most publishers have quite realized how it could revolutionize the book supply chain.
Aer.io makes any touchpoint on the web a sales opportunity. An author can embed a buy button in a tweet, for example. Yes, we’ve had Amazon ‘buy now’ widgets for years, but an Amazon widget sends your customer straight to Amazon. Aer.io’s button keeps the ownership of the transaction with you, which means you get your customer’s data. Which means if you’re smart you can sell more stuff to them in future. This is game-changing.
Publishers large and small are queuing up for this (it’s live in the US but delayed in the UK and Europe owing to our Byzantine tax and data protection laws – Marcus promises it should be live here by the middle of the year), as are independent authors and retailers. Authors I understand, I say, but retailers? Sure they must hate this? No, says Marcus: they see an opportunity to carry vastly more inventory than they can stack on their shelves, and to sell ebooks, which has always been problematic.
That makes sense: when I was building a direct-to-consumer model in traditional publishing years ago, ebook fulfilment was a huge problem: for most publishers it was easier simply to point customers in the direction of Amazon or other ebook retailers to deal with the nitty gritty of different formats, different devices, DRM and technical support. But with Ingram’s massive ebook and print infrastructure behind it, Aer.io can deliver print and any ebook format in the same basket. Nice. Basically if a book is in the Lightning Source print-on-demand catalogue (which includes IngramSpark for indies), it’s deliverable via Aer.io.
The possibilities are infinite – you can create a custom button for a channel (a promotional link from a speaker biography page, or an email to course participants) to deliver a bespoke version of a book. You can also customize how much of the book is included in the preview, so if your aim is visibility rather than revenue, you can be generous in what’s discoverable and viewable before purchase.
I should make it clear I have no financial interest here, and I’m not acting as an affiliate. I’m just genuinely excited about a technology that can help readers discover and buy books more easily, and which creates a more interesting and diverse book retail ecosystem.
As Marcus says: ‘Every time we sit down with a publisher they have a different way they’re thinking of using it.’
I’ve got some ideas of my own, and I can’t wait to try them out.
Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com.