10 tips for selling digital and e-books online.

By Allen Gahn, Head of Delivery at Javelin Group.

There’s no doubt that digital and e-books are big business. Estimates suggest that a total number of 65 million e-books were sold in the UK in 2012, representing a value of about £200m – a figure that has at least doubled since 2011*. The overall book market grew in 2012, despite spending on print books falling £74m.

That might explain the growing demand for capable publishing ecommerce sites and the investments being made to improve this market. Yet, publishers are still grappling with the unique challenges of selling books online. From iPads to Kindles, they need to support multiple types of readers and devices, ensure a prompt payment process and the speedy delivery of book content to each device.

The biggest challenge by far is the latter…distribution. Unlike ordering a paperback online, when you purchase an e-book, you pay for it immediately and expect to receive it in the same time frame.

So, here are 10 key considerations for digital publishing sales success:

  • Prepare your assets early. Whilst preparing book content for digital consumption is less of a technical challenge, publishers are well advised to start the process early. Don’t underestimate how time-consuming it is. The review time alone can be huge.
  • Use a standard schema. Having a standard plan will head-off most of any issues. It’s very tempting to add to it, but believe me, that will only cause problems. The latest e-book standards such as epub2 and epub3 are recommended.
  • Use unique watermarking. Whilst many publishers like to trust their readers, it is important for them to protect their business from the impact of pirating as much as they can. Of course, there is no silver bullet to eradicate the problem, but unique watermarking will provide a valuable audit trail for stolen content.
  • Be selective on your audio book catalogue. If you are a publisher with a large back catalogue of content, do stop to ask whether or not you really need it all on audio book. Sometimes, less is more.
  • Don’t miss important international language markets. Be careful not to make ‘logical’ assumptions about which language markets to target with your online bookstore. Assume English-speaking countries of course. But, do your homework in terms of which languages are experiencing growth and are currently untapped. It’s a highly dynamic consideration that should be revisited regularly. For example, South American countries such as Brazil are experiencing rapid growth in the number of devices right now. Japanese and German language markets are also growing.
  • Scalable fulfillment is critical. Download demand can be steady, but if an e-book becomes an overnight must-read, numbers of downloads can quickly spike. There is some predictability in peak traffic. For example, people like to buy their book content shortly after they’ve bought or received a new reader. So, Christmas and other seasonal fluctuations matter. The point here is to ensure that your site’s hosting environment can quickly, easily and cost-effectively scale up and down to handle whatever demands are thrown at it.
  • Consider the cloud. Remember, your downloadable books do not need to be hosted in the same place as your web site. The downloading element could happen in the cloud while the rest of the processing happens at your regular site(s). Using an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) element will allow you to pay for only what you use, while giving you the freedom to scale to huge demand in a heartbeat.
  • Make content searchable. With more and more books available in digital and e-book format, it’s important to maintain and enhance usability with easy search functionality. Make sure you have a good engine and standardise things like categories, genres and sub-genres. For example, go beyond just ‘science fiction’ to include perhaps ‘sci-fi horror’ and so on.
  • Keep payment fast and simple. Ideally, aim for a one-step checkout process. Once your site is integrated with a payment service provider, establish a trusted relationship with your buyers that involves storing card or payment details. The longer payment processing takes when buying digital and e-books, the greater the risk of purchase abandonment or failure.
  • Be best of breed. Do your research, evaluate other digital publishing sites and decide for yourself what works and doesn’t. Where did others go wrong or get it very right?

Javelin Group and Intershop delivered the digital e-book store for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series at Pottermore last year.

First published in: eCommerce Manager

For further information, please contact Allen Gahn.

Find out more about our eCommerce Development service line.

*The Bookseller.com – data gathered from the major trade publishers, and those smaller presses with books in The Bookseller’s Top 50 of 2012, including Hesperus Press.