TOC 2011: From Publisher to Reader, Direct

On the opening day of this year’s Tools of Change, O’Reilly VP Online, Allen Noren, kept the audience glued to their seats for two hours, revealing his secrets of “Building a Successful Direct Channel.”

Noren began by explaining the need to ask a lot of questions before beginning to sell direct.  The answer to ‘What are you selling?’ is not, for instance, just “a book,” but rather “an idea, an experience.”  He mentioned that the online course site has as its tagline “What would you like to learn today?”  Lonely Planet was another favorite with the tagline “Where do you want to travel?”—and with 240,000 Facebook fans who share their experiences, photos, and trip tips.

Similarly, Noren explained, you should define your goals, which will include increased revenues, but should also consider increased visitors to your site (and your Facebook page), repeat customers, faster page download times, and myriad other yardsticks.  The ultimate goal is to create a frictionless user experience.  For O’Reilly, that includes selling DRM-free ebooks in five different formats, that customers can resell.

Noren was particularly generous in sharing the partners that O’Reilly uses for various services.  For instance, though he likes Google Analytics, the company went with Omniture’s SiteCatalytics, which enables the publisher to measure the effectiveness of its social networking; the significance of various blog postings; the value of various visitors to the site; and even the impact of color, placement, and wording on the site. O’Reilly also uses marketlives’s e-commerce platform, which, though “much more expensive” than a shopping cart, is better in a mobile environment and also allows for satellite stores, which means being able to sell books right on Facebook and other social networking sites.

The preferred service provider for affiliate marketing is Commission Junction; its e-mail service provider is iPost; for personalized product recommendations based on user interest, MYBUY is the preferred service.

What does Noren recommend for publishers wanting to sell off their sites?

  • Buy One Get One Free always works, as does Deal of The Day
  • Reader reviews are important—and responding to someone who posts a negative review, with an offer of a refund guarantees customer loyalty
  • A free ebookshelf—even with single chapters available at no cost—is a good way to keep customers shopping
  • Get the authors involved (O’Reilly has an extensive “how-to” area just for them), and ask them to create mini ebooks, videos and webinars which engage their readers and act as ads for the books
  • Get other sites to post your content
  • Get print book buyers to “register” their books online, in exchange for discounts.
  • Don’t forget Facebook, Twitter, LibraryThing—“put yourself where your readers are.”

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