Ebook Marketing: An Interview with Melanie Jeffs of Orca Book Publishers

How does today’s publishing house effectively market their ebooks? This is the question we are seeking to answer with our foray into ebook marketing topics here at eBOUND. To help begin to
answer the questions surrounding ebook marketing, we turned to Melanie Jeffs of Canadian children’s book publisher Orca. Melanie is the Director of Digital Products for Orca, where she is responsible for coordinating both the production and marketing of Orca’s digital products.

Once you’re done reading the interview, we want to know how you market your ebooks. Give us your feedback in the forum!

Jordan Knoll: How long have you been involved in marketing books?

Melanie Jeffs: I have had some involvement in the marketing of books for about ten years, but it has become a larger part of my job in the last three or four years.

JK: What has Orca’s strategy been toward marketing ebooks? How does this compare to how you market the print versions of those same books?

MJ: Our marketing strategy with ebooks is similar to our print books in that we work toward awareness – ensuring our customers know that we sell ebooks. Mainly this has been in the form of mentions in our regular email newsletter that goes out to about 40000 teachers and librarians. We’ve also participated in a number of merchandising opportunities with etailers. So far our most successful merchandising campaigns have been with ebook wholesalers who also market directly to teachers and librarians.

JK: That’s a lot of emails. What sort of things have you done to build up that email list?

MJ: When we go to trade shows we collect email addresses. Generally we get people to give us their email address by running contests for free books. We have run webinars and collected attendee email addresses. We run contests via social media to collect addresses.

JK: How do you inform teachers and librarians about your newsletter and make it easy for them to sign up?

MJ: We have a link on our homepage for signing up for our newsletter as well as for reading archived newsletters. Our customer service people also collect email addresses.

MelanieJeffsJK: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in marketing ebooks?

MJ: The biggest challenge has been combining delivery with marketing efforts. With print your customer needs a book. Sometimes there is a preference for hardcover or paperback, but getting a customer what they want is simple. You ship a book to a physical location. When you advertise a print book, you include the contact information for distributors. The diversity of devices and preferences with ebooks means you can’t provide customers with an easy answer to the “how do I buy it?” question.

JK: What have you been doing to try and answer this question for your customers?

MJ: 1. I spend a lot of time on the phone with teachers talking them through their options. Often they’ve got devices that were purchased at the board level and they’re not sure what to do with them, or they’ve been told they need digital content and they don’t know where to start. My approach with all of my customers is to find the best fit for them.
2. We have a Q&A section on our website
3. We recently started to add buy buttons on our website that direct customers to a particular title on the major etailer sites.

JK: “Discoverability” is the buzzword on every marketer’s lips these days, and for good reason: It’s hard enough to get your books in front of the right set of eyes in the print world, but with ebooks you don’t even have a physical showroom to drive serendipitous discovery. How has Orca approached the issue of discoverability for their ebooks?

MJ: We have a few titles that are quite “discoverable,” at least their sales indicate this to be the case. In the case of one book – the title is Sister Wife which is a common search term because of the television show and the media coverage. The other title, Crush, has some lesbian content, so it shows up on a variety of “also purchased” lists. We have played around with price quite a bit to see if that will help make titles more visible. We’re still collecting data on the effectiveness of this over the long term.

JK: Speaking of price, how have you approached pricing your ebooks? The market in general seems focused on hitting that $9.99 price point or below. What has been Orca’s pricing strategy?

MJ: Orca is quite fortunate in that the majority of our print books are priced below $10, so we haven’t had to make major sacrifices. We have certainly played around with price, and we’ll continue to be open to experimentation. Right now our pricing strategy is to sell individual ebooks to the library and school market at the same price as print, and to sell to the retail market at 20% off the print list price.

JK: How do you utilize metadata to drive the marketing of your ebooks?

MJ: As with print, we try to maintain good metadata. We check the listings of our books on the various etailers’ sites, and we try to have errors corrected. It’s a good idea to pay attention to which onix fields your trading partners are using for display on their sites as well.

JK: Do you collect data and analytics on your marketing campaigns? How do you use this data to improve the effectiveness of your campaigns in relation to ebooks?

MJ: We keep track of the lists we send out and the promotions we run and we compare it against sales during that period. Knowing which channels are selling our books most effectively is helpful in terms of determining where to focus our efforts.

Thanks to Melanie for doing this interview and providing such insightful answers! Check back for more exciting marketing-related professional development content from eBOUND soon.