When you compare the online traffic to a news website versus a publisher website, who gets the most visitors? Think the New York Times and Fox News versus HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. The news websites get way more traffic. It’s not even close. Yet, both groups create massive amounts of content that people enjoy reading. Why such a big difference? One group understands the power of content.
Let’s face it. Most readers never visit publisher websites. And, if they did, they won’t see many good reasons to return. That’s because the typical publisher website is covered with dozens of images showing frontlist releases, current bestsellers, author listings, and some lame ads to join a boring mailing list.
In other words, a publisher website feels like an online store that’s not a very good online store. And, if it was a good online store, then the retailers would get upset. It’s a catch-22, which is why most publisher websites work against themselves. Is there a better approach to take? Yes, mimic the news websites and focus on offering compelling content rather than just selling product.
Publishers represent huge repositories of great content that people want to read. Too often, though, this wealth of content is left sitting in a publisher’s warehouse or on their computer servers. All of this dormant content represents a lot of untapped selling power. But, I rarely see publishers take advantage of this great opportunity on their websites.
For example, HarperCollins Publishers recently allowed The Wall Street Journal to publish the first chapter of Harper Lee’s acclaimed book, Go Set a Watchman. The national buzz around this book was huge. Yet, HarperCollins gave away a massive marketing opportunity to The Wall Street Journal. I’m sure big money changed hands in the deal. But, HarperCollins could have taken a long view, directed millions of people to their website, and taken advantage of the exposure opportunity. It’s a classic example of news sites capitalizing on the short-sidedness of publishers. News organizations understand the power of content, while publishers don’t seem to get it – even though they’re both in the content business.
How can publishers maximize the content they own? Consider these three areas:
1. Attract Interest
• Capture reader interest: Dedicate prime space on the publisher home page to feature several types of free content that entices people to read (book excerpts, advance material for upcoming titles, lost chapters, bonus resources, etc.).
• Offer daily incentives: Create a daily blog on the publisher website that offers exclusive content from books, author interviews, and special deals.
• Become author central: Monitor interesting online activity by primary authors and repost or link their material to the publisher site. Become the hub for author updates and interesting information.
2. Engage Readers
• Give away exclusive content: Go beyond boring sample chapters and offer exclusive book excerpts that induce readers to subscribe to the publisher’s email lists. Set goals to build various lists with over 100,000 subscribers.
• Be generous with free material: Give away large chunks of backlist content as incentives for readers to join the publisher’s email lists.
• Use social media to drive new readers: Use the publisher Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages to highlight free content to encourage followers to join the publisher’s email list (notice the email theme here).
• Enlist your authors: Provide the same free content to authors and encourage them to promote it to their followers.
3. Sell Books
• Sell to your email lists: Send frequent email blasts loaded with links to free content, book advertisements and author updates. Provide links to buy books to the publisher website or key retailers based on preference.
• Promote book offers: Include book advertisements and/or “buy now” buttons at the end of every piece of free content that’s offered (email blasts, blog posts, PDF file, etc.).
• Funnel the traffic: Use free content to create online sales funnels and landing pages on the publisher’s website that lead readers down a natural path to purchase specific books.
When using these ideas, be sure to avoid a common mistake. Don’t setup separate websites or communities that are independent of the main publisher website. This mistake will fracture online traffic, confuses visitors, prevent cross-selling, and reduce the positive effect of Google search results. Instead, let the publisher website be a one-stop-shop where visitors can get everything they want in one place.
An effective publisher website gives readers legitimate reasons to visit and return. But, the key is to focus on content, rather than product. Readers don’t like to be sold and they rarely visit publisher websites. Flip the script, act like a news site, showcase great content, and turn a publisher website into a book-selling machine. Or, just let Amazon continue to gobble up more marketshare.