Published by FirstyNews
Anneberth Lux, Publishing Manager, Zed Books
A radical change for a radical publisher. That is what the switch to selling e-books direct to consumers has been for Zed Books—but it is a move that puts it in good shape to take advantage of new digital opportunities.
Zed has been busy digitising backlist as well as frontlist titles, and with Firsty’s help has made its first forays into D2C channels. Sales manager Anneberth Lux says it has changed the company’s perspective on what it does. “The funny thing about selling e-books direct is that you’re going from a publisher to a retailer, and you have to think about delivery and promotions and so on. But for those of us who got into publishing via bookselling—and there are quite a lot of us—it’s just a reversion to type.”
Small publishers can sometimes be scared off D2C, perhaps because they don’t think they have the resources or the know-how to get started. But Lux thinks her fellow independent publishers should think seriously about dipping a toe in the water. “Technically anyone can do it. Setting it up is not problematic at all—it’s what you do with it that matters.”
She concedes that small publishers might have to free up some resources to give D2C the attention it needs: “To develop strategies you need thinking time, which you don’t always get in a small company where it’s all hands on deck.” But on the flip side, small publishers can do things quickly and imaginatively, with an agility that bigger conglomerates often lack. “Except maybe for illustrated books, it would work for everyone. For anyone who has text to share and sell, it’s a brilliant way to get content to customers.”
One of the many plus points of D2C is the control it gives publishers, cutting out the digital middlemen who can take sizeable cuts and tie publishers up in complex contracts. “Compared to dealing with them, D2C is a doddle,” she reckons. Since Zed is run on a cooperative basis, it is an important advantage.
Lux also likes the instantaneous nature of e-book sales, allowing her books to be snapped up in seconds. That is particularly useful in academic publishing, since it allows Zed to send out digital inspection and review copies. Potential buyers might previously have had to wait days or even weeks for a copy to be shipped, but now they can have one on their desktop in a couple of clicks. “That sort of thing is fantastic—you can become very imaginative with digital content.”
It breaks down borders and makes the world much smaller, too. For a publisher like Zed that has a global outlook and strives to spread awareness of its books’ subjects worldwide, that is very welcome. “It opens up the entire world. We tend to hold world rights, and we are suddenly able to promote books to really far-flung places.” As anyone who has ever handled exports will know, it can be a tough slog selling into remote markets, so digital D2C makes life a whole lot easier.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of D2C for publishers like Zed is the marketing one. It is still early days for the company’s e-commerce, and Lux is aware that the key to success will be spreading interest in her e-books—by digital media like email and social media of course, but also through more traditional methods like print catalogues. Zed has also been running weekly e-book offers as it tries to connect with customers. “It’s trying to figure out the best way of drawing people in,” she says. “It starts with a trickle, but word is spreading.”
Where do e-books go from here for Zed, and where will print fit in in the future? “Digital will get more and more important—there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t think it will take over from print completely—they’ll blend and coexist.” But having set up D2C, Zed now feels prepared for whatever the digital revolution brings. “It fills us with excitement—and the great thing is that anyone can do it.”