15 Marketing e-books

Liam Borgstrom (ed.)

PUB 310 notes

Marketing e-books/Digital marketing

It is a publisher’s role to ensure that content gets to where it needs to be, and that people know it’s there: “[A publisher] has to ensure that the right information reaches the right consumer, at the right time, in the right format, and at the right place” (Greyling, 2003:83). In the digital world, it can be argued that the distribution advantage has been superseded by vendors, but what about the marketing? In a digital marketplace, where the depth of content can be easily overwhelming, there is still the need for a body that understands the structures of the industry and has the right connections. It’s important to keep in mind that an e-book is part of the book offering. Whether this includes hardcovers and serial editions depends on the title at hand, but in the digital realm, the book still requires equal treatment.

The digital era changed the way information is presented, purchased and consumed (used). Because of this, the profile of the information user has also changed. Publishers are redefining their target market and rethinking the marketing strategies they need to implement to connect with their specific market.


Role players in the industry have also changed. Publishers are now joining hands with technical experts to create e-books and products, consulting with advertising and marketing companies that has the ‘know how’ to draft and implement digital strategies, and building relationships with online booksellers to sell their e-books (content) online.

Publishers need to draft and implement a proper digital strategy that will assist them to effectively market to the new target market, and make sense of digital threats and opportunities. A new product requires a new kind of marketing strategy as well.

Publishers also need to understand the process involved with the delivery of the e-product to the end-user, in order to market e-books effectively.


One function of the publisher is to assist the discovery process. With that discovery, the customer needs to be guided towards a purchase decision. Here general e-marketing and e-commerce rules can apply in that your site needs to appear credible and easily navigable (see Janal 2000). For publisher’s sites, this means a site which clearly reveals the list and provides an easy opportunity to purchase titles.[1] However, as the publisher is often not the main brand of a title, all effort must be done to draw internet traffic to either a dedicated book site, or that of the author, and in a Google dominated world, a major part of this task involves Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).[2] In a nutshell, when searching for a book, users must be directed towards the publisher-intended page of the book. This means that, for example, on an author’s website, the correct information on the book must be available, the domain must be trusted, and the site should link to other reputable sites. What’s more, the site should be receiving a fair volume of traffic, making its popularity rival the Wikipedia page. To facilitate this, it is the publisher’s responsibility to ensure that the main intended portal for the books should be advertised as best as possible. This need not be through the use of an ‘ad’ per se, but through the author’s marketable on-line presence. The primary site needs to be traceable from Twitter feeds and Facebook profiles, as well as mentioned in all press releases, dropped in interviews, and in general accompanying every piece of marketing about the book.

An on-line presence can also be enhanced by the behaviour of an author. For trade titles this can be especially true, and the maintaining an active relationship with readers may be the key to rooting a brand and generating loyalty. But those readers must be addressed in the correct form. For those who are casual followers of the author and the genre, a Facebook relationship may be enough. For more serious readers, it may be necessary to move into the ‘blogosphere’. One possible move for publishers addressing a highly defined niche is to make use of the virtual book tour. Rather than following the expensive route of visiting bookshops, the virtual book tour involves visiting blogs and on-line magazines by providing a guest post, an interview, or even a live chat. For potential customers who are regular blog readers, this is one method for engaging with them directly.

All in all however, even with an influential author, content is still king. It is still worthwhile to follow the same review procedures as before and generate hype for the book based on those. The internet makes these types of referrals much more accessible, and those accessible ones will spread to blogs, forums and newsfeeds in time. A well-planned marketing campaign should make sure that every channel gets every intended message, and then responds to it.



Publishers are redefining their target market in the digital era. New technologies like e-book-readers, iPad, Android devices etc., changed the way information users interact, use and purchase information. The digital revolution has brought about a new economy, which is also referred to as the Internet Economy (Cook & Muir, 2010). “The Internet Economy relies on high-speed networks and Internet applications, new marketing and business tools, and electronic intermediaries, which are all used to increase the efficiency and Internet-driven markets” (Cook & Muir, 2010:374). Publisher need to go back to the drawing board; do proper market research in order to identify their target market for their e-books/online products. Market research determines the target market’s characteristics, buying behaviour (psychographics), likes and dislikes of technology (technographics), disposable income (demographics) etc.  As soon as they know more about their potential target market, publishers would be able to market and sell their products to them more effectively.

Once publishers have successfully identified the target market, they need to guide their behaviour (browsing) online (via various marketing strategies), in order to assist in the discovery process of finding the e-books/content online.

Online booksellers

Online buying and selling has increased tremendously over the last few years – once again because the information user’s browsing and buying behaviour has changed. Publishers need to foster good relationships with online booksellers to secure that their e-books/content are visible on the online stores, priced reasonably and has a definite ‘call to action’ for the target market.  The following are a few e-booksellers:

  • Little White Bakkie
  • Voelgoedwinkel.co.za
  • Amazon
  • Leisure Books/Leserskring
  • Takealot.com
  • Loot.co.za


Publishers need to know what the online bookseller’s technological limitations are (e.g. cannot deliver in certain formats/to certain devices etc.), what promotional opportunities exist and what the trade terms and conditions are (discounts).

The traditional bookseller and shop front is disappearing slowly, and now the online bookseller has to create a welcoming, easily navigable online shop that will provide the best customer buying experience possible. The online bookseller has to ensure that the online shop is easy to find, that the content within the site is easy to find (good navigation & search functionality), that the site is safe and secure for online transactions, and that it has a definite ‘call to action’ for the target audience to buy the products.

The cost-savings of on-line publishing have been detailed enough, but one undeniable benefit is in the backlist. There is an argument that there will always be demand, so there should always be supply. This is the defining rule which has kept ‘classic’ titles afloat, and forms the basis of Chris Anderson’s Long-Tail Theory.[3] This approach looks at it from another perspective. As long as a product exists, there will be a demand. Whether big or small, there will always be a market. For on-line stores, such as Amazon, this is essentially their business model. While they do keep some stock, the majority is held by other vendors, and they serve as an intermediary, making everything available. In a print-sales model, this is difficult, and even expensive to maintain. In a digital environment however, distributing e-books as well as POD titles, it becomes a viable business model. However, it still necessitates careful management, to make sure that the material is always discoverable.


The World Wide Web has always been a place for expression and invention, so naturally it has been the home for novel marketing attempts in the book sphere. One of the more popular inventions has been the ‘book trailer’. Like a film trailer, these short videos advertise the content in the book and can generally range from fully acted-out scenes in the book and general representations, to author interviews and discussions. When the trailer is well-made and engaging, it can often become a useful entity in itself, and with any luck, it can ‘go viral’.[4]

Simply as a communication medium, the web works well for competitions as well. Using the online community, just accepting and facilitating the idea of engagement and interaction can be enough to garner readers’ attention. Take the example of Harper Collins, who have started a competition for their title Road Dogs. Anyone is welcome to create a book trailer for the book. The best one is not only officially endorsed, but wins the production team a prize. This has two effects. Firstly, anyone wanting to compete needs to buy the book. Secondly, if the production teams garner enough support for their projects, the competition can become a public space for their work, but more importantly, for the book.

Other titles have taken this concept further by creating larger universes and games. For fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, an online game called Discordia is available to explore that world from a different point of view; in another quadrant of the literary universe, 2012 saw the launch of Pottermore in 2012, which expands the Harry Potter universe.


It’s also worthwhile to address here the idea of the app-book. Is it an app or is it a book? And, need there be distinction? The argument over the definition of the book will still go on for some time, though for the moment we are in an exciting age of experiment, and simply that degree of experimentation can be enough to give a book, or any type of publication, the attention it needs. However, the trap here can be in trying to be too novel. When the features detract from the content, then maybe the point has been missed, but where the reading experience is enhanced to a degree that maximizes immersion, then you may have something special.



Publishers are regularly conducting the necessary market research. They now know that they need a new product strategy in order to fulfil the needs of a new information user in the digital era.  In order to sell their new e-product, publishers draft a digital marketing strategy and build relationships with the online booksellers. Now…publishers need to get their target market to the product on the online bookseller’s website. Although the online booksellers are selling publisher’s e-books on their site, they are probably selling a couple of other publisher’s titles simultaneously.  Therefore, it is still the publisher’s responsibility to develop a proper digital marketing strategy to get the target market to the e-book online. Publishers have to guide their target market in the DISCOVERY PROCESS.


Off line

Migrate your traditional target market from off line mediums to online reading, selling and buying in any of the following ways:

  • Print communication:When a publisher places an advert for a book in a magazine, publish a review or article about a book in a newspaper or print publication, always refer to the book online or mention that the e-book is available at Takealot/Little White Bakkie etc.
  • Bookstores/reading communities/book launches: Wherever book communities gather, discuss or talk about books alert them to the fact that the e-version of a book is also available. This could be done via posters in bookstores (some have their own online stores as well as physical stores), reading group discussions or book launches.
  • Radio, TV, word-of-mouth:If the publisher is arranging radio or TV interviews with a well-known author, ask the author to mention the e-book and where it is available, in the interview…
  • QR codes on book covers/inside books:Use the physical print copy of a book to take users to extra footage online, like author interviews, book trailers, other titles by the same author in e-format etc… This could be done by placing a QR-code on the cover/links inside the printed text etc.


The challenge is that publishers need to engage potential readers and book buyers in various forms of advertisement and promotion, while ensuring a consistent brand online and offline.


This seems to be the obvious strategy – target the users who are already online, busy browsing, buying, consuming.

  • SEO(make sure your book will be found!): Search engine optimisation.
  • Social media as communication (#): Use social media platforms (Facebook/twitter) to connect with your target market – it is an effective marketing research tool. Facilitate communication and build brand awareness; brand loyalty will follow and ultimately you build brand equity (where your loyal brand supporters start to actively buy your product). Use the #-tag to track campaigns. Facebook adverts assist the publisher to plan and implement a campaign according to a specified budget. The publisher can select its own target audience.
  • Reciprocal linking: Try and get as many links to the e-books as possible. If a book is hosted on Kalahari.com, try and get a link from the publisher’s website to Kalahari.com; if an interview with the author is published on Beeld.com provide a link from the interview to the book etc. Publishers may ask the relevant media if they would be willing to provide a link to the book, if the publisher provides a link from their website to the media’s website in return.
  • Role of the authors(blogs, forums, links, and personal websites): Get your authors involved. Authors are usually the best marketers of their books. Link to their websites, their blogs and social media profiles. Make sure that all these links link back to where the book is sold online.
  • Book trailers:A short visual snapshot of what the book is about, who the publisher is and where you will be able to buy the book – very similar to movie trailers. Publishers are still experimenting with this marketing method and budgets are usually limited. When using this method, it is important to entice the reader to buy the book, and not give away the whole story. The quality of a book trailer can make or break a book – it is all about first impressions.
  • Bulk e-book packages: Negotiate special deals and promotions with your online retailers.  Examples are ‘Father’s day e-book bundle packages’ sold at discounted price, Christmas e-book-sales etc. Sometimes online booksellers also have a voucher/coupon system that publishers can use for their campaigns.
  • Teaser campaigns/flipbooks:Create a flipbook/sample chapter that users can read online to see whether they want to buy the book/not. This works well with the pre-marketing of e-books. This also facilitates the online reading behaviour you as a publisher are trying to create or encourage amongst the new information users.
  • Games/competitions/quizzes: These novelty elements create curiosity and fun for a potential book buyer. Just make sure the game/competition/quiz relates to the theme of the book, draw enough attention to the book, and ultimately create that ‘call to action’ for the target market. It can be fun, but should not detract from your ultimate goal – to sell the book.
  • Banner ads:Hire advertising space on book-related online communities/pages to create awareness of your new e-book/content. Banner ads should be simple, attractive and draw the reader’s attention.
  • Apps: Apps could be used as a marketing tool, if the app on the store is related to one of your books, e.g.  You created a multilingual dictionary app for kids on the iStore, and you also published a hard copy book with the same content. The only difference is that the app has a sound functionality that allows users to listen to the pronunciation of the specific words in four languages.  The apps are sold in different segments, whilst the hard copy book contains all the segments. A QR-code on the back of the hard copy book can also take readers to the app online. As a marketing tool the first app could be a freebie (teaser).
  • Subscriptions:A lot of online sites are starting to experiment with the subscription model for online content. The user pays a monthly subscription fee and receives an online chapter/book every month.
  • Amazon library/lending:Amazon provides a library/lending of e-books-initiative. It works on the same basis as a traditional library – the user ‘borrows’ content for a certain period. When that period expires, the content is no longer available.
  • Book covers: Stephen King is one of the leaders in the field of online marketing. He used the cover of his book Doctor Sleepand inserted all kinds of interactive elements on the cover, like readings, interviews, reviews etc. Currently the book employs an interactive augmented reality experience: Find Danny Torrance on the web

It’s important to use an integrated marketing method as far as possible. Don’t focus all the energy on online methods only (combine off line & online). Publishers need to constantly grow their market, and one way of doing this is by migrating their traditional target audience onto the online medium.

Advantages/benefits of using online marketing strategies

  • Track behaviour of end user/target market – an excellent marketing research tool.
  • You can be creative & FUN!
  • Track success of marketing efforts: Statistics is available on hits, clicks, monitoring behaviour.
  • Long tail theory – giving back list titles alive: No more ‘out-of-print’ books.
  • Expats and global reach.
  1. This is usually done by redirects to the vendors’ sites. 
  2. SEO: The process of making a particular site easily discoverable by search engines based on the content, meta-information, inter-linking, and page ranking. 
  3. “The secret to creating a thriving Long Tail business can be summarized into two imperatives: make everything available and help me find it” (Anderson, 2006:217). 
  4. This is the phenomenon whereby a piece of information, often a picture or a video, becomes extremely popular due to its rapid circulation through social networks and e-mail groups. 



Baverstock, A. 2015. How to market books. Fifth edition. Routlede: London. Chapter 9: Online marketing, p.206-248

Look, H. 2002. Book Marketing on the Internet 2002. Bookseller Publications: London.

Du Plessis, F., van Heerden, N. & Cook, G. Integrated Marketing Communication. Third edition. Van Schaik: Pretoria. Cook, G. & Muir, C. 2010. Chapter 10: Digital Communication, p. 370-390.

SA Booksellers Association. E-books. Available [Online]: https://www.sabooksellers.com/ebooks/

Pressbooks.com: Simple Book Production



Publishing in the Digital Environment Copyright © 2013 by Liam Borgstrom (ed.). All Rights Reserved.