Stephanie Leary has an interesting post on how publishers aren’t great at personal data collection when compared to tech startups. She phrases it a bit differently, but that’s essentially what the argument is. Services like Amazon, BookBub, and GoodReads are all more effective at direct-to-consumer marketing than publishers are, because Amazon/BookBub/GoodReads all hoard customer data. Meanwhile, publishers still come from the brick-and-mortar era of businesses, and tend to believe their business is in publishing books, not being Facebook.

Leary also kind of, in part, answers her own question as to why publishers don’t make their own in-house versions of services like BookBub and GoodReads. The answer is that, firstly, they kinda do, they’re just not all that great. And, secondly, they don’t have to, because (drumroll) of services like BookBub and GoodReads. In other words, publishers don’t need to rebuild BookBub because publishers can buy into BookBub when that’s a service they need.

Of course, the other thing is that publishers absolutely do run their own in-house mailing lists. Hydra’s got one. Suvudu has one. PRH even runs differentiated mailing lists for individual authors and genres. They tend not to be as big as services like BookBub, but they’re not tiny and publishers do leverage them.

Basically, doing direct-to-consumer marketing–and doing it well–is not the business publishers have traditionally been in.1 Instead, they’ve relied on booksellers to be the experts in that, while publishers have concentrated on direct-to-bookseller marketing. In case you’re wondering, this is what a publishing house marketing team actually does; it maintains contacts with buyers from bookstores, and sells books to them, in order to convince them to stock the titles on their shelves. This used to be a very regional, specialised job–and probably still is in some territories–but in the U.S. at least, consolidation of retailers, first into the Barnes & Nobles of the world, then into Amazon, has meant a big shift in how things work. There are now far fewer people to talk to, for one, and the tastes of those “far fewer” can have weird and wide-reaching impacts on the market.2 Publishers are starting to shift their marketing strategies away from selling to store buyers and towards selling to customers, at least in part, but organisational change is hard and large organisational change is even harder. So things happen slowly, but they do happen.

  1. Most publishers. Some publishers, notably the big romance imprints, have built their entire empires around this. []
  2. I’ve mentioned before, but the preference of one of the major chain store buyers in the U.S. for YA covers to have images of white girls in prom dresses looking gauzily into the distance is why a scientifically determined 99.993% of all YA books look identical. []