Every publisher with more than a handful of published titles has a daily challenge to assign the marketing resources available to where they will do the most good. Efforts no longer have to be restricted, as they sensibly were until the most recent past, by what titles have inventory in front of customers on store shelves. With more than half of book sales — and for many titles half of the print sales — taking place online, the lack of availability of copies in stores is no longer the insuperable barrier it once was to getting sales when a title has appeal in the marketplace.
In fact, better allocating their marketing resources may well have become the single biggest opportunity for publishers to improve sales in the digital age. A powerful tool to address that question is just about to become available. It has a bit of history.
In June of 2014, I was just starting to work with Peter McCarthy, who — as near as I can tell from dozens of conversations with him and others before and since — is by a considerable distance the most knowledgeable and insightful digital marketer of books in the world. This is a circumstance that resulted from talent meeting opportunity. Pete combines serious interest in books and writing with the kind of geek skills that come when you start programming as a child, which he did. That honed his talent. Then came the opportunity. For six years, Pete ran a marketing innovation lab for Random House (before the Penguin merger). He had a staff, a decent budget, the biggest list of commercial books in the world and the assigned mission to “figure out how books will be sold in the future”.
At Random House, and following that, through dozens of consulting projects with a variety of publishers, Pete conducted hundreds, if not thousands, of experiments. He developed a pretty thoroughly articulated picture of how Amazon reacted to a wide variety of stimuli. So when I suggested to Pete three years ago that our efforts to scale his knowledge across the industry through consulting could be leveraged considerably by a software platform, he quickly conceived one that took advantage of all he had learned.
It was a year later, July of 2015, that we connected with Evan Schnittman, just having left Hachette and looking for new digital opportunities to develop. That was how OptiQly was born.
And OptiQly — with Evan Schnittman as CEO, Peter McCarthy as Chief Product Officer, and former NetGalley President Susan Ruszala as Vice-President of Sales — will be introduced to the trade at the upcoming BookExpo America.
What Pete learned through data-driven experimentation, which has been leveraged by OptiQly, is that Amazon reads dozens of ranking signals to determine its own marketing position on any book at any time. So the Amazon product page becomes a window into a title’s online positioning, if you know how to look through it.
From the user’s perspective, OptiQly looks at each book and gives it two “scores”: one for the “brand” (which most of the time means the author’s online footprint and credibility) and one for the “product”, which is the book itself. The higher the score, the more likely the product is to be successful within the online retail environment. And best of all, OptiQly tells the user how to improve the score for both.
To get at those scores, the OptiQly algorithm looks at three elements of a book’s online presence: its demand in the web and social sphere, its discovery within Amazon, and conversion to sales. And it is where those elements are misaligned — specifically, where demand is higher than discovery or discovery higher than conversion — that opportunities exist to increase sales. Or, putting it in marketer lingo, OptiQly can see where “demand at the top of the funnel isn’t being converted”.
OptiQly looks at the ecosystem outside of Amazon — as Amazon itself does — to find out whether there is interest in the title and the brand. But then it looks inside Amazon to see if people can find the title and whether it is positioned correctly. As Ruszala explains it, the book’s Amazon “page” is its storefront where the title can be — metaphorically — face out at eye level or spined on an ankle-level shelf.
Amazon is trying to put the most appealing title for you in front of you, and what Amazon considers the most appealing titles are merchandised directly by Amazon in a variety of ways, guaranteeing an uptick in sales, with no added marketing expense to the publisher. And OptiQly is the tool that allows you to see if there is anything you as the publisher can do to make your title be seen as “most appealing” most often.
OptiQly will be extraordinarily useful to market any particular title, so independent authors with only their own output will find it a great tool.
But it will really be indispensable to help larger publishers figure out every morning which of their titles can yield the biggest dollar improvements with tweaks or fixes their marketers can apply today. It will point publishers to which titles on their list have a misalignment that, if corrected, will immediately boost sales. And, by title, it will tell them exactly what actions will yield results.
The OptiQly toolkit will be in the market in the month following BEA. A lot of publishers will be doing a lot of things differently very soon as a result. Any publisher going to BEA who wants to learn more should connect with Susan Ruszala ([email protected]) to see if they can squeeze an appointment for themselves into her BEA calendar.