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definitions of editorial quality and marketing. If your electronic publication is not written and compiled competently, and does not meet a need in viable target markets to entertain or inform, you will have to keep on throwing effort and money at it to try to motivate anyone to even look at your work.
Now for the good news. If you do have a suitable publication that can be distributed in electronic form, there is a first-rate way of getting it to the market on CD-ROM at no direct cost to you as part of the JCSM Shareware Collection. This CD-ROM is one of the best collections of shareware software available, so it is a prestigious place to be, and one that should get your work to a large and growing market.
Not only that, the publisher, Bud Jay, encourages you to construct an edition of your work that will generate all-important "second sales" for you. Use your CD-ROM release to entice readers to place further orders directly with you for expanded editions of the same work, or for other products and services that you offer. This concept is probably the most cost-effective form of marketing available for most electronic books, whether you distribute via bulletin boards, floppies, or in CD-ROM collections.
The good news is not complete yet. When you become an author with work accepted for this CD-ROM shareware collection, you get a free copy of the latest edition when it is issued at intervals of four months. That alone is worth nearly $50 a year.
Bud Jay, the brains behind this unique venture, is an expert in small computer systems from Lakeville, Minnesota. He explains, "The collection was born when I became frustrated by the high price and low quality of currently available shareware CD-ROMs. We set two objectives for ourselves: to be the first choice for authors, offering the creators of shareware and electronic publications the medium that they would most want their work to feature in. And to make our collection the first choice for the computer end-users because of the quality of the programs that we feature and the attractive pricing of our disks."
Unlike many shareware distributors, Bud and his colleagues at JCS seem to be building their business by going out of their way to consult with and nurture their authors. They want to know what you are
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doing and thinking, so they survey their authors at least six times a year. If you have any experience with either conventional publishing or the shareware distribution business, you know only too well how refreshing this is.
JCS does more than just stroke the egos of its author-suppliers, however. According to reports from several authors, JCS is generating increasing sales by its aggressive and well-planned marketing. The collection has been promoted heavily in magazine advertisements and in direct mailings. As I write, there are plans to get the collection into thousands of retail computer outlets, as well as on the shelves of the large discount office supply stores in North America and overseas.
With over 3,900 programs on the latest disk edition, and a retail price of around $23 (a twentieth of a cent per program!) this product just has to be attractive as an impulse purchase for a large proportion of CD-ROM users. If the subscription base continues to grow also, the JCS operation could become a major factor in the development of electronic publishing.
"Shareware is a rapidly growing--even exploding--industry," Bud Jay maintains. "The vast majority of computer users are only now seeing and appreciating their first shareware programs. CD-ROMs are 'exploding' also, and they offer one of the most efficient delivery systems for shareware and electronic publications. When many of these CD-ROM owners start getting bored with their encyclopedia and atlas discs, they will seek other software creating a demand that we and our authors will meet because we offer high quality at a very attractive price."
Contact Bud Jay directly if you have a program or publication to offer him. JCS could be a useful source also if you want to self-publish on CD-ROM, since they can do the technical and production work required to convert material on floppies into the CD-ROM format. The address is
P.O. Box 1216 Lakeville, MN 55044 612-469-5898
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Consider whether kiosks and catalogs on disk or on bulletin boards should be elements of your marketing strategy. Several people got burned with interactive kiosk terminals, but now that automatic teller machines have become so familiar, users are much more comfortable interfacing with a screen, and kiosks will be cropping up everywhere. The next chapter details a case history of an electronic publishing project that would be particularly suited for kiosks.
If you do multimedia authoring, a new market is opening up to compile interactive catalogs for retail stores. Where these in-store kiosk catalogs have been tested, they have generated over 15% of sales revenues--and as much as 40% in the Christmas peak selling periods.
When marketing through electronic catalogs, either on-line or on disc, you can afford to be generous in providing detailed contents lists and extracts. Use the flexibility of the electronic media to give a comprehensive overview of your work, including information in extracts that readers might immediately be able to put to good use.
It is almost always counterproductive to be stingy with the samples you make freely available in such cases. In almost all cases, it is advisable to go out there, "beat the drum," and show the best of what you've got. I found this principle proven time and again when I was in the movie distribution business. We would often joke after seeing a preview of a movie that crammed most of its visual and dramatic highlights into a high-impact trailer that, once you'd seen the trailer, you didn't need to sit through 90 minutes of the full movie. In fact, a strong trailer was nearly always the most cost-effective way of generating good opening business for a movie, and very few patrons who liked the trailer asked for their money back when they "bought" the movie.
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Another movie business marketing tactic that you can use over bulletin boards is the electronic equivalent of advance teasers and advertisements. If your title is appropriate, disseminate as widely as possible advance tidbits that are likely to develop interest ahead of your publication or release date. This can be particularly useful if your title covers an event or trend of particular topical interest.
A perennial problem for writers and small publishers is cash flow. Just how do you fund the creative work, and then the production and marketing costs, to keep the project alive until revenues start flowing in? The usual way for any business enterprise is a loan or some form of investment financing. However, another interesting option in publishing involves prepublication offers, a form of marketing that can be very effective and a financial life-saver. To find out how well it can work, I talked to a self-publishing author who has been very successful in the kind of niche market that lends itself well to e-books. His experience reinforces many of the key points in this chapter about commonsense marketing and promotional activities.
Ron Barlow of El Cajon, California demonstrates the potential of pre-publication offers with his self-published hardcopy books. The success he achieves could be obtained far more cost-efficiently by publishing electronically, but don't try to emulate him unless you have real confidence in the viability of your publication and are prepared to do all the other work involved in bringing it successfully to its market.
"I raised the cash to publish both of my books with pre-publication offers of a $12.95 book for $9.95 postpaid" Ron recalls. He suggests as a proven formula discounts to distributors of 60% off orders of five or more copies, and 40% off single orders, both plus shipping, for cash up front, and with specific time limits.
"These discounts might seem excessive if you have never purchased a print run of the optimum 3,500 to 10,000 copies," Ron comments. "Small print runs will cost you almost the retail price."
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Ron used this discounting prepublication strategy for his books describing antique woodworking tools and listing current collector values for them. He kept a self-publishing snowball gathering momentum in this niche market until it quickly developed into a successful business that, in the late 1980s, netted him $50,000 a year for three years in a row.
Ron's latest book has an even tighter target market: barbers and hair stylists. His Vanishing American Barbershop was initially promoted with a target mailing to 20,000 barber shops and their suppliers.
"We only got a five percent response, but some of the nation's biggest barber supply houses have reordered every 30 days since," he explains. "Five percent is considered a successful response by the big mail-order houses, so it is obvious that you must really control your costs when doing bulk mailing."
Ron, from his extensive experience, provides two examples of what can happen to an author of a book that is viable for either conventional commercial publication or for self-publishing.
In Scenario #1, the author signs with a commercial publisher. The author might get a $3,000 to $5,000 advance, plus, if sales exceed 5,000 copies, a few royalty checks. The book is likely to be out of print in 24 months, however, so the author's total returns over two years (not counting the time needed to research and write the book) might be $4,000 to $6,000.
That's a pretty miserable return, but statistics from Europe and North America show that the great majority of published authors do even worse. That's why self-publishing appears so attractive--providing you don't compound your problems by adding heavy expenditures to low income!
Here is Scenario #2, the way that Ron Barlow self-published so profitably:
Sound like a dream concept? Well, Ron did it, and he started the ball rolling with very little money up-front by generating positive early cash flow from prepublication offers before he had to pay his print bill. With electronic publishing, positive cash flow should be much easier to achieve because the print bill is not a big expense. You can duplicate disks as the responses come in, but do budget enough for printing to package your product attractively.
"In our self-publishing, we found that bookstores and distributors are only a small--and troublesome!--portion of your market," Ron cautions. The same might be said for a book on a disk if you try to move it through the channels catering specifically for computer users.
You won't make many sales, and have lots of hassles, if you try to sell through retail computing outlets, unless, of course, your publication is
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targeted specifically at computer users. Instead, go directly to places where your target market is accessible to your pitch. In the case of Ron's book about tools, collectors who needed his information could be found at fairs and shows. However, often you cannot isolate your potential market effectively, and might need to get your product in front of the general public in the hope that it is seen coincidentally by as many of your potential buyers as possible.
"We have found that libraries, catalog houses, and specialty stores--from health foods to hardware and hospital gift shops--are the real 'wholesale' markets," Ron says. "We have concentrated on direct-mail sales first, then waited for small merchants to respond as they saw our retail ads.
"We also insert a wholesale discount schedule in with every book sold," he continues. "Unimagined customers will materialize: church groups, little league parents, historical societies, anyone who feels that they can make a profit on your book will respond if you make it simple to place a cash wholesale order, and guarantee to give them their money back on unsold copies returned in good condition."
Ron found that, using magazine advertising, crucial early flow of cash hinged on the quality and placement of his advertising. The same principles apply to creating a direct mail piece and sending it to an effective address list."Since mail-order responses are generated only by the ad, not by viewing your product first-hand, 90 percent of your early success could be directly connected to writing and illustrating a very motivating space ad, and placing it in a tried-and-true magazine," Ron advises.
Remember that many publications, as well as the U.S. Postal Service, do not permit soliciting business for mythical products or services. Be responsible in making prepublication offers by ensuring that you can be ready to ship the finished product within three weeks of your offer reaching potential customers. Some magazines and newspapers might
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insist on seeing a sample before they will accept your advertisement, while the USPS will retrospectively clobber you if it gets complaints.
If you are visited by postal inspectors, you need to convince them that you had the capability to complete your product and ship it in adequate quantities to customers within about three weeks of the first orders coming in. You can't use the mails to promote a prepublication offer that is really just a test to see if a concept will fly.
Certainly don't put any customer checks in the bank or process credit card orders until you are actually shipping. If there is going to be a delay, notify customers and offer refunds within eight days of receiving their orders. State a new publishing date (and add two weeks to it for shipping).
If you try to generate prepublication revenue by means of editorial coverage, you must have acceptable prototype samples to send to writers and editors who are attracted by your media release. There is hardly a journalist alive--particularly in the computer press--who at some time has not been embarrassed by writing about a product that never ships, or is horribly late.
Try to work with publications that have long lead times. Many magazines need four to six months, so must have information well in advance to ensure that publication of a report or a review will coincide as closely as possible with your release date.
If your title is likely to appeal to a particular issue of a publication that is important to your marketing strategy, try to get into a dialogue with the appropriate editorial staffer as early as possible. For example, your guide to computer security procedures would stand little chance of coverage in most issues of a magazine for lawyers, but could be just what an editor is looking for in an annual supplement dedicated to security in the legal profession.
Most newspapers and magazines release details of any special supplements or seasonal issues up to a year in advance. This gives
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advertisers an opportunity to plan their budgets and schedules, and also alerts editorial contributors. You will usually find such a listing available just for the asking, and it could be the best place to start developing your pre-publication offers and positive cash-flow strategies.
If you want details of a particular publication, call the advertising department and ask for a media kit, which contains advertising costs, a demographic breakdown of the readership, and a listing of forthcoming special subject issues or supplements.
Self-promotion and marketing are alien to many authors, so those who do not want to get involved directly in these tasks and have sufficient funds are inevitably tempted to pay for someone else to do them. In such situations, beware the growth of electronic vanity publishing, carrying over into the new media most of the deplorable practices of irresponsible operators who have exploited the burning desire of authors to get into print.
The vast scope for the production and distribution of electronic manuscripts will attract many entrepreneurs, and some will undoubtedly offer worthy services by providing professional expertise in the editing and compiling of titles, and their effective marketing and distribution. Others will offer much and deliver little, just like their print counterparts at vanity presses.
As you will see in the coming chapters, it really is much easier and cheaper to prepare, duplicate, and distribute an electronic publication yourself than a printed book, so the financial risk can be much less.
Use some of the marketing options discussed in this chapter, and your expenses need not be significant. You can afford to experiment and learn as you go because you need not be exposed to the heavy losses possible for a self-published traditional book. Of course, there are still valid grounds for seeking professional expertise about
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different aspects of the marketing process if you lack the knowledge or time to do it yourself. Marketing expertise, research, and extensive testing are essential if the project represents a substantial up-front investment, as could be the case with a complex multimedia work.
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