Bastei Lübbe is one of the industry`s key pioneers when it comes to commercialization of eBooks. Sarah Mirschinka, Sales Manager Digital at Bastei Entertainment, explained the publisher’s strategy in detail at the Leipzig Book Fair. Bookbytes-blogger Knut Nicholas Krause listened to her presentation and summed up the key take-aways.
The eBook market is still a growth market in Germany. Currently, about one third of the readers are willing to read digitally. Yet, the sales volume/revenue only constitutes only 10% of the overall market – which means, a trebling can still be expected. According to Sarah Mirschinka, the most effective marketing tool is pricing – amongst others, referring to the Dan Brown/Illuminati promotion Amazon performed at the beginning of this year.
Digital Only Series
In the field of “digital only”, Bastei Lübbe focuses on frequent readers and primarily offers them series. “Series are the highest strategic priority” explains Mrs. Mirschinka, referring to the decades of experience in the market of paperback novels. Bastei Lübbe develops its own series in the German and English language and also publishes unreleased series digitally, such as “Killer Blog”, “Different Boys” or “Kater Brown”.
“Publishing series, we are able to react fast on upcoming trends” Mrs. Mirschinka states and introduces some Christmas- and Western series.
Another usage of eBooks is the publication of short novels created by famous authors (e.g. Hohlbein or Eschbach) or extra content to already published titles to reduce the time between two novels. Furthermore, short stories are used to generate awareness for unknown authors.
Overall, it is about offering a wide range of actions to experiment with. From frequent readers to the reader of special, ambitious literature and from the low to the high price segment, this is the reason why in this field a lot of market research is done.
New forms of exploitation
Splitting: For example, Andrea Camilleri, a high-quality crime author. The paperback itself costs €9 and is now published as an eBook divided into three “Splits” for €2 each. Even though it is in the high-price eBook segment, the reader likes it.
Collections/anthologies: Five single titles (from the backlist) are reused as an anthology (e.g. summer novels in the collection “Beach kisses”: Summer of love, Summer of dreams, Summer of longing etc.)
Bundles: Various titles are combined into a double volume or trilogy, usually in a new, fancy design.
Previous tests showed that bundles (which would not be very successful in the print market) work even better in the digital market, reach new target groups and do not cannibalize the original.
However, the online shops still have problems in distributing these bundles (e.g.,”Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” links refer to the original book and do not indicate that the title is also available as part of a bundle).
Bastei Lübbe was there from the very beginning when it comes to Skoobe, beam-a-book, Readfy, KindleUnlimited, Scribt, Oyster, 24symbols…
Mrs. Mirschinka points out: that it would be a mistake to believe that flat fee offers won’t cannibalize the sales of printed books and eBooks. To the contrary; it always happens, but to a varying extent. Therefore, publishers would have to decide whether the upselling effect offsets the cannibalization.
Bastei Lübbe uses a subscription offer for a well targeted generation of additional revenue, for “backlist boosting”, to acquire new customers, to fight piracy, to increase discoverability in the online book market, and to strengthen series and authors etc.
However, according to Mrs. Mirschinka, there is one thing subscription offers are not suitable for: the initial publications. She gave an example: The authors of “Rattenkinder” (“rat kids”, a German thriller novel) would be self-publishers. They decided, that their book should have been published as a KindleUnlimited edition from the beginning: the initial publication. Bastei Lübbe highly dissuaded them from publishing the title simultaneously but finally gave in to the authors request – it flopped, and the authors ruined their sales numbers.
Pricing- marketing tool number one for eBooks
In Mrs. Mirschinka’s opinion, one of the most important fields of experiment is pricing. This is one reason why Bastei Lübbe also has an English-speaking publishing program: It enables the publisher to experiment with prices in countries that do not have a net price agreement like Germany does (such as the airlines: Price rise or fall depending on the current situation).
In Lübbe‘s home market (Germany), the price of an e-book is widely defined as 80% of the retail price of the print title. Depending on the “Genre” there might be some differences.
Some more options to use pricing in an active way:
ePremiere: If an e-book is published before the printed title (digital pre-publication), you can define a special digital pre-publication price. The digital pre-publication might be used to create publicity on the web, to be better ranked in eCommerce stores and boost print sales.
Launching price: There can be a special price up to three weeks after the first publication date – after that the regular price is applied.
Nice-Price: If the regular e-book price is not working or the publisher knows that it will not work in this digital segment, a so called nice-price is defined. This is the type of price that is suitable for the current competitive landscape in the segment – independent from the print product.
Pricing campaigns: A campaign will be started as soon as the title’s sales numbers are beginning to go down. When this method can be used most efficient varies from title to title.
Free: In addition to the tools mentioned above there is also the possibility to give away e-books for free – if this is directly linked to big author promotion campaigns or as a teaser to an upcoming series. This approach not only improves the ranking of the title on the online platforms, but also leads to a higher conversion rate on the following titles of the digital series.
In general Mrs. Mirschinka would like to be able to launch short-term campaigns for digital products to react flexibly changing market conditions – as long as there are no fixed price regulations in the market (like the fixed book price in Germany).
Sales activities: Individual key account care matters, also in digital sales
Bastei Lubbe has a lot of manpower (seven employees) in digital accounting. The aim is optimal discoverability of Bastei Entertainment’s eBooks in the respective shops. It is essential, to spend time with the individual shops and get to know them in detail. There is a tendency for each shop to have different needs else (different titles, genre campaigns, season-promotions (e.g. ”Be my valentine”, bargains, sweepstakes etc.). It is important that these price campaigns no not become “inflationary” but to target them well, states Mirschinka. In most of the cases, Bastei Lübbe would know better what works in the different shops than the shop operators themselves, especially in small shops. This is why key accounting is all about learning together.
Sales activities: individual digital campaigns and exclusive cooperation
As in the digital market, it is even more difficult to make new titles popular than in the stationary book trade, especially when it comes to digital only programs, it is even more important to make the titles visible. Hence, an exclusive forerun with selected cooperation partners would be a good opportunity. In the viewpoint of Mrs. Mirschinka, campaigns help to reach a good visibility and good shop rankings, as they cause sustainable upselling (additional sales that balance the costs of price reductions or campaigns) and strengthen the authors or series brands.
In this context she refers to the controversial marketing deal of Amazon in the beginning of 2016: Amazon gave the Bastei Lübbe bestseller “Illuminati” by Dan Brown (which was the origin of the segment “mystery thriller”) to customers who would download the free Amazon Kindle app until January 14 for free. Mrs. Mirschinka evaluates this as an extraordinarily successful advertising campaign for an old bestseller title of which the target group at Amazon was not aware – as the bestseller was published 13 years ago when Amazon not yet operating in the German market. The advertising value in the Amazon-universe was huge, e.g. for the first time ever, a single book appeared in the top position of the Amazon homepage.
While many eBook distributors were indignant, there were also those voices of small book distributors who praised Bastei Lübbe as they always got support from the publisher in realizing their own campaign ideas – Bastei Lübbe treated them all equally.
Mrs. Mirschinka had one other example of an exclusive, digital campaign that was realized with the German book distributor “Hugendubel” for a special edition by Rebecca Gablé:
A special edition of Rebecca Gablé`s “Der dunkle Thron” (“The dark throne”) was created. Hugendubel was allowed to sell a specific amount of eBooks for free in their shop. In return, they made an advertising subsidies counter transaction with the publisher.
Here, again, a detailed analysis of what happens afterwards is crucial. As a publisher, one has to strengthen the authors and series brands and to justify one’s actions or non-actions towards the authors.
A plea for creative thinking
Mrs. Mirschka asks her publishing colleagues to “not think in terms of barriers anymore” and explains: “If we are too restrictive, we lose market share
[to new competitors, startups etc.]” – this is why everyone should test and analyze what works in the market.In her opinion, the digital field is a great chance to take full advantage of the potential of her own and foreign blacklist authors: the digital book market is not driven by novelties, even though all current online shops still think this way. She claims that this way of thinking is anachronistic and recommends a creative exchange between online portals, publishers, authors and readers.
Success factors include transparent payment rules (e.g. for KindleUnlimited) to win authors for new business models.
When used right, digital distribution enables publishers to react fast and flexibly on new trends and also to set and push trends.
The challenges of eCommerce are visibility and high-quality metadata.
Plea for situational prices
In this context, Mrs. Mirschinka promotes situational pricing. With situational prices, the real market potential can be exploited best. Shops should test which pricing mechanisms can push the market forward.
Knut Nicholas Krause M.Sc., CEO and founder of knk, has been active as an IT consultant for medium-sized companies since 1986. As the son of a director of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he founded knk in 1988 and specialized in the development of knkPublishing, the only Microsoft certified publishing software worldwide. He is a visionary who explores industry trends within the publishing industry and incorporates them into the development of knkPublishing.