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The Importance of Understanding Your Audience

This is the first in a series of blog posts based on our recent webcast, "10 Factors to Consider when Developing your Digital Publishing Strategy." If you weren't able to attend, you can still watch it in its entirety, including the interactive question and answer session here.

View the Webcast

We start with the very core of your publishing business — audience.

Audience drives both sides of your publishing business.  On the product side, it should be the touchstone that guides your editorial and content development efforts.  Book publishers need to make sure their organizations are structured so that the voice of the audience is heard clearly and with authority.  Traditionally in magazine publishing, this role has been served by the editor-in-chief.  Most book publishers don't have comparable structures, and creating them is one of the great challenges of successful online brand building.

Your audience impacts where you promote and sell your content — big box retailers, independent book stores, online e-book stores, or direct-to-consumers from your own web portals. It also impacts how you deliver this content.  Does your audience skew toward e-books? If so, what format(s) do you need to support? Are they reading in a linear way, as is typical with fiction or other narratives, or in a more extractive way, seeking to address to particular questions or learning objectives via searching, browsing and bookmarking. In what kinds of environments do they read your books— office, school, or at home? And are they partial to particular types of reading devices, whether tablets, laptops, smartphones or dedicated e-readers?

Any publisher that lacks a deep understanding of its audience will falter.  Nathan Hull, digital development director of British media group Pearson's Penguin business said, "Big retailers know our customers better than we do." That is a problem, but what can publishers do about it?

In today's market, where margins are squeezed and competition exists from a variety of delivery mechanisms (rental, subscription, e-book, hard copy, etc.), it is becoming more important to establish a direct relationship with your audience, not only because it allows you to retain your profits, but also because it enables you to gather data on user preferences, habits and behavior patterns.  Without this knowledge, publishers are at greater risk of being disintermediated by online retail powerhouses. Readers are increasingly buying online, writing reviews online and getting ideas on what to read from online sources including social media, and publishers need to be tapped in to these processes.

At a minimum, publishers need to build a relationship with audiences through direct marketing, whether via social media, e-mail or other channels.  At the same time, any publisher who is not already selling direct should be considering the options. After all, 11 percent of people surveyed by O'Reilly said they have purchased direct from a publisher.

When you are beginning to develop your direct digital publishing strategy, some questions to ask throughout your organization include:
  1. What are the demographics and psychographics of your readers?
  2. What types of content do they prefer?
  3. Do they want interactive content that goes beyond text?
  4. What devices are they using to read content including laptops, tablets, e-readers and smartphones?
  5. How do they move between these devices?
  6. Who do they buy from?
  7. Where do they find out about new books?
  8. Where to they share reviews and recommendations?
  9. How can you build a better relationship with your readers?
While it all boils down to audience, there are many other things to consider when you are planning your digital publishing strategy.  Stay tuned for more insights, or you can jump ahead and download the complete white paper today.

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