If you are trying to market books or ebooks online, trust us, you'll
learn something from this Case Study. Doesn't matter what niche market
Our favorite data -- 30% of ebook shoppers will leaf
through online sample pages prior to making their purchase decision.
Plus, turns out sample pages are the best landing page for house email
campaigns (instead of your standard store page). Here's more:
“We have to squeeze every little bit we can,”
describes Alexander Gendler, President Varda Books, about his efforts
to sell ebooks to a niche that most ecommerce sites might deem too tiny
a marketplace to be worth mining.
“We’re not simply in a niche of
Judaica,” explains Gendler. “If you take a look at the type of Judaica
we carry – it’s not Orthodox Judaica, and it’s not secular. It’s
in-between.” And, in the world of Judaica publishing, when you’re
in-between, folks on both sides are more likely to ignore you
completely than embrace you.
For years, Varda Books had been a
successful pre-press vendor (typesetting, proofreading, etc.) serving
publishers such as the Jewish Publication Society and the University of
Chicago. “What I saw was they produce good literature. I suggested that
maybe some of their books should be published in electronic format as a
reference source,” Gendler says.
But the publishers were focused
on the bigger business of marketing their front-list titles in print
and developing new titles. No one really believed putting older
backlist titles out in ebook format would be a big enough revenue
opportunity to be worth the work. Frustrated, Gendler decided to show
the print publishers that ebooks can be a winner.
First he established licensing arrangements for his favorite titles, agreeing to pay the publishers royalties based on sales.
he established a new division of Varda, dedicated to creating ebook PDF
versions from print and then selling them online. It was both a daring
act of love for the content and a bet that he could make relentless
best-practices and guerilla tests in ecommerce content marketing pay
off -- even in a nichier-than-niche vertical.
came up with a clever name for his new ecommerce site -- eBookShuk.com
(shuk rhymes with book). But fun names do not guarantee sales.
if he got every single interested consumer in the world to visit the
site, eBookShuk wasn't going to get giant amounts of traffic. To make
the new division profitable, Gendler invested time, brains, and months
of programming into turning his ecommerce site into a conversion
machine. (Frankly, if other publishers invested half the effort that
Gendler did, they'd get better sales too.)
In particular, four key conversion-building tactics struck our eye:
#1. Free preview-it-online (up to three times)
book buyers are used to having the tangible “feel” of a book in hand to
review before purchased, Gendler’s programmers developed their own tech
platform that allowed prospective buyers to preview the ebook’s
contents. Key-- the preview function was more than just one chapter and
the table of contents. Gendler developed technology that gives the
shopper the ability to preview the entire book. That's right -- you can
read every single page of a book at eBookShuk.com just as you could at
an actual bookstore.
However, you couldn't copy or otherwise
download the contents (or as Gendler notes, get coffee or fingerprints
on them, crack the spine, or otherwise render the copy unsellable).
Plus, for extra security the programming only allows a shopper to view
a book up to three times. After that, the shopper gets an on-screen
“it’s time to buy” pop-up message with hotlinks to make an immediate
#2. Upsells for additional features and bundles
titles at eBookShuk are offered in your choice of two formats -- the
first is a server-side “read only” PDF. The prices range, but it's
fairly inexpensive compared to what buying a print copy would be. The
second format called "Scholar" version permits the buyer to print and
copy the ebook. The second format is generally priced at 100% more than
the first. Example, you can buy the 'Reader" version of 'JPS Torah
Commentary: Exodus' for $24.95 or pay $65.00 for the Scholar version.
notes, “When we advertise, we often offer the reader version because it
allows us to show our price for the same title to be significantly less
than anything else available.”
He hopes potential shoppers will be enticed enough by the low prices to click through, but then convert at the higher price.
site also heavily promotes bundles of ebooks -- discounted groupings of
titles that make sense based on site data from searches and previews.
“We noticed that individual books can sell quite poorly,” states
Gendler. “When you sell a bundle, you create a different value that did
not exist previously. You have a collection, and now, you can really
discount if the person is interested.”
Copies of each shopper's collections are held for them at their personal online bookshelf for ready reference at any time.
#3. Steal smart from mainstream ecommerce sites
programming team aggressively added bells and whistles to the site such
as a customer wish list, an “email a friend” utility, plus a contextual
ad box that listed other Varda Books on related topics based on a site
visitor’s on-site searches. They figured, if these tactics work to
market consumer electronics, toys and apparel online, why not Judaic
#4. Instill customer trust
To help potential
customers feel comfortable with their purchases, Gendler added
trust-building icons to every page of the site including the famed
'BBB" from the Better Business Bureau Online Reliability program, the
VeriSign security icon, and a big round 'Money Back Guarantee' icon.
a toll-free number is displayed at the top of every page. “It’s
important to build confidence with customers,” says Gendler. “The
number is actually not used that much. People prefer to communicate by
email than by (phone)…but getting a toll-free number allows them that
option to have a live person on the other end.”
Next, in addition
to search engine optimization, the team used three aggressive
approaches to drive shoppers to the site (link to samples below):
-> Promote to targeted third party lists
advertise actively through direct email. We rely, by in large, on
existing mailing lists,” says Gendler. He picks third party opt-in
email lists from established publishers with readers in his market, and
pushes stand-alone HTML emails to them, offering specific titles or
bundles of titles in the offer. Gendler decides what offers to make by
analyzing traffic on the site, and monitoring what visitors are
searching for, click on, preview.
-> Launch a subscription book club with monthly email to increase repeat purchases
Gendler swiped this idea from offline bookstore chains…
that in a niche market of buyers with special interests the likelihood
of repeat sales would likely be high, Gendler created a digital Judaic
book club. Members pay about $36 per year to join. They get an everyday
discount of about 20% off, plus receive monthly discount offers by
email that range from 10-15% off.
-> Test weekly “mini-store” emails to house lists
expand sales to the growing in-house list of buyers, Gendler tested a
weekly email blast offering a “mini-store” of ebooks. “We select 10-15
items that we sell for like $5.95, $8.95 or maybe $20.00 or $30.00, but
substantially less than what people would (normally) buy on our Web
site,” describes Gendler. “But that mini-store functions only for two
or three days.” If the prospect doesn’t purchase from the mini-store
offer during that time period, the offer expires.
offers an icon of the book’s cover and a brief description. However,
unlike most publishers' email offers, Gendler's team does not send
clickthroughs to the standard book landing page. Instead, they send
clicks directly into the book itself -- the free preview of the book
opens and the clickers feel as though they've opened the cover.
just two and one-half years in business online, Varda Books'
eBookShuk.com division is boasting $400,000 a year in ebook sales --
and growing. They now have more than 6,000 paying customers, about
one-sixth of whom have paid for an annual membership to join the book
club. Gendler says the book club renewal rate runs at about 85%.
to the premium Scholar PDF version are a winner, with about 90% of all
buyers opting for the upgrade. “Even if they aren’t a scholar, they
really want to print and copy,” says Gendler. Plus the bundles are
another big hit. Therefore, although read-only versions of most ebooks
in the store are fairly low-priced, the store's average sale is $120.
says that their in-house free ebook preview technology appears to be
working. More than 30% of shoppers are preview sampling an ebook.
offering full free samples like this risky in the sense that the
customer will read for free and walk away without buying? “On average,
a reader actually does not read more than 15 pages,” says Gendler.
“They (usually) make up their mind after two or three pages.”
Gendler mentions that this preview does more than attempt to convert prospects into buyers.
preview also allows us collect the data on the tastes of our
customers.” Gendler’s system produces user reports on which titles are
sampled and which pages on each ebook are previewed the most, which is
handy data for making future offers. With this data in mind, Gendler's
team can decide which titles are the hottest ones to offer to outside
This research is one of the reasons why, currently,
email campaigns to third party opt-in lists generate an average of
$3-$4 in sales for every dollar spent. Gendler's one frustration --
there aren't enough niche lists to mail more aggressively.
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from eBookShuk.com's marketing tactics:
Row Inc -- Varda Book’s sister company that developed the ebook preview
technology (Note: Other publishers and online booksellers can license
this technology now too):
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