This is a trend that has been bubbling away for a few years, as publishers have realized that the decline in physical book retailing means that their customers are no longer booksellers but readers. Yet learning how to become a consumer-focused business isn’t something that happens overnight.
As a consequence many figures from outside the publishing industry have been quick to bemoan how slow-moving publishers have been in seizing the opportunity to sell to readers. In the longer-term, however, we may just find that publishers were in fact busy laying the groundwork for doing it properly.
For example, this year HarperCollins relaunched its own site as an ecommerce platform on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK Faber & Faber retooled its own website to deliver the same kind ‘luxury experience’ shoppers would get from interacting with a premium brand. Away from traditional ecommerce, Hachette announced it would sell books directly to consumers via Gumroad. And on the platform side Twitter and Google both unveiled plans to enable consumers to buy directly from tweets and search results respectively that could have interesting implications for publishers.
As more publishers roll-out consumer friendly websites and enter partnerships with platforms designed to make buying and selling easier, it’s possible that 2015 will be the year that direct-to-consumer sales break through. Although whether those sales are made through platforms that publishers own (their websites) or merely those that they rent space on (Google, Twitter) remains to be seen.