When the discovery of books migrates from physical browsing to web recommendations to social networks, as Facebook reader app Riffle is pioneering in the model of Pinterest or Spotify, an interesting change occurs in the publishing information supply chain. Publishers that focus solely on the trade in the traditional model overlook influential reader communities and miss emerging sales opportunities.  In the digital world, publishers will need to adapt to the new hybrid Business-to-Business-to-Consumer, or B2B2C, marketplace.

Some publishers have begun to take the plunge into reader-oriented business models, and a small percentage of sales do come from these direct-to-consumer initiatives.  F+W Media has been experimenting with enthusiast e-book clubs and subscription sites for art instruction titles. HarperCollins, one of the most innovative publishers in the field, has a devoted following for its HarperTeen portal through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr.  Meanwhile, Macmillan science fiction and fantasy imprint Tor Books recently went as far as to announce a DRM-free e-bookstore in an effort to bring together authors and readers, boost backlist sales and make e-books more similar to their physical counterparts.  Unfortunately, these direct-to-consumer experiments represent the exception and not the rule.

In the legacy B2B model, which today effectively means physical distribution to Barnes & Noble, for example, and digital delivery via the likes of Amazon and Apple, the reader is merely an afterthought.  Publishers organize their fulfillment systems around intermediaries and hope that these third parties bring in the consumer. But as the market moves ever more in the consumer’s favour, publishers must strengthen this relationship between their content and their readers. The answer is not strictly B2C marketing, but derives from metadata and discoverability—publishers now need to get in the habit of organizing their products and data around consumer needs.

With Facebook’s valuation in the billions, social media has become the most direct to consumer route and it is no secret that publishers seek to monetize this traffic. Beyond simple ecommerce functionality on their own sites, publishers must harness reader ‘recommends’ and ‘likes’ and be in a position to accept a purchase at any given moment. Consumers have become accustomed to buying at the point of discovery and a layer of social commerce affords publishers access to the influence that these social networks increasingly wield.  Likewise, publishers need to capitalize on trends by being present where their readers converge with the right messages to motivate them to buy.  It becomes a case of direct-to-consumer commerce plus marketing, on top of the customary promotion to the trade.

The emerging B2B2C market need not represent a threat, but actually a new door opening for publishers.  Indeed, HarperCollins just introduced a new community-building Facebook app called Like to Read, that progressively rewards users who ‘like’ a book with additional excerpts the more the book is liked.  With robust metadata about products and authors, publishers can increase direct interactions with their readers. And with a commerce layer and technical flexibility in pricing items, they can leverage social media by tailoring products for any environment. Technology that combines industry with consumer marketing and distribution will take publishers everywhere that their readers are and complete the circle of B2B2C.

This article first appeared in the Publishing Perspectives Show Daily at the Frankfurt Book Fair.