Outskirts Press Direct Bookstore

The solution to the wholesale/retail bookstore issue I discussed in the last posting was to combine both bookstores into one single store, and that is what we did with the launch of Version 4.0 of the Outskirts Press website.  We retained both URL links to the store but focus mostly on just promoting a single one: outskirtspress.com/bookstore

For example, this is the URL that appears at the end of most of our book videos, driving potential customers to the online store where they can get the book from the video they just watched on YouTube.

Now the retail store and wholesale store act in concert with one another seamlessly, by offering a tiered discount structure to the customer depending upon the quantity of books he/she buys.   In fact, even retail orders of just 1 book receive a discount. After all, we save money by not having to sell that book through Ingram & Amazon; why not pass that savings on to the book buyer?  The author still receives their full royalty in any case.

Retail orders are defined by quantity purchases of 1-9 copies of a single book.  For those purchases, the bookstore automatically applies a 10% discount to the retail price.  I discussed a bit about this and the reasoning behind it in some of my June posts.

Wholesale orders are defined by quantity purchases of 10 copies or more.  For those purchases, the bookstore automatically applies whatever trade discount the author set during their publishing process.  The majority of our discounts range between 25% – 50%, but in some cases authors elect to set a 55% trade discount on their book. Whatever price plan the author selected is the discount available to retailers, wholesalers, or customers who purchase those books direct from Outskirts Press at outskirtspress.com/bookstore in quantities of 10 or more.   

This is advantageous to everyone involved. The retailer gets a better margin than if they ordered from Ingram and the author still gets their full royalty.   In fact, at industry-standard 55% trade discounts, retailers are accustomed to just 40% margins, since Ingram often takes 15%.  But by removing Ingram from the equation, our authors can offer retailers a better deal, which incentivizes more retailers into ordering our authors’ books.

These discounts are reflected dynamically on the bookstore detail pages for every book in an effort to incentivize customers to order more quantities, too. In fact, we’ve had authors order OTHER authors’ books at wholesale prices when they knew they were going to be attending a major book event, because anytime you buy low and sell high you have a profit-generating opportunity.

The changes worked. Both retail and wholesale bookstore orders increased substantially with the introduction of the new Outskirts Press direct bookstore.

In fact, the downside is that some of our authors became a little confused.  Getting up to a 55% discount on books ordered through the Outskirts Press bookstore sounds so good, some of our authors have purchased their own copies from the store when, in fact, they get an even better discount within their own publishing center.  As a result, our IT department added an “alert” that triggers if the bookstore recognizes an author purchasing their own book from the bookstore instead of from their Publishing Center. 

We’re using similar alerts to notify authors and potential authors of the discounts they can receive on our a la carte writing and marketing services if they elect to publish with Outskirts Press. But that’s a topic for a future post.

Version 4 Website Bookstore

With my June 30th post, I wrote this:  “The final reason for the bookstore changes is probably the most important — the integration of the retail and wholesale bookstores into one single store — and I’ll discuss that next.”

And then I got side-tracked with the publication and subsequent book marketing of The Highly Effective Habits of 5 Successful Authors.  As a result, I didn’t touch upon the topic introduced in my June 30th post – that is, the integration of the retail and wholesale bookstores with our Version 4.0 website launch.

First a little background. Outskirts Press is one of the only (if not the only) self-publishing service company that offers its books at wholesale discounts to anybody (not just its own authors).  Additionally, this wholesale bookstore allows our authors the opportunity to offer their books at the full, trade-discounted prices to niche markets, smaller retailers, or specialty stores that might not otherwise have an account with Ingram or Baker & Taylor.    In fact, retailers or customers who order through the Outskirts Press wholesale bookstore actually save MORE money and get a better margin than if they were to order the same book wholesale through Ingram (that’s what happens when you cut out the middle man).  All the while our authors still receive their full royalty, 100% of the profit of the book.

Cool, yes?  In fact, this wholesale bookstore is one of our competitive advantages and is one of the reasons more savvy authors elect to publish with Outskirts Press — a publisher, marketing company, and wholesaler all in one.   Up until Version 4 of the website redesign, this wholesale bookstore was located at its own specific URL on our site, independent of our retail bookstore.

And that was the problem. Not enough people were learning about it. Sure, we informed all our authors about its availability and its advantages. But, admittedly, when an author is experiencing the jubilance of publication combined with facing the task of book marketing, such a subject as “wholesale bookstore” might rank a little lower on their radar.

So we had this great wholesale bookstore that relatively few of our authors (and book buying customers) were taking advantage of.

The solution…. ? We’ll discuss that next time.

The content is the thing

As discussed previously, pricing is one of the reasons we introduced a direct bookstore with the launch of Version 4.

Another reason is so that our authors would have the same level of control they have over their bookstore listing that they have over their author webpage.  Outskirts Press is one of the few self-publishing companies that offers each of its authors a free author webpage over which the author can control, to some degree, the color, design, layout, and content at any time after publication.  Those same content changes are now reflected in the direct bookstore as well.  With the authors directly in control of their own sales copy, they are directly responsible for affecting the positive sales growth of their books. We wanted to extend that power and flexibility to the new channel.

The final reason for the bookstore changes is probably the most important — the integration of the retail and wholesale bookstores into one single store — and I’ll discuss that next.

Outskirts Press bookstore Version 4

As a self-publishing and book marketing company, Outskirts Press primarily helps authors publish and market books. Up until Version 4 of our new and improved website, we really left the “selling” of books to retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, etc.  After all, they’ve invested huge amounts of money and time into making the shopping experiences on their sites extraordinary.  There’s no viable way to compete with them.

I still believe that. I also believe that given the choice between an author selling a copy of her book from her own website and selling a copy of her book from Amazon.com, she’s better off in the long run selling that book from Amazon — even if she makes slightly more money in the short run from her own website.   I have written a whole book about why I believe that, so I won’t dive into that here. 

So, if I believe Amazon sells books better than publishers, and if I believe authors benefit more if books are purchased from Amazon, why would Version 4 of Outskirts Press introduce a direct bookstore for readers?

There are a number of reasons.

The first reason is because our own bookstore gives us greater control over the sale price of our books.  Amazon’s sales pricing policies are up to them and there is very little control over it.  You can try to prohibit Amazon from discounting a book by passing along a “short discount” to Amazon (in the neighborhood of a 25-30% trade discount), but I’ve seen Amazon discount books with 20% trade discounts during the holiday season.  Naturally, the higher the trade discount, the more apt Amazon is to discount the book (they have more margin to play with).  Most authors don’t mind so much — with Outskirts Press they make the same royalty regardless of Amazon’s sales price, so why not let Amazon dip into its profit to invoke more sales for the author?

But some other authors prefer to set large trade discounts to pursue offline distribution and would prefer to keep the retail discounts to a minimum (or none at all) so they can maintain a certain value ratio for their book.  Perhaps they are selling it from their own website for the full retail price, for example…  Amazon’s discounting procedures make such an objective difficult.  

 So by offering another direct sales channel, we have attempted to satisfy two conflicting objectives, which is never an easy task. One, we have controlled the sales price and the discounting since books purchased in quantities of 1-9 at a time are discounted only by 10%, regardless of if the author has a 55% trade discount.   Two, we’ve created a customer incentive by creating possible scenarios whereby the customer can get a better price through us than through Amazon.   We’ve done this in exactly the same way we satisfied objective number one–by offering a sales price 10% lower than the retail price, regardless of the trade discount, even if that trade discount is set to the absolute minimums.  Amazon often won’t discount such a book, but Outskirts Press direct does.

And of course, just like Amazon sales, the author receives their full royalty, 100% of the profit, regardless of the purchase price.  It’s a win for everyone. And our author webpages still behave as they always have, sending customers to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble for their purchase, so our authors have the ultimate in flexibility.

And that brings us to the other reasons for the changes to the Outskirts Press bookstore, which I’ll discuss next time.

Self publishing services with Version 4

Over the past few posts I have been summarizing some of the differences between previous versions of our Outskirts Press website and the new Version 4 website that launched over Memorial Day weekend.  Of course, the core difference has been the availability of a la carte options and services for writers regardless of where or how they publish.  This hasn’t really affected the “Publishing Packages” portion of Version 4, however, since publishing packages have always been the core service of Outskirts Press since its inception. Very little changed here and changes that were made here were minor.

For instance, we tried to make it clearer that authors could order the entire package if they wanted to OR, if they preferred, they could start with just a $35 deposit to assign their production team members.  We also made our free e-book publishing guides an “item” that could be added to the shopping cart without cost. The other changes were mostly aesthetic, trying to make the details for each package more comprehensive in their descriptions, with more images and visual cues to highlight the advantages. In general Version 4 is embracing video and Web 2.0 a little bit more, so we created a video to highlight the Diamond publishing package and it plays from the Diamond page.  More videos like this will be forthcoming.

Next I’ll discuss changes to our bookstore, which were relatively major.

Self publishing book marketing services

I have been discussing the differences brought about to our business model with the introduction of Version 4 of our website at Outskirts Press.  The main difference is that we are starting to offer a la carte services to writers regardless of where/how they publish their book(s).  Of course, authors publishing with Outskirts Press get deep discounts.

I previously summarized the Writing Services. We also introduced a la carte book marketing services with the launch of Version 4 on Memorial Day weekend, and like with the Writing Services, we launched with a limited number of available options as a compromise to maxed resources and an aggressive launch date.

Out of the gate, the Marketing Solutions “aisle” of our new site featured 7 items:

  • 5 hours of Personal Marketing Assistance with one of our professional marketing experts
  • 5 Celebrity addresses and pitches with our Celebrity endorsements option
  • 500 customized bookmarks
  • 500 customized postcards
  • 500 customized business cards
  • 5 large posters (roughly 2 feet by 3 feet)
  • 25 small posters

We quickly added the Amazon Kindle Edition within a month after launch, since it is one of our most popular marketing services month in and month out. To encourage authors to publish with us, we offer deep discounts to our authors on all our new a la carte services. For instance, authors who have published their book with Outskirts Press can get an Amazon Kindle edition for 25% less than someone publishing elsewhere.   Even still, at $135 it’s the lowest price I was able to find for what we deliver (although I didn’t spend hours and hours looking around). And the best part of the deal, and one few of our competitors can match, is that the author keeps ALL their profits.  Amazon pays them directly, so they know Outskirts Press is not taking any of the Kindle revenue. We’re not even involved in the financial loop at all.  This alone is enough reason for many authors at competing publishers to eschew their publisher’s Kindle edition (if they offer it all) in preference for ours.

But with 8 marketing solutions available on an a la carte basis, we have a long way to go to introduce ALL the marketing services and products available to our authors. And a growing number of authors from elsewhere are starting to join us on that journey. We welcome them, and are excited to be helping them.

Self publishing writing services

Version 4.0 of the new Outskirts Press website launched on Memorial Day weekend with 4 writing options available for authors. I’ll be the first to say I wanted to launch with more.  But, as with everything this complicated, it became a matter of compromise and resources.  We had to launch over Memorial Day weekend — I think a previous post discussed why — and we needed to draw a line in the sand about what we could realistically go out of the gate with.

We launched with the search-optimized title suggestions and the article ghostwriting.

Professional search-optimized book title suggestions are just what they sound like.  We review the author’s information and their proposed book title and then present them with 3 alternatives that take into consideration such concepts as keyword-embedded sub-titles and non-duplicative book names.  I’ve seen first-hand the positive effect a properly titled and sub-titled book can have on online book sales. Sell Your Book on Amazon: Top-Secret Tips Guaranteed to Increase Sales for Print-on-Demand and Self-Publishing Writers is not just a mouth full; it is a carefully planned title that maximizes its exposure for particular keywords that are necessary for it to find its appropriate audience.

Article ghostwriting and distribution is just what it sounds like, too. We compose a 750-1000 word article on the subject/topic of the author’s choice that is related to his/her book, and then once the article is approved by the author, we distribute it to popular article banks.  Article marketing is one of the most effective forms of online promotion because it combines “content” with “links” and “social propagation.”  It’s a powerful one-two-three punch that can improve an author’s overall exposure across the internet.  The downside is that most authors don’t have the time to write the necessary articles, nor the know-how to efficiently distribute said articles through all the proper channels.  This option handles everything for the writer, conveniently.

We also launched Version 4 with pre-written, pre-illustrated children’s books for a boy and girl.   We have offered these “instant children’s books” to our authors for a long time.   These are basically a ‘taste’ of the power and convenience of POD publishing with Outskirts Press. For a minimum investment, an author can publish an already written, already illustrated children’s book featuring the names of their child (or a child they know) with a maximum amount of convenience (heck, they don’t even have to write the book!).   The book receives online availability through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and even pays the author $2.00 in royalties for every wholesale or retail sale.  Not only does it make a great gift, but it gives a writer an affordable opportunity to see if the convenience and value of on-demand publishing is right for them.  The girl’s version is here and the boy’s version is here.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I wanted to launch with more offerings.  For instance, the instant children’s books are currently limited to a single illustration set, featuring a Caucasian main character and an African American friend.  We have other illustration sets drawn (featuring both children as Caucasians, and both children as African Americans), but those did not make it into the launch, for a variety of reasons not worth getting into here.

There are other writing options/services I wanted to have available at launch, and I’ll get into those next time. Who knows… by the time this posting goes live–I’m writing it about 4 weeks in advance–hopefully some of the ones I mention will already be added.

What is different about Version 4?

The fundamental difference between Version 4 of Outskirts Press and every version preceding it, is that we are now offering our writing and marketing services/products to all writers on an a la carte basis, regardless of where they publish their books.  After all, we have the broadest scope of marketing services and products… why not offer those services and products to authors who, through no fault of their own, published their book with an alternate publisher and then discovered only after the book was published that their publisher doesn’t offer any marketing support to speak of.   Already some of our current authors, who published their first books elsewhere before discovering Outskirts Press, are anxious to finally be able to apply the same marketing support to their first books that they have been able to apply to their OP books.

Yes, this means with Version 4, we are going to help authors sell more books even if they published with our competitors.  And since some of those competitors actually take up to 80% of the author’s profits, they can thank us later. 

We’re also going to help traditionally published authors market their books, shortly after those authors come to the disillusioning realization that not all conventional publishers invest the same amount of marketing dollars on all their authors equally.

By the same token, Version 4 will offer pre-publication writing services to help writers start, finish, and edit their manuscripts, even if those same writers, for some reason or another, elect to publish elsewhere.  Of course, authors choosing to publish with Outskirts Press will receive discounts on many services (sometimes in excess of 40% off), so that’s one reason to continue to publish with Outskirts Press. Another is a matter of convenience; keeping everything under “one roof” makes an author’s life easier.   There are many other reasons, of course, like the fact that our authors keep 100% of their profits, 100% of their rights, and 100% of the control of their book.

Next I’ll expand upon the Version 4 offerings in a little more detail.

Self Publishing Version 4

My recent posts have briefly touched upon the new website Outskirts Press launched over Memorial Day weekend, which we are lovingly referring to as  Version 4.  Is this the 4th “version” of the site we’ve had? No; we’ve had more than that.

Version 4 comes from a convoluted history of enhancement-naming conventions.   When I was single-handedly programming the first few versions of the Outskirts Press website in CGI and Perl (way back in 2002, 2003 and 2004), it went through a number of different “looks.”   As the number of books we published exploded from 51 in 2004 to 220 in 2005, it started to become apparent that the site I had programmed was not sufficient for all the books we were publishing. In other words, it was bending under the quantity and demands we were putting on it.

So, the IT department was taxed with rebuilding the site from the ground up. This involved a migration of the programming and data to SQL.  They started calling that first SQL version of the website SQL 1.  Very little changed aesthetically with that first migration. It was a daunting enough task simply migrating all the author records and data into the SQL databases.

Once the foundation was in place to handle our growth, and once SQL 1 was working, we immediately began working on some aesthetic improvements that leveraged the new, faster advantages resulting from the SQL databases.  These improvements became known internally as SQL 2.

Last year we launched SQL 3, which was a combination of some database improvements and aesthetic improvements, mostly involving the internal Author’s Center portions of our website. In other words, we were using resources to improve the experience for our core group of customers.

Even before SQL 3 was launched, I was already working (at least in my mind) on the next leap forward for our website and our company. This fundamental change was known as SQL 4 by our IT team, but since “SQL” has very little resonance outside of the IT world, we decided from a marketing & branding perspective to call it “Version 4” instead, more akin to software releases and operating systems.

So that’s the genesis of the name. With the next posts we’ll talk about the fundamental differences and improvements with Version 4 of the new and improved Outskirts Press, along with some hiccups along the way.

Outskirts Press Version 4.0 is here

Hooray!  After about a year of development, we launched version 4.0 of the Outskirts Press self-publishing website over Memorial Day weekend.   The whole operation went smoother than we expected, thanks in large part to our amazing technical team, headed by our Chief Technical Officer, Lynn.

For anybody involved in website and/or softare development, you already know that migrating a large website or software platform from one version to the next is fraught with difficulty and potential potholes.  Luck favors the prepared, as they say, so we took great precautions to make the transition from Version 3 to Version 4 as seamless as possible for our authors.

This meant running a parallel version of 4.0 on an alternate test server for a month before launch as we continually tested and revised it for final release.  This also meant a full-blown “test launch” on the Tuesday before Memorial Day to see if the data migrated successfully.  The first test launch presented some unforeseen problems, which the developers resolved over the course of the next couple of days.  We ran another test launch on Thursday and this one was successful, thereby green-lighting the live migration on Saturday evening. We purposefully aimed for the middle of the Memorial Day weekend when our anticipated web traffic would be relatively low.  One of the “perks” for people in IT and website development fields is that they rarely get holidays off for this very reason — holidays are the best times to make large changes to B2B and B2C platforms.

Our IT team worked throughout the night to ensure that the “scheduled maintenance” message on our website was up for as short of a period as possible.  The new site went live around 7am mountain time Sunday morning, giving us Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend to collect any dust that had gathered from the reconstruction. 

Our website development and enhancements are an on-going function– or perhaps catalyst– of our continuous fast growth, so the live launch of Version 4 didn’t necessarily mark a “welcome relief” in IT’s eyes. But it certainly was a big step, marked by many long nights, and now we’re happy to finally introduce it to our current and future authors.

In the coming posts I’ll discuss many of the improvements that come with Outskirts Press 4.0. I’ll also discuss some of the additional complexities that such a large migration can add to operational processes, and how one can overcome them…