A Polite Request to Christian (and other) Publishers: Please don’t do this

Evangelical Press on facebook: Order at Amazon

EP Books on facebook - order at amazon.co.uk

I know it’s tempting. I know they’re probably your biggest outlet in today’s world. But really, truly, Amazon don’t need your help to boost their market share: they’re taking it from the rest of us anyway, along with the supermarkets with all their cut-price paperbacks.

Kudos to Evangelical Press for launching a national railways poster campaign:  it’s great to see a Christian publisher prepared to invest in this kind of marketing:

Posters for the book ‘Who made God?’ are being put up on Febraury [sic] 1st at the following major train stations: Bristol Parkway, Bristol Temple Meads, Cardiff Central, Doncaster, Glasgow Central, Liverpool Central, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Victoria, Peterborough and York. Keep an eye out.

But why the big Amazon push? Amazon aren’t interested in promoting a Christian ethos: they’ll just as happily sell your prospective customers Dawkins’ God Delusion and tell them what a fantastic book that is.

Fair enough, I guess, if Amazon are sponsoring the posters; but if that’s what this is about, surely a better way to raise funds for a poster campaign would have been to approach the Christian book trade? I’m not in a position to bankroll this sort of campaign; but if I’d been approached I’d have gladly blogged it to the trade and encouraged others to run with it.

But I’d be very surprised if Amazon are sponsoring the posters. So — assuming it is free publicity for an online bookseller that everybody knows about already — why not publicise a Christian online bookseller such as eden.co.uk?

I raised that question on their facebook page — here’s the conversation so far:

Phil Groom: I guess there wasn’t room on the poster to say “Order at your local Christian bookshop”??

EP Books (Evangelical Press): We want to get this one into every bookshop Phil. Christian bookshops have had a five month head start and all the advertising in the Christian media pointed to them

Phil Groom: Thanks for coming back to me. I hear what you say … but if that’s the case, why not, “Order at your local bookshop”? Surely that would be more helpful to the wider trade? Do amazon need you to help boost their market share?

We’re all in this together and whilst amazon are not the enemy, they do nothing to promote a Christian ethos. If you wanted to promote an online seller, why not eden.co.uk as a fellow Christian outlet? Just my thoughts for what they’re worth…

I’m hoping they’ll come back to me again, that that’s not the end of the conversation; but in the meantime, what do you think? Are we ready to stand together as a trade to support something like this, retailers and publishers working together? Isn’t this essentially what the Stronger Together – Weaker Apart campaign is all about?

Imagine hundreds of Christian retailers standing together and saying, “Here’s £xx towards the publicity drive: we’ll commit to stocking this book.” Imagine the publisher responding in kind and offering us the trade discount they normally reserve for Amazon and their ilk. Imagine that poster saying, “Order at your local Christian bookshop: www.christianbookshops.org.uk” — what an amazing boost for all of us! What a way to start a new decade!

Following through on Amy’s request: authors, artists, agents too: what do you think? Are you happy to see publishers promoting your books on Amazon or would you prefer to see them promoting sales through the shops? Is there any reason not to promote both?

Publishers, I urge you: please don’t do this! Unless, of course, you’ve already decided that bookshops are history; because the more you promote Amazon, the weaker we become and the more Amazon will demand from you. Continue to let the tail wag the dog and one day that tail’s liable to turn into a serpent that bites your head off…

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to thank those publishers and suppliers who are supporting us: thank you; and in closing, h/t to Melanie Carroll for flagging this up on twitter:

Unicorn Tree Books unicorntreebks RT: @EPBooks: Posters for the book ‘Who made God?’ at major train stations:… http://bit.ly/6Zg9Bs
another publisher not supprting shops
19/01/2010 from Echofon
Disclosure notice: the link to eden.co.uk featured in this post is an affiliate link. If you use it and then proceed to make a purchase, eden will pay a small commission to the UK Christian Bookshops Directory. Thank you.

21 thoughts on “A Polite Request to Christian (and other) Publishers: Please don’t do this

  1. I would guess the decision to advertise Amazon on the poster, is that their remit was probably to get this book into the home of non-Christians and the best way to do that is to provide them with a familiar way of doing that. The reality is that in the current environment, that is going to be the most effective way of making sales! But I totally endorse the idea that it is a strategy we could get behind if we are to raise the profile of Christian bookshops and online Christian retailers in this country. The Alpha course also took on such a policy with railway advertising. We just need to get Christian bookshops back in the subconscious of consumers: both non-Christian and Christian!

  2. If EP had offered to put Eden.co.uk’s name on the poster we would have gladly accepted the free publicity.

    However, if the marketing campaign is to engage the general public, rather than the christian market, then I think that EP have made the right decision. Amazon has more resonance with the general public and the results from the campaign will be better – which helps them – which helps us.

    In your opening paragaph you say “But really, truly, Amazon don’t need your help to boost their market share” – but perhaps the dynamics are reversed. By naming Amazon as a supplier it makes it easy for customers to buy the book, therefore helping to increase EP’s market share in the general market. (In the same way that offering PayPal on our website isn’t about promoting PayPal, it’s about attracting customers who already have a preference for PayPal).

    What we can agree on is that publishers need to keep a balance and continue to support Christian retailers who are dedicated to the marketplace – and they’ve been very clear about their intentions to do that. I expect that adverts in the Christian press, mailshots to known Christians etc. will continue to promote Christian retail – both online & offline.

    • A world of difference between PayPal and Amazon, Gareth: PayPal is a payment method; Amazon is another bookseller. Offering PayPal draws customers our way; promoting Amazon points them elsewhere.

  3. Hmm

    Head above the parapet time!

    There is a certain reality I think for the advertising budget at play. With the adverts I placed with Zondervan there was a demonstrable difference in sales spikes when an online retailer was put on them, and when a general call to shop at a ‘local bookshop’ was on them. Although there is an ‘intagible’ benefit for everyone of the advert (just because it says to buy at retailer xxxxxx it doesn’t mean people will go there), it still does create some bad feeling.

    The compromise I came to was to put the BA and the UKCBD websites on there (and UKCBD carried a link to eden for those who wanted to buy online). I know it lost me sales, but it was the closest thing to squaring the circle.

    However, I do have sympathy with EP on this for two reasons. Firstly, their aim is probably to reach a non-church-going market, and this is a much, much simpler call-to-action than a general ‘local bookstore’ one (although “available from http://www.amazon.co.uk or your local retailer might have been better”). It also places the book in the mainstream rather than niche which will help with not alientating potential buyers.

    Secondly, I am sure that this type of campaign represents a LOT of marketing spend for a company the size of EP, and they wanted to minimize the risk on the return through sales and, sadly, Amazon is a safer bet.

    That doesn’t mean it is necessarily great that EP have felt the need to respond to this, but it is easy to see why they have done it, and should have some sympathy for that. They should also be congratulated for having a vision for publishing beyond their core market.

  4. My argument isn’t actually on the christian front at all – my argument is based around the policy of excluding physical bookshops altogether.

    let’s look at the real picture here – do Amazon really have market share outreach on the general book market thus validating the idea that selling through Amazon gets to a book to more people?

    According to 2008 figures (http://www.booksellers.org.uk/industry/display_report.asp?id=4530 )
    the answer would seem to be no – they only accounted for 16% by value and 13.4 by volume of book sales.
    Now I am willing to believe that the percentage has increased to more, but then that’s because all us indies are buying our books from them because they are often cheaper than the wholesalers, publishers and distributors offer to us!, but not I think to over 50% by any stretch, and note here please we are discussing Amazon, not market share of sales via all internet venues and even if we were the figures are still telling!
    So therefore not such a resounding a job then of getting it into most homes then when leaving off -or any good bookshop!

    Come on people get with it – there is no excuse for promoting amazon and ignoring everyone else, all the indies and chains! let alone other internet shops.
    Especially when the people you are promoting when you do this are actaully contributing in large part to the damage of the book trade and lessening the value of the book in real terms.

    Why do publishers want to give away such awesome discounts to Amazon (and supermarkets) but such measly discounts to the rest of us when without the rest of us the books won’t sell so well anyway – this fact has been demonstrated in a microeconomics way by whats happened in the UK Christian Booktrade since the demise of the SPCK/SSG chain!

    ‘This statement from EP guts me,

    EP Books (Evangelical Press): We want to get this one into every bookshop Phil. Christian bookshops have had a five month head start and all the advertising in the Christian media pointed to them’

    First off they obviously don’t want to get it into every bookshop because a lot of general indies I know will want to refuse it on principle due to the Amazon issue – there is a growing negativity in the general trade to want to support publishers that show they don’t want to support us so this scuppers that argument – and surely if they wanted it in every bookshop they really would have thought to include ‘and every good bookshop’ thus putting some sort of onus on us good bookshops to carry it??

    So no when they say that what I as an indie actually hears is ‘we want to get it into Amazon which is the only bookshop we think matters to the general public’ – even if this isn’t true.
    Oh and what about using bookdepository.co.uk instead if we want a growing general internet bookshop that’s not off putting, or of course just using the phrase, ‘order from all good bookshops’ because you know that’s a really inclusive statement and covers Amazon, all other Internet bookshops, Waterstones, Smiths, Glo, Quench, WO, Mr B’s Emporium, Blairs Bookshop, ohh and me as well!

    However moving past this, which for me is still the big issue, the next point I’d raise is about the 5 month head start to Christian bookshops.

    Strikes me that 5 month head start is what probably gave them the money to do the advertising!
    Add to that, though they did point all the advertising in the Christian Media to bookshops (physical) that’s not exactly on the same scale is it? a limited market results in limited sales, after all that’s the point they are making isn’t it??

    Also why the assumption that christian bookshops can’t sell to a general public – I remember a good few years ago when the Songs of Praise magazine & christmas book (or something like that came out) we in SPCK were inundated with people we had never seen and would not see much of again in many instances, but they came for the book because it was advertised that it was available from christian bookshops – and smiths weren’t yet carrying it!
    A lot of the people that came in were buying it for relatives and for christmas presents, they didn’t care we were a christian bookshop, they wanted the book and we had the book, same goes with bibles – at least 20% of customers buying bibles or christening presents aren’t religious at all or in anyway! They are buying for presents, weddings, christenings and you know what they come in the shop anyway.
    If we have what they want and they know about it they will actually come in regardless to some degree.

    Of course the wider issue of christian bookshops and selling to general public is for me something we should really be addressing, and yes that’s a wider bookshop trade issue, but you know it’s also a point here that demonstrates why we should be really assessing the issue.

    However on this one I stand by the fact that as a general indie bookseller I am very disappointed with EP on this one and their lack of support for bookshops, and that’s even without my beleagured indie christian bookseller hat on ;0)

    Still to end on a positive note – at least it’s good to see a christian book being endorsed on such a scale, and kudos must be given for this if for nothing else.

  5. Melanie

    I’m not justifying EP here (as you can see from my post above I tried to be inclusive), but the I think the figures are more complex than that. 16% is the overall market share, but when you advertise someone to go there you are not going to just get 16% of people likely to buy responding via the call to action. Their aim was to give people an easy response mechanism on a poster relying on foot-fall.

    The problem with the route I did, and you are suggesting, is that it is several more steps to buy: 1. see the poster; 2. read and decide to respond; 3. go to home/work and fire up a computer; 4. locate the local bookshop via booksellers.org.uk; 5. remember next time you are out to go and buy the book from the shop. Of course, if you are really lucky the person will see a shop on the way to work/office and go and buy it, but that is a pretty remote chance!

    Compare with the response for an online retailer, and especially one with the brand recognition of Amazon (which is important for delayed response advertising – compared with Book Depository for example), and the drop off at each stage means a much, much lower response.

    As I said above, I think they could have included a ‘local bookshop’ line on there without distracting from the rest of the message, but I just don’t know what the answer is beyond that.

    • Hi Ian,

      I began all of this solely because of the leaving off of that line side by side with the Amazon Badge.
      That actually would have done for me and waylaid the issue.

      I do get the brand recognition thing and the ease of convenience thing, honestly. what I don’t get is the unthinking bit.

      Next off, and sorry if this comes off a little wrong here as I do get what your saying and recognise and respect your experience, but I also disagree with the steps system you outline.

      As to 1,2 and 3, they have to do that anyway to get to Amazon.

      Of course there is the argument they could do it on the iphone or lappy they have on the train with them, I have had a number of twitter/fb orders that way from some of my customers who suddenly remembered a book they wanted on their way to work, at 2.30am or in the middle of a meeting at work even ;0)
      But then most of those people ordering online then and there are savvy and even if it said bookshop they would either go directly to amazon themselves anyway, google it, or just go the way they usually do for internet ordering.

      No.4 is moot as given that most books are still purchased in some sort of physical shop (even if it’s tesco) I’m pretty sure most people know where their local bookshop is, even if they think it’s Waterstones!

      And with the brand thing for your late sales – well if they aren’t ordering it then and there, though they may remember amazon there’s no guarantee they will remember the book title when they get to the office, (I think they’ll probably make a note of the title to aid them in buying it – even if it’s only a mental, orange cover word God dawkins!), and therefore given most books are still purchased from some sort of physical shop I really think quite a lot of people can manage step 5 anyway.

      Best yet though, if they can’t quite remember the title, when they go in the local shop the staff can perhaps help them personally a little better than amazon when they ask for the orange book with god in the title by dawkins and advertised at train stations, or of course they might recognise the book itself on the shelf where all good bookshops have it.

      Don’t get me wrong I do really get what your saying and I know you support shops, I know actaully the marketing factor is more comprehensive than we have made it seem but there are still +/- issues on both sides, and yes I agree with you, EP should have remembered the simple tag line and no I don’t really know what the answer is beyond that either, but I do think if we flag the issue now maybe some others will think about it more next time and not make the oversight or buy into the propoganda.

  6. Ohh and just a quick one before someone clever spots my hypocrisy – I will own up to it first!

    Yes my online shops (www.lincolnbookshop.co.uk read the FAQ) are A-shops so I feed into them, but that’s because neither Bookdepository or Eden have such an offering freely available – the minute they do I will be there in a new york minute and fully supporting them instead.

    For me as I have often said, the internet shops are not always the enemy and the internet itself definitely is not.
    I agree that an internet presence is needed these days, it’s expected and at least this way I can have a presence and get some small percentage out of the deal.
    But in this instance with the advertising – Amazon is not the only offer unlike my cheap/free A-Shop.

    However if EP turn around and say Amazon gave them 5% of the cost of the advertsing then I would likely say fair dues! (and then wonder if they then asked for 60% instead of 55% discount on carrying the book, I admit to being somewhat jaded on this issue of discount and amazon).

    What i’m asking is that publishers etc be realistic about these things – Amazon is what we make it. They trade on the back of bookshops – % of revenue from marketplace is an indicator of this, hidden sales from indies bulk purchasing due to silly prices,
    Discount disparity etc etc etc.
    Please let’s think about this realistically and not make it the back braker where and when we don’t have to.

  7. That is a really interesting point. It does imply a slightly parental attitude towards the customer; not just ‘available at amazon.co.uk’, but ‘order at amazon.co.uk’. Perhaps it points to a bit of underlying anxiety about whether anybody will really want to buy it?

  8. Just a brief comment- I appreciate it is an advert to a secular market, but I’m still pretty disappointed, EP. I would have expected at least a nod to your long-standing, loyal customers.

    On the same subject, we have just lost a sale for four ESV Study Bibles, Hardback. RRP £39.99, 35% discount. Customer bought it on Amazon (from the main warehouse- presumably put in by Harper Collins) at £23.99……… beat that? I don’t think so!

  9. As the product creator, EP want to get their book into as many hands as possible. It’s not their responsibility to drive foot traffic to your store (or to Amazon), but it definitely is their responsibility to make it as simple as possible for the customer to buy the book. Obviously they think the Amazon name resonates with more people. If they didn’t believe that, then presumably they would simply stick with their own website and keep their margin.

    Do the people seeing these ads know and trust Amazon? Likely.
    Do they know where their local Christian bookshop is. Unlikely. (They may not even know where the nearest Waterstones is – remember, these ads are in major train stations.)

    To this end I can understand EP using Amazon. I agree, they might have added , ‘or your local christian bookshop’ but they didn’t.

    What if a publisher encourages traffic to your store for a specific product and you don’t have it in stock? That’s an uneccessary risk in what will have been an expensive ad campaign. Sure, you can order it for them but then the customer must revisit your store to collect it. Generally speaking, people have come to expect (through experience) next day delivery straight to their front door from Amazon.

    In my opinion, for an ad campaign of this size for a fast moving product it’s not necessary to promote any bookseller, be that online, christian or otherwise. The buying public can work out how they prefer to get stuff. Some marketers would argue that a call to action (i.e. “order from x”) is required but perhaps ‘Available Now’ would suffice.

    Clumsy as ever.


  10. Reading the Bookseller each week teher’s at least a clue in adverts and editorial as to how publishers are promoting their titles. I’m not sure the Christain book trade has an equivalent so shops are likely to be behind on the game unless a rep has called recently with a detailed AI sheet giving publicity details. and reps calling is becoming an endangered species scenario!

  11. Time for me to chip in. I am the sales and marketing manager at EP. First and foremost I acknowledge the disappointment and frustration, I assure you that we do want to support the booktrade and I take the points raised above. Your comments have helped, and we will learn from this (we are considering doing this again for ‘Dealing with Dawkins’ by John Blanchard around April, another title that we hope goes beyond our core constituency).

    To clarify a few points. ‘Who made God?’ was released in September 2009. We were given an externally funded marketing budget with a remit to get the word out everywhere so that the book is read especially by those who wouldn’t normally go into a Christian bookshop or read Christian literature. A clear target were all the readers of ‘The God Delusion’.

    Our first major campaign resulted in the book being promoted (I hope) in most major Christian publications and websites, and some high street stores, a very large expense for us. From newspapers, trade journals, magazines, websites, store fronts etc…. many, many adverts (which I hope you have seen) which do not point to Amazon, and most, if not all have the line ‘available at you local Christian bookshop’. This has constituted I believe over 90% of the considerable marketing budget and we hope you have seen the benefits.

    Only now have we turned to one ‘secular’ activity which we hope will get noticed and cause a reaction (especially the line about Dawkins). Out of all the adverts we have ever done I believe that this is the only one to point to Amazon. The point here (at least to us) was to create a simple message and make it look like a major title (alongside ‘The God Delusion’) to the world out there who currently has very little conciousness of it. As part of the design process we benchmarked other posters in train stations and simply followed that (we assume successful) pattern – big text with an easy message.

    I admit however that a simple line also saying that it was ‘available from your local bookshop’ would not have hurt for which I apologise. However we, like every other publisher struggle to get our books into WH Smith on the train platform and so the statement would not strictly be true (though we hope it would be as a result of this). I agree with some comments above that our hope was that all independent bookstores would see a benefit from this if it causes publicity.

    I am not saying we got this right, I just wanted to explain some of our thinking.

    I hope this helps.

    Please do get in touch if you have any feedback.

    • Thanks for this, David: much appreciated. I’ve always liked the tagline, “Available from all good bookshops” — so if WHS etc fail to stock it they immediately fall into the “not a good bookshop” category…

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