Before the discussion, Peter gave a short presentation about the need to define what is meant by “discoverability” and its importance in the changing world of technology and publishing today.
His talk is reproduced below in full.
We are here to talk about discoverability, which is lucky, because as co-founder of a company called Enhanced Editions, Evan Schnittman has made it clear that I need a new business direction to focus on, fast.
So, discoverability it is.
However, I’m not sure that most people can agree on what “discoverability” means, exactly.
Personally, I feel that it is used to cover a whole range of challenges in the digital world, and that it might help to clarify what we mean by it if we are going to solve those challenges.
This is great as well because talking about it allows me to unpick “Discoverability” in a way that introduces the three awesome panellists I have here today, and put forward my own definition of it. So here goes.
When people say they have a discovery problem:
What I hear is that they have actually have a sales and marketing problem:
I believe “Discoverability” actually covers a range of problems that are broadly similar in the physical and digital worlds, but the “solutions” to the problems are fundamentally different.
So I’m going to propose we look at this very briefly – for like 7 minutes – before introducing three speakers who, neatly, will talk for a similar amount of time about each of the different solutions in the digital world.
If time allows, we’ll follow on with Q&A from the audience. So please prepare some questions as we go.
In the old, linear, “physical” world, “discovery” principally happens through bookshops, where loyal customers have lured by successful marketing.
In that linear world, this is trade marketing, which, when boiled down, comes down to the repetition of two successive activities:
- Creating demand
- Meeting demand (and creating loyal consumers through great products)
- Rinsing & repeating
If you don’t have loyal customers, you don’t have discovery, you’re still just trying to create demand.
Demand is created through PR and bookshop coverage.
Demand is met through placement and merchandising in bookstores.
And the creation of more demand is through loyal customers who develop habits around books: reading book reviews, and visiting bookshops, where browsing, recommendations, word of mouth and serendipity lead you to “discover” books.
When the linear model works, it works well and if it doesn’t work the best explanation is probably that your sales and marketing has, I’m afraid, failed. Or, if you prefer, you can blame the trade.
But how is this different in the digital world?
Well, fundamentally, in the digital world, marketing (and therefore demand) is a consumer-facing rather than trade-facing activity.
You could argue, as John Makinson does, that publishing has previously been about managing supply, rather than creating demand.
Or, as Markus Dohle puts it, the future of publishing (or at least Random House’s future) is all about creating demand from consumers rather than managing supply to retailers.
If this is true, then everyone here today needs to work very hard on making sure that these consumer-facing activities are done as well as those you do in the trade: the objectives are the same in digital, but the activities are very different.
Creating demand looks very different to ten years ago; campaigns are increasingly “integrated” across digital and physical, with a strong digital and consumer-facing component. This is what Jenny Todd, sales and marketing director of Canongate, will be talking about very shortly.
Assuming your consumer-facing marketing activity has created demand, the first hurdle is that people find your products online, effortlessly and instantly.
Many people appear to swap “discoverability” for “search” problems. I would argue that this problem is better classified as “findability”.
And, understanding how each of your trade customers organises their search results (and their algorithms) is now your job. Complaining about it doesn’t wash.
So, search. And findability.
I believe that a fundamental strategic question for publishers is to ask themselves what they want consumers to find from a web search on one of their titles?
Is it Amazon; or a publisher’s own site?
All subsequent digital activity should stem from this decision, ie that all efforts be made to ensure that user searches return results that support that decision (ie optimise search results aggressively); and that the destination (retailer or publisher site) be tested and optimised across multiple variables (price, delivery, stock, content, proposition, &c) to convert as many visitors to purchasers as possible.
Whilst “findability” also relates to the search functions of the Kindle Store, the App Store, and iTunes / iBooks and many other destinations (each of which has their own quirks), Google is by far the leading jump-off point for “find”, with 92% market share.
Michael Bhaskar, Digital Director at Profile, is going to talk through how Google decides which pages to return first; how recent changes in their algorithm have affected publishers; and the actions publishers can take to improve their search rankings at Google.
And then finally we will get to the piece that I believe *is* discovery.
When your marketing has worked, and consumers have found and bought and enjoyed your books, and now want to find another one, but don’t know what to choose, this is when “discovery” comes in to play.
In the physical world, this was met by recommendations from friends, retailers and from browsing the bookshops.
These activities have translated poorly to the web, with recommendations being dominated by the notoriously polluted Amazon purchase history; browsing is more akin to listings, with alphabetical, chronological or price factors overshadowing more familiar taxonomies; and whilst word of mouth exists, it tends to get swallowed up by the noise of social media.
Small Demons have created a wonderful, lateral web experience that explores the relationships between books that only an algorithm can find. Profoundly serendipitous, it is a discovery engine, and Valla Vakili will walk us through it today.
So, to wrap up, “Discovery” is the outcome of great marketing, supported by intelligent sales activities, and fantastic products that bring people back for more.