As bookstores closed and readers were forced to shift to buying books online, Open Road Integrated Media, the e-book publisher and digital marketing services provider, saw a 50% jump in revenue for the first quarter over 2019's first period. "These are interesting times, particularly when it comes to e-books," said Mary McAveney, chief marketing officer for Open Road. The company runs two complementary businesses. First, it holds the rights to approximately 10,000 e-books from more than 2,000 contemporary authors, such as Pat Conroy and Octavia E. Butler; the second business provides outsourced digital sales support for other publishers, under a program called Ignition, which covers an additional 14,000 titles. It does not work with self-published authors.
With the coronavirus crisis, the company saw a surge in purchases of romance novels and Buddhism-related titles. "What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula (Grove) seems to keep popping up for us. It's a full account of the Buddha’s teachings. Where before people had a morbid curiosity about the pandemic and were watching movies like Contagion, they now seem to be going to books that can reassure them or make them feel good." said McAveney, who noted that the advent of the coronavirus also forced them to rethink their use of keywords. "We had to anticipate what people might be looking for and adjust."
Open Road's marketing efforts are primarily made direct-to-consumer through social media advertising, newsletters and content driven book sites, such as The Line Up, which is focused on true crime and horror, and Early Bird Books, a deal and promotions site . "We estimate that we reach 2.6 million users each month," said McAveney. "The driver is enhancing book discovery, which may sound like a real cliché at this point, but in a saturated e-book space, it is important now more than ever." Open Road shared statistics the demonstrated an average sales bump of 175% for a book over previous sales figures, with the greatest impact on backlist books that had previously had dormant sales.
The fact that bookstores are closed and publishers are forced to work from home means that the priority has been given to digital marketing. "In a way, the coronavirus is a great equalizer when it comes to marketing. When things are entirely digital, they are all on equal footing." She said that the reduction in programmatic advertising on social media, particularly on Facebook and Google, means that the relatively high cost of acquiring a new reader is going down as a result of the coronavirus and making room for more titles.
Two titles promoted by Open Road hit bestseller lists in March. The Fifteen Percent by Terry Giles (Skyhorse) landed at #7 on the Wall Street Journal e-book bestseller list and Trace Elements by Donna Leon (Grove) hit #10 on the New York Times combined print and e-book list.
Looking ahead, McAveney is reticent to make predictions. "The only thing we know is that to sell books you need to be where the readers are," she said. "And right now, they are all online." She added, "For the past several years, we have focused on data-driven audience development," said McAveney, alluding to the fact that many print-first publishers are playing catch up at the moment of crisis. "For us, it is all about knowing the best way to get the right books in front of the right readers at the right time, so they will buy. We think in this moment of crisis, having that data is more valuable to publishers than ever before and it puts us in a position to really help them when they need it most."