What’s the best way to sell a book in the era of social media? Ron Martinez believes it may just be Aerbook, a venture he founded that creates branding and retail opportunities in social media for publishers and authors. The service, Martinez explained, allows publishers to connect with its readers via the social streams—i.e., the timeline, news feed, and boards—on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and similar applications, offering product information, sample chapters, social sharing, and, now, buy buttons.
“It’s a shift from just advertising to commerce,” Martinez said of Aerbook’s model. “It’s completely available to any book.” He described Aerbook as a form of “native” commerce that produces interactive social content and links to purchasing opportunities that can be sent down the social streams of targeted consumers, alongside their posts, RTs, and social chit chat. The service is focused on selling digital as well as print books, but Martinez emphasized that it can be used to sell anything.
Martinez explained that unlike in the traditional Web, where the user is a figurative traveler who “visits” various URLs, on social media sites, content comes to the user via a news feed or timeline. “You are the destination, and media flows to you through Pinterest or Twitter,” he said, pointing to the rise of native advertising, such as sponsored tweets, promotional product pins, and Facebook ads. “Ads come down the social stream, and we’ve added the ability to make actual sales.”
That ability to sell directly to consumers via social media is key to Aerbook’s utility, Martinez said. When a Facebook or Twitter user clicks on an Aerbook link in his or her timeline, it opens the Aerbook Cloud Reader, which can be used to read a sample chapter (or the entire book if the publisher chooses), share the excerpt, download it, or buy the book outright. The Aerbook Cloud Reader can be viewed on laptops and mobile devices, and publishers can use it to sell print or digital books. The service allows publishers to “push books periodically into the social stream,” Martinez said.
Publishers and authors can upload conventional ePub e-book files and fixed-layout PDF e-books to Aerbook and convert them into its format, adding keywords and metadata. The company offers three product plans: Aerbook Retail, which is free, includes a product page with a book sample, social sharing, and buy buttons to sell directly from the social stream (Aerbook fulfills the orders, and the publisher gets 85% of net sales); the plan also includes metrics, usage, and buyer data. Aerbook Plus ($29 per year) also features a product page, sampling, and sharing, but includes links to other retailers. Aerbook Flyer ($59 per year) is all marketing, no selling, with all the basic preview and sharing functions mentioned earlier. Each participating publisher (regardless of which plan it chooses) also gets a dashboard with data on views, downloads, time spent reading, and devices. “Some publishers will want to sell direct and some will not,” Martinez said. “We offer marketing and direct retailing.” (The company also has volume pricing for big publishers.)
There’s also Aerbook Maker, a drag-and-drop authoring tool, which allows users to build e-books—both fixed-format and interactive with sound and video—right in the browser. Martinez said Aerbook Maker is for building “elaborate applike e-books” and is priced by page count. He emphasized, however, that the company is much more focused on native commerce than on “loading up illustrated books with interactive widgets,” which he said has actually hurt the market for illustrated e-books.
Aerbook has about 4,500 titles, Martinez said, but he noted that “a new wave of publishers is coming on board soon,” including museums, several Big Five publishers, university presses, and a range of midsize houses. Currently the service is being used by Frederator Books, Sourcebooks, Dover Publications, Galaxy Press, Voyager Press in Japan, and Ink Monster (the latter is a new publisher of books for girl geeks). Aerbook has also partnered with digital distributor InScribe Digital, which has tools that provide real-time selling information, to help direct larger InScribe publishers “to existing retail channels, in addition to or instead of, our direct sales channel,” Martinez said.
Martinez founded Aerbook four years ago in San Francisco. Along with his personal stake, the company has raised about $500,000 in angel investment from Caldecot Chubb and Ingram Ventures. Martinez said he’s working on a “range of service integrations” between Aerbook and the 28,000 publishers that work with Ingram. Ingram CoreSource customers, he said, can use Aerbook for marketing rather than for direct sales, and can load and process titles in bulk rather than uploading them individually. And soon, he noted, Ingram Consumer Direct Fulfillment, a POD service, will allow users to sell and fulfill print titles through any social media stream or app via Aerbook Retail.
Martinez said someone described Aerbook as “Amazon for Twitter,” though he noted that we should also add Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and other social media applications. “You can send a sample of your book around the world, not just have it displayed in a bookstore,” he said.