While the pandemic may have snarled supply chains and forever altered the publishing landscape, Open Road Integrated Media remains one of the fastest growing and most impactful book marketing companies in the world.
Founded in 2009 by former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman and Jeffrey Sharp, OR/M helps publishers find new consumers and boost sales by driving reader discovery of new books—and there’s no better way to make that happen than through the company’s Ignition marketing program, which provides partner publishers with outsourced digital sales support.
Today, the Ignition program covers 40,000-plus titles—a figure that has substantially increased since 2020 and the start of the pandemic—and now reaches some three million readers every month.
Ignition employs a proprietary technology-based system to identify market demand and feed it with suitable content to create curiosity and engagement, which ultimately serves as a catalyst for sales. The program’s results speak for themselves: OR/M has more than doubled sales of nearly all the titles it promotes through Ignition, which supports both frontlist and backlist titles.
“Generally, we deliver a 100% increase in revenue for our publishing partners over the 12-month historic performance of the titles,” said Mary McAveney, CRO/CMO at Open Road, which also holds the rights to approximately 11,000 e-books from more than 2,500 authors.
“For lower demand titles that increase will be a higher magnitude,” said Daniel Shemesh, COO/CFO at Open Road. “Ninety-five percent of the titles we work with see an increase in revenue.”
Part of the appeal of Ignition is its flexibility and scalability, as well as sales gains that go well beyond the short-term. “OR/M uses its digitally connected audience to produce scalable sales that deliver multi-year recurring revenue,” McAveney said. “Its proprietary technology has become a SAAS service for our partners. Our unique ability to stimulate consumer demand comes from highly profitable customer acquisition, access to content and to the data that comes from each.”
What’s more, the books OR/M markets and promotes are extremely diverse—and there are few titles that would not benefit from Ignition. Among the 70 publishing partners employing Ignition are Abrams, Akashic Books, Gibbs Smith, Granta, Fordham University Press, and Workman.
These publishers have been effusive in their praise for the company. “Our partnership with Open Road has dramatically increased the sales of a wide range of our backlist titles,” said Morgan Entrekin, CEO and publisher of Grove Atlantic. “The increased revenue for both Grove and the authors is great—but even more exciting is that this initiative is helping introduce these worthy books to new readers.”
Lindy Humphreys, associate publisher for digital at Abrams, concurred: “Partnering with Open Road allows us to extend the audience for selected backlist e-book titles. Their focus on delivering new readers and generating sales has produced satisfying financial results.”
Working with OR/M extends and amplifies the work publishers have already done to promote their titles. “Our highly innovative publishing partners understand that they cannot market all titles all the time,” said OR/M’s McAveney. “OR/M acts as a data-informed, tech-enabled extension of their marketing team—marketing the titles to new consumers all the time. This allows many publishers to focus on their frontlist and highly active backlist, while OR/M builds demand for deeper backlist.”
Another big appeal of Ignition is that working with OR/M entails no risk for partner publishers but delivers significant results. The highest level of the service is a white-glove revenue share program. Partner publishers pay nothing until OR/M's marketing services generate revenue that exceeds the publisher's baseline sales—a mutually agreed upon sales number for the titles prior to inclusion. At that point, a revenue split kicks in on the uplift for those titles. OR/M absorbs all costs of marketing.
Operationally Ignition involves the use of powerful consumer outreach vehicles, direct demand stimulation, strategic and tactical pricing, consumer segmentation and personalization, content syndication, metadata, and copy optimization—all executed by a team with deep marketing and data experience. At the heart of the company’s marketing success are its variety of vertical promotion channels and e-newsletters. These include six content brands:
Early Bird Books targets readers looking for free and deeply discounted e-books and helps them discover new authors. This site also features The Reader, which delivers the latest book recommendations, news, trends, and deals straight to readers’ inboxes.. The Lineup features fun, “creepy” content for fans of true crime, horror, mystery, and books about the paranormal. The Portalist brings science fiction and fantasy lovers a mix of content about television, film, gaming, books, and comics. Murder & Mayhem is dedicated to the world of mystery and thrillers, from classic tales of crime to the latest in Nordic noir. A Love So True is OR/M's romance vertical, which combines content about romance, pop culture, and real-life love. And The Archive mines the lost chapters of history, digging up the forgotten curiosities of the past and examining them under new light.
As demand continues to grow for e-books—which has certainly been the case during the pandemic—and new marketing practices come online, OR/M is working with its partner publishers to find the best new marketing solutions and techniques.
“OR/M’s business model has been digitally focused from the beginning,” said McAveney. “As we see a shift to greater on-line discover and e-commerce, we are able to harness that activity to introduce our titles to readers. We continue to improve the technological capabilities of our marketing platform, grow our consumer newsletter lists, create new SEO-focused content, and bring more readers into our ecosystem. As we add more consumers and more titles, the data we collect creates a network effect that feeds greater discovery.”
In the end, increased sales are always going to be the key metric—and that is what OR/M delivers to partner publishers. “Since partnering with Open Road Media and their Ignition program, we’ve seen monthly revenue increases of 100% - 200% for participating titles over prior year sales,” Lareen Strong, director of marketing at Gibbs Smith said. “Their efforts have given a great boost to our backlist e-books. Their staff has great ideas, follows through, and hits deadlines, which I greatly appreciate. It’s like having additional staff with the knowledge and commitment to creating new marketing platforms for us.”=
And it’s not just trade publishers that are seeing results. Fredric Nachbaur, director of Fordham University Press, praised the program for boosting sales and helping the company find new readers. “The Open Road Ignition eBook program has significantly increased digital sales for Fordham’s backlist books, giving them increased exposure and reaching broad audiences,” he said. “Their customer service and reporting are exemplary. I look forward to growing the program and making Fordham books available to new readers.”
Profits at OR/M were up significantly in 2020 and are on the rise in 2021, with Q2 results showing an increase of 22% in revenue and EBITDA improvement of more than 292% in 2021. This can only mean one thing: OR/M’s partner publishers are profiting as well. And with a holiday season arriving and supply chain issues threatening the availability of print books, OR/M’s services will become all the more relevant.
“We are growing because our existing partners see the value in what we deliver and are adding more and more titles to the program all the time,” McAveney said. “As word spreads about our capabilities more publishers are testing the program and as we show success our relationships grow. As consumers are increasingly turning to digital discovery, we remain extremely well-positioned to help our ever-growing list of publishing partners to leverage reader behavior to improve the success of their titles.”