I fundamentally believe in the opportunity for an ever-expanding pie of licensing distribution revenue, and that concern over competing channel revenue cannibalization is almost always overstated. If you are a publisher of valuable content with the goal of increasing revenue and usage, you have to be willing to experiment and measure and adjust. If you reject a channel opportunity based solely on a belief it will disproportionately disrupt current revenues without having tested this premise, you have given up on the opportunity too quickly.
I state this perspective at the outset as my experience as a publisher taught me my concerns about cannibalization were largely unfounded, and my experience leading content licensing at Alexander Street and ProQuest similarly taught me publishers assume a too-rational view on consumers, channel conflict and the potential for cannibalization. By establishing a complete view of all possible channel partners and then, based on the catalog assessment described in part one of this series on content licensing strategy: https://parkerthepublisher.com/content-licensing-strategy/, deploying content across partners in restricted tests, you the publisher will achieve maximum total revenue and usage.
Define Your Publishing and Distribution Business Channels
The first step in generating a complete view of all possible channel partners is to state the channels that define your publishing and distribution business. While this series on content licensing strategy is focused on distribution to the Higher Education library, the savvy publisher will begin with an understanding of where the the focus channel fits in the overall view on revenue-generating channels. I founded Business Expert Press in 2008 with the understanding we would participate in four primary channels (disregard consortia) as shown below: Print, Ebook Retail, CoursePack and Library Aggregation.
Within each of these primary channels our goal was to partner with as many credible distributors as possible on the understanding that no channel partner can corner the market and, also, so that we had deep awareness of prevailing royalty rates, possible advances and annual minimum guarantees, best marketing practices and best practices for content ingestion and metadata management. This distribution strategy perfectly complemented our publisher-direct product focus, and led to an ever-growing revenue pie and deep understanding of the key players and partners in each channel.
Before turning to tactics for developing a complete picture of all available channel partners, I want to underscore that this multi-channel distribution approach frequently yielded Business Expert Press sales of print, ebook retail, library aggregator sales and publisher-direct sales to the same university. When this was unnecessarily duplicative, we always refunded the customer, but often this resulted from a particular professor desiring a single title in a format not held by the library or other such variables of demand that are difficult to predict.
Channel Partner Discovery Tracks
I recommend three specific tracks of discovery to develop a view on all possible channel partners for higher education library distribution: 1. Nearest Competitors, 2. Largest Conference and 3. Representative Customers.
1. Nearest Competitors:
We all know who our nearest competitors are. Even if your publishing business is niche focused, there are peer companies that you watch (and if you don’t, start now!). These competitors will most often list their distribution partners on their websites and in their marketing collateral. I have found that industry colleagues from these competitor companies are very open to discussing distribution partners and the performance of each.
2. Largest Conference:
The higher education library channel’s major conference player is the American Library Association (ALA): http://www.ala.org/ . ALA hosts two annual conferences that dwarf all other library conferences. Publishers, distributors and aggregators with designs on the library market will invariably attend the ALA to meet prospective customers and come to know competitors and potential new partners. The exhibitor list is always available on the ALA conference website and can easily be sorted by key word or searched top to bottom for relevant distribution partners for your publishing business.
3. Representative Customers:
Higher education libraries feature all available databases on their library website, often in an “A to Z” list of databases. Here is an example from my alma mater the University of Arizona: https://libguides.library.arizona.edu/az.php. These lists can be sorted by media type, subjects and vendors. Select 10 universities you believe represent opportunities for your content and you will be able to quickly hone in on the significant channel distributors to represent your products in distribution.
By deploying all or a combination of these three tactics for channel partner discovery, you will arrive at a comprehensive list of the vendors you will select amongst to represent your publishing output across key distribution channels. When you combine a thorough understanding of your catalog and its potential for revenue generation with a solid picture of your possible channel distribution partners, you are ready for the next step, which is developing an understanding of all the available business models for selling your content via the channel partners under consideration, and this will be the focus of part three in this series on licensing strategy coming soon.
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