Verso Direct-to-Consumer E-Commerce Business Off to Early Success

By Posted in - Booktrade on April 14th, 2014 0 Comments

Publishers looking for a good reason to sell books and ebooks directly to readers should take a look at Verso.

The small London- and New York-based publisher of books of philosophy, policy and current events launched its own e-commerce platform this spring and sells books, ebooks and offers book and ebook bundling. The company’s stated goal was to sell £200,000 ($334,700) through its store by the end of the year. It might hit that goal in a couple of weeks.

To date, the company has generated about £80,000 in sales — and that’s in a week of public operation plus a month of “soft launch” in which Verso had the store up and running but didn’t publicize it.

“Word spread fast on Twitter and Facebook. People obviously responded to the discount and to the bundled ebooks,” said Jacob Stevens, the publisher’s managing director.

To juice sales initially, the company is offering a 50% discount on titles sold through the website. Currently, some titles can be bought directly from Verso for less money than at other online retailers. For instance, the hardcover edition of The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror by Arun Kundnani is available at Verso for £7.49 (this includes the discount) while Amazon is offering it for £13.39, an 11% discount off the list price.

The 50% off sale ends Monday, after which the company will no longer be undercutting sites like Amazon, according to the company’s UK sales and marketing director Rowan Wilson. After the initial sale, Verso will use a more varied discounting strategy.

“Going forward, we expect to offer a range of discounts for ebooks, paperback and hardcovers,” said Stevens. “It will change up and we’ll see what works but we’ve certainly had a good response to the opening sale and the bundled ebooks.”

Verso is giving away the ebook file when readers buy the print edition. The company is using what’s known as “social digital rights management” to discourage ebook piracy. Each ebook file is marked with the buyer’s name and personal information — information that would allow Verso or any authorities to identify the source of the piracy.

In addition to bundling ebooks with print books, the company is selling ebooks outright. About 15% of the total purchases have been for just ebooks so far, according to Wilson, the sales and marketing director.

Stevens attributes the company’s early success to its brand.

“Verso has a recognizable reputation to its readership across politics and philosophy,” he said.

The company hasn’t yet mined all the new data it’s collecting on its readers and their purchasing preferences, but plans to do so in the near future, using it to enhance sales and marketing.

Stevens also hopes to introduce more sophisticated improvements to its store, including the ability for readers to read snippets of its titles before purchasing them.

“I’d like them to be able to read a little bit of their choice,” he said. “I would like people to be able to look inside the books for a reference if they’re writing a scholarly paper, ideally on their way to buying the book to read the whole thing.”

The intention will be to make the entire contents of the book searchable by Google to encourage more discovery and traffic to the Verso site. The eventual goal is for the Verso site to be both a hub of community and commerce around the publisher’s niches.

The company’s overall strategy is one many publishers have discussed but few have followed. One notable example is F+W Media (disclosure: DBW’s parent), which has nearly two dozen e-commerce stores that sell books, ebooks and other digital and physical products to over 20 million consumers. Each of these stores sits inside an online community that caters specifically to the interests of each store’s customers.

HarperCollins is also now selling books and ebooks directly through verticalized portals, like

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