Marketing Meetup Recap: Hummingbird E-Book Marketing

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The American Booksellers Association recently presented an online Marketing Meetup focused on marketing Hummingbird e-books. The meetup featured guest speakers Josh Mettee of Hummingbird Digital Media and Dave Lucey of Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Established in 2014, Hummingbird offers a free e-book and audiobook retailing platform that allows bookstores, publishers, media, nonprofits, bloggers, and others to compete with Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble in the digital arena. In 2017, said Mettee, more than 266 million e-books were purchased, and according to NPD Book Scan, 44 percent of all fiction books have been sold in e-book format; overall, he said, e-books make up about 20 percent of the whole industry.

With Hummingbird, booksellers can choose whether they’d like to sell e-books, audiobooks, or both. Once they have signed up with the service, booksellers can set up a custom digital storefront, which is linked to from their website or integrated with their IndieCommerce or IndieLite sites.

Among other things, the digital storefront can include:

  • Customizable banners and color schemes
  • Pre-made or customized title collections, which are showcased on the front page
  • A link to an events calendar
  • Links to free titles, which can help customers become comfortable buying e-books through this service

Mettee added that resources for merchant partners can be found on Hummingbird’s website, including best practices for booksellers, promotional materials for e-mail and social media marketing, and POS marketing materials such as posters and bookmarks that can be shipped to stores, and more.

Additionally, Mettee noted, publishers send Hummingbird a monthly list of discounts that are shared with booksellers, so they can then let their customers know about them. Hummingbird also offers monthly must-read bargain books as well as promotional images for current bestsellers.

Customers access purchased titles via a bookshelf app, noted Mettee, but because Hummingbird applies digital rights management tools for copyright protection on its e-books, they cannot be read on Amazon tablets, except for the Amazon Fire.

Page 158 offers e-books because customers were asking for them, said Lucey. “We have a lot of book clubs in our store, and what we noticed was that some of the customers were not buying the books from us, and that’s always a touchy subject,” he said. “We tried to delicately ask why, and some folks said they couldn’t read print books because they needed the ability to make the text larger.”

“We knew we needed to offer it,” he added, noting that he doesn’t believe offering this new format has cannibalized the store’s sales of print books. “I think it’s a net add for us, and I think we’re getting sales that we weren’t getting before that were definitely going to Amazon. So, we think of it as a win.”

From a marketing perspective, Lucey added, the store doesn’t push Hummingbird too heavily, but it does have marketing materials displayed throughout the store so that customers can see it. “It’s a constant drum beat of: we offer this, we offer this,” he said, noting that the store is saying it as often and in as many places as it can.

He added that the store’s best-selling e-book has been Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). “I think it’s because of the audience that’s reading it,” he said, “and the fact that you can’t get it at the library. It’s out of stock all the time and there’s a 90-person waiting list for it.”

Another way Page 158 markets Hummingbird e-books is during the back-to-school season. “When kids come in for schoolbooks and we’re out of it, that’s another option,” said Lucey.

Lucey also noted that Hummingbird sends him a report each time someone buys a book. So far, he said, Hummingbird has been great to work with; the service, he noted, is very responsive and answers questions quickly.

A recording of this Marketing Meetup can be found on the American Booksellers Association’s Education Resources page. Booksellers must be logged in to to view the recording of the session.

The American Booksellers Association now offers two opportunities for live online education: a twice-monthly Marketing Meetup and a monthly Technology Meetup. All member booksellers are invited to participate in these online discussions; subscribe to the mailing list here to receive invitations for the Technology Meetups, Marketing Meetups, or both.