6. Marketing and distribution


This section will describe general marketing practices for books that can be applied to textbooks, followed by some textbook-specific marketing practices that will also need to be incorporated to provide exposure for your textbooks to the right audiences, depending on your chosen market.


This guide is intended for those with little book publishing, textbook publishing, or book marketing experience, to help them navigate different distribution options, and identify core marketing activities to promote of the books.


Ensuring your books reach their intended audience is a crucial part of the publishing process, and your institution and your authors will expect this as part of a good publishing service. Indeed, if your institution is funding your activity, they will want to see that their investment is justified via extensive usage of the books by the intended audience. This section of the toolkit presents ways of identifying your audience (is it local or global, for example) then outlines potential distribution channels for both open access and print sales, and ways of bringing your textbooks to the attention of both students and academics via a range of marketing and publicity activities tailored to different circumstances. It also covers some of the specific textbook distribution channels, both commercial and open access. Even in a small team with little resource or budget, there are plenty of free marketing tools that can be used to ensure the books you produce are used as widely as possible.


1. Marketing
2. Distribution and discovery
3. Conclusion


1. Marketing

In order for a textbook to become embedded within a particular teaching module or course, some form of marketing will always be required. This may be internal, within the university that commissioned the work, e.g. to staff and students, or externally to other university in order to ensure wider adoption – this may be one of the aims of the textbook publishing initiative (see why publish).

1a. General marketing

Books benefit from a range of marketing practices and many of these apply equally whether a book is being published open access or commercially. As with any marketing plan, identifying your key audiences is crucial for developing a marketing plan (see an example of a marketing plan for journals here); this is particularly important for textbooks where those who select the book for course use (course directors, lecturers and other faculty members) are not those who use the book during the course (students).

Publisher website

A publisher website describes your books and offers links to where to buy or download copies, lets authors know how they can submit a proposal, and often hosts author guidelines, proposal forms and other documentation, describes the peer review process the publisher operates, gives details of how trade and library purchasers can place orders or download books, describes the ethos and mission of the publisher, has profiles of publishing staff and lists editorial and advisory board members, and often features blogs, news, reviews, testimonials and links to social media (see Distribution and discovery for discussion of other platforms).

Author marketing

In a changing textbook landscape, utilising the authors’ contacts, conference appearances and other knowledge is ever more important. Ways that authors can help market textbooks include getting testimonials from

Social media

Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are now extensively used by publishers in the marketing of books and the promotion of their related activities. Choose which platforms you work with based on where your audience can be found, and start building an audience before publication. Twitter is probably the most widely used network and can be used to promote individual books, industry related news, share book reviews and promotional events being undertaken by the publisher, and follow and retweet authors and other stakeholders. Authors often have their own Twitter accounts and cross-promotion of titles can be a very effective way of reaching audiences and building communities.

Print marketing

Print marketing can be used for specific purposes although it can be expensive both to produce the materials and to buy in relevant mailing lists. A seasonal publishing catalogue of titles can be useful for promoting your books at events and within the institution, as a way of reaching readers and attracting authors. When presenting at conferences or giving lectures, authors often like to take flyers or business cards featuring the book cover and other details, and inserts into delegate packs at relevant conferences can be a relatively cost-effective way of reaching a targeted subject-specific audience.


Sending emails to lists (either bought in or ones you have built up yourself, bearing in mind data protection legislation) are a common way of marketing your products. These may include one-off promotions, seasonal promotions, to market events related to your books, or newsletter round-ups covering a number of these activities at once. You can offer newsletter mailing sign-up forms on your website.


Advertising can be expensive and so needs to be carefully targeted to relevant audiences via carefully-selected publications. It is also harder to monitor the effect of it. If your marketing budget is limited, resources may be better allocated elsewhere.


While taking a stand at a conference to market your books can be very expensive and time-consuming, some book marketing and distribution companies offer this service as a joint one to a number of publishers together, thereby reducing the costs. Presenting at industry conferences about your publishing activity is another way to raise the profile of your textbook publishing. Author presentations at conferences, and inserts into delegate packs are covered above in the ‘Print marketing’ section.

Book reviews

Although textbooks are not often the subject of traditional book reviews, some specialist, higher-level textbooks do still attract reviews in specialist journals, especially if they are on cutting-edge subjects, present a new approach, or are the only one of their kind, so it is worth researching the specialist journals in the field and offering them review copies. A good review can provide extremely important independent validation of a book.

The marketing and dissemination strategies adopted by the HEIs involved in the project are examined in more detail here.

1b. Textbook marketing

Most commercial textbooks are commissioned and produced with a broad market in mind. However, institutional textbook publishing differs in its tendency to focus on the provision of free textbooks tailored to the needs of institutional courses (even if some of the books might well be useful beyond the institution, and made freely available on platforms that are accessible globally) (see this blog post on textbook marketing). This strategy also affects the way that the books are marketed, meaning that there is an emphasis on local promotion.

On-site promotion

Where textbooks are being produced with a particular focus on provision for the local institution, on-site promotion will be essential to raise awareness of the book with its key target audiences – students, lecturers and potential authors. Promotion can be co-ordinated with the relevant lecturer or department and can include information events, a presentation slot at an existing event for students, information on the departmental website, workshops for academics on how to write textbooks, flyers, posters and other materials for student use, PowerPoint slides for lecturer use and inclusion on the course reading list. It is also important to coordinate with your institution’s online reading list coordinator to ensure that the textbooks are listed there.

Global promotion

If part of the institutional strategy is to extend its brand reach and make its educational material more widely available, then a more traditional textbooks marketing strategy can be undertaken. This will involve market research at the commissioning stage to identify leading market competing books, the key courses at which those books are used, and then a marketing campaign to reach the course leaders of those courses to try and secure adoptions. See the article by Steve Stapleton at the University of Nottingham on the Competition analysis they carried out on their two e-textbooks in order to benchmark against other publications. Such a strategy requires both human resource and funding. Of course, by simply making the books available on the key discovery channels, a global audience will to some degree be able to access them – this is covered in more detail in the Distribution and discovery section.

Timing of textbooks marketing

Marketing of traditional textbooks focuses on the cycles of higher education courses and aims to promote the book to libraries and course decision makers in the first half of the year, in order to secure adoptions in order for books to be placed on the reading lists for the new academic year, usually in September or October of each year (NB: this may vary depending on geographical location).

This timing is critical in a commercial model, since missing this cycle could result in a further full year of lost sales.

With open access, where there is not the same dependency on revenues since the funding for the production of the textbooks comes from institutional sources rather than sales revenues, this timing is not so critical, although it is worth being aware of in order to be able to inform your authors, who might have expectations of course adoption in the year of publication, and in order to understand the different usage spikes that you might see in your statistics throughout the year.

However, as many e-resource librarians know, most resources will take at least 12 months to fully embed and for usage to increase. This will be covered in the section on Measuring success.

Further thoughts on course adoption are covered here.

2. Distribution and discovery

2a. Open Access

Open Access (OA) books can be provided in a number of formats, but in principle OA refers to a free digital edition of a book that anyone can read online or download without barriers. Many publishers sell print and e-books alongside a free digital version. In addition to your own platform or website, there are a number of other platforms, discovery services and search engines where you may be able to make your open access books available including:

You should also submit your book data for inclusion in the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB)*. Some of these make a small charge for inclusion, others are free; some require publishers to meet minimum requirements (see * above), and others may not. Most of these will also provide you with download and usage statistics, so that you can assess whether your books are being found by your target audience.

2b. Print books

If a print copy of the textbook is being published, it can be sold through online and traditional book retailers, and to library suppliers. If your business model is to partner with an established university press, then they will already have established channels for sales. You will need to agree a retail price with them, and you will also need to think about whether you are undertaking a print run. A partner press will be able to advise on such matters, including forecasting sales in order to decide on the level of print run.

If you are undertaking the publishing yourself, then an effective route to market that will not tie up significant investment and ongoing costs in print runs, warehousing and sales commission is to use a Print on Demand (PoD) distribution channel such as LightningSource from Ingram. They submit book data feeds to retailers around the world in order to make your books discoverable, and they can undertake the printing, despatch and invoicing of book sales on your behalf, remitting to you the revenues from sales after the bookseller discount, print costs and commission have been deducted from the retail price.

Summaries of the business models behind the publications in the Jisc Institution as E-Textbook Publisher project can be found Business models.

2c. E-books for sale

The UHI/Napier model provided a low cost textbook via Kindle. A case study Examining Kindle Direct Publishing distribution route as the choice for publication of academic materials is avaialble from the UHI/Napier project. EPUB and Mobi (for Kindle) formats can be sold online through book retailers such as Amazon and can be distributed to aggregators via distribution companies such as LightningSource.

2d. Distribution through library suppliers

There have been a number of comments from New University Presses (NUP), Academic-Led Publishing (ALP) initiatives as well as the Institution as e-textbook publisher project about issues with discovery and dissemination with regards to the library supply chain. Open access publishers have difficulty accessing the channels that library acquisition departments use to buy print and e-book content, e.g. library suppliers. Jisc’s Changing publishing ecologies: A landscape study of new university presses and academic-led publishing report made two recommendations in this area:

  • Best practices for metadata. From the results in the NUP survey it appears that use of metadata was at various levels of maturity in established NUPs. Planned NUPs had still to develop any plans for the most part. It is suggested that a set of best practice metadata is drawn up. This should also show which metadata is required for certain discovery services and distribution mechanisms. This is an area that should be included in the work of the National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK).
  • Support with distribution/dissemination. In addition to metadata, NUPs and ALPs requested support with distribution/dissemination to libraries, book suppliers and (international) customers. This needs to be teased out further. However, a basic checklist of the most appropriate means might be a good starting point. This would assure a consistent approach. Jisc Collections will investigate this further during 2018 in a workshop. It is proposed that the outputs from the workshop are distributed to the community for open peer review, reaction and comment. Participants will be asked how to best establish connections with the community in order to take this forward in order for further work to take place as soon after the workshop as possible.

2e. Metadata

As mentioned above, the supply of metadata to third parties who will distribute, sell or host your books online is essential. Metadata should as a minimum include:

  • Book title and subtitle
  • Author/editor name
  • Book description (blurb)
  • Author bio
  • Format (paperback/hardback/ebook)
  • Specifications (e.g. trim page size, number of pages)
  • ISBN – a separate one for each format
  • DOI for OA books
  • Pricing (if applicable)
  • Licence details (for open access publications)
  • Publisher name

This work is being taken further as part of Jisc’s National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK) project.

2f. Self-publishing

Self-publishing models such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space can also be used to help your books reach the market.

2g. Textbook platforms

There are a number of online platforms specifically for textbooks, operating under different models including institutional or individual subscription. Some of these aim to provide low-cost textbook options to students. For example Perlego offers students a monthly subscription model (currently £12) to access thousands of textbooks on its platform. Others list below offer institutional subscription only. The Open Textbook Library is run by the Open Textbooks Network and offers free online access to the textbooks on its platform. It is worth considering distributing via these routes since they will benefit from existing textbooks users who go there in order to discover a wide range of textbooks from different publishers. This will help to make your textbooks visible to a wide audience. Current providers of these services include:

More details about the dissemination strategies adopted by different HEIs can be found here.

3. Conclusion

In small teams often operating with little budget, marketing is sometimes viewed as a luxury, a non-essential activity when compared with the production of the books. However, in order to create a long-term, sustainable book publishing programme, it is essential to ensure that your efforts in producing the book in the first place are followed up with equivalent efforts to ensure that your books are visible and discoverable to a wide audience. In the digital age, there are many ways of marketing books that cost little or no money – just initiative, enthusiasm, collaboration with your authors and institution, and some legwork.