While this falls into the “duh” category for most businesses, it is actually a revelation to book publishers. Their customers have traditionally been middle men – distributors, brick and mortar stores, wholesalers, etc. For the most part, their real customer (the reader) has been elusive. At least, elusive within the means of the publishing house. Pre-Internet, it was acceptable for a publisher not to have a direct relationship with the reader. But now, there’s no excuse to not know your customer – their wants, needs, desires. One only needs to look to social networking for the answer. You just might need to thicken up your skin though. Customers will tell you the truth, not to your face of course, but to others, in public, on the internet. You’ll want to monitor specific places to eavesdrop into their conversations. Don’t worry, you’re not invading anyone’s privacy. Your customers will gladly allow you to drop in on the conversation.
Stephen Palmer at Beyond the Cover gives some hints on what to do if you’re a publisher in need of customer information.