How Do We Market Books Now?

From Publishers Weekly:

Covid-19 has greatly affected the publishing industry across all divisions and markets, and the marketing and publicity divisions of trade publishers have required particularly swift and frequent changes to their ways of doing business. In the opening panel of PubTech Connect 2020, which was copresented by PW and NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing and was held virtually this year through Zoom on November 17, the topic of the hour was new marketing strategies.

. . . .

The panel focused on how to capture consumer interest in a marketplace that has shifted to digital sales, the benefits of virtual events, the importance of fleshing out direct-to-consumer marketing, and how libraries are adapting to an emphasis on digital resources.

The word of the day was “nimble,” and Fassler opened the discussion with an emphasis on adaptation in the marketplace. “We’ve learned a lot this year during a time of distraction and disruption,” she said. “I think one of the biggest challenges has been how to conduct effective outreach when we’re hampered by the way we used to do things, like galley mailings. I used to do a lot of creative partnership work at conferences, pitching our books and explaining how our products are aligned. It’s been necessary to be creative even earlier.”

LaDelle was quick to point out that “consumers are holding publishers more accountable” for their marketing plans and execution. It is no longer enough to share pull quotes or cover reveals, she said: “There’s a need to be present and intentional with our marketing content.”

Martinez stressed the importance of direct-to-consumer interactions. “Now is a great time to build a great consumer list. People are hungry to feel connected to the book community, especially at a time when they can’t go to book events or book clubs.” This is even more the case, Martinez said, for independent presses like Soho, adding that developing a vast and effective email campaign is imperative in making sure a book is successful.

“We really have to be nimble and flexible,” Seyfried said, pointing to the shrinking holiday shopping window as a direct example of the sorts of marketing and publicity tools Covid-19 has affected. Penguin Random House’s internal insights team, she added, conducted a marketing study that revealed that 25% or more of book consumers are doing their Christmas shopping early this year due to Covid-related worries like shipping delays. “We pivoted to launching our gift-giving messaging in mid-October,” she said. “Usually we’re still in planning phase in October, but we’ve had to rush it and be more adaptive.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“Nimble” is not an adjective PG would apply to traditional publishers and their marketing.

Perhaps the “senior v-p and director of integrated marketing strategy” was speaking in comparative terms. “More nimble than usual.”

Sort of like the winner in a nursing home’s annual wheelchair gymnastics tournament for its over-90 residents.

PG suggests the answer to the question posed in the headline is clear – You market books where people are buying books. Today and for at least several more months (and maybe forever) that would be online.

Based on unstructured observations, PG suspects that Amazon’s ad sales in its book department have skyrocketed. Big publishers and not-so-big publishers are paying the Zon a lot of money to move books. If the reading habits of the PG household and the households of the Friends of PG are any indication, this is a good time to be in the book business if you’re a good marketer and can stand out from the crowd. (It’s a good time to be in the streaming video business as well.)

PG also suggests that traditional publishers might consider lowering their obscenely-high licensing fees for ebooks in libraries so libraries can afford to purchase more licenses. (PG’s online library projects some of the ebooks he has been perusing won’t be available for 3-4 months.)

This is a perfect time for intelligent publishers to build a reader base for their promising authors via greatly expanding their presence in library ebook departments.

But, (Heaven forfend!), that might upset Barnes & Noble!

Speaking of Barnes & Noble:

11 thoughts on “How Do We Market Books Now?”

  1. I don’t know whether it’s an indication of an Amazon advertising department that is overwhelmed – but I had two emails recently from them that were obviously directed to their ideographic reading vendors. (The next day they sent another email – basically “Oops, we’re sorry, please ignore those.”)

    Then again, it could have had something to do with my search for Japanese junk food boxes to give to the daughter for Christmas. The Amazon algorithms move in mysterious ways…

  2. Publishers certainly should look twice at their ebook pricing and marketing policies for libraries.

    Our rural library system is relatively lucky: we are supported almost entirely by property taxes. Unlike a lot of city library systems that are supported by tanking sales taxes, our revenues have dipped some, but we’ve been able to manage expenses and keep services up.

    Our physical circulation took a nose dive when the Washington State locked down in March. We began curbside pickup after a couple months, and were allowed to open to 25% capacity at the end of October, but physical (paper mostly) circulation is still very low, still less than a third of previous levels.

    Digital circ has soared. For the last 5 years, digital has increased between 10 and 20 percent a year, now we’re seeing 10-20% increase per month. Early on, we shifted a hefty share of our physical budget to digital.

    I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, but I am pretty sure our cost per lend has gone up, although it’s complicated. Our fuel and transport costs have gone way down and that pushes down cost per lend, but I doubt that it will equal the premium we have to pay to the publishers for digital. That just means fewer books in circulation for the pubs, because we will be cautious about increasing our paper buys until physical circ recovers more than it has so far.

    Another factor: without customers in the branches, our staff was able to concentrate on online events: story times, author events, how to sessions, etc. We added some digital information services. Our free access to LinkedIn classes continues to see heavy use. We saw a big increase in uptake and public goodwill has been amazing.

    The pubs could ride that wave if they wanted to, but with some exceptions, their publicity departments have not stepped up and licensing has not budged.

    Interestingly, Washington State tightened the regs last weekend, closing museums, indoor dining, etc. in response to the covid spike. But an exception was made for public libraries. I am told we were exempted because we supply free public internet connections, which the state now considers an essential service.

    From my vantage point as a digitally oriented library trustee, the trend toward digital has taken a big jump this year. There is still a lot wrong with the way digital works for libraries, but I’m optimistic that it will improve. Many people who are now working from home are climbing the digital learning curve and jumping onto digital libraries. They won’t be jumping back to paper, at least not to previous levels.

    Traditional publishers are missing a bet. It’s one of their skills.

    • I don’t have inside knowledge like you do, Marv, but my perception as a library patron is that digital circulation is way up because I sometimes have to look harder to find something I’m interested in reading.

      I’ve also become a master of the Overdrive hold system and combine that with the option to defer delivery on a ebook that has come off hold and is available by a specified number of days.

      • One of my concerns is that the technology to manage digital holds much better would not be that difficult. If I weren’t retired, I would be architecting a system of reserves on digital holds in which you could request an ebook for a period in the future.

        For example, right now, Maria Kornikova’s book on poker is an interest to me. Many others are interested, so it’s tied up now in our library system. I’d like to reserve a copy for mid-December when I anticipate some reading time. But all I can do is request the next available copy and hope I don’t have too many books to read when it becomes available. Being able to schedule in advance would be more convenient than deferring pickup.

        In truth, the whole notion of limited availability of digital assets is artificial. There is no technical reason for one simultaneous lend per license. If the library pays for 10 lends, it makes no difference, other than publishers license rules, if we release all 10 at the same instant or limit it to one reader at a time. The library business would be much more manageable if we could use our licensed lends to our customers best service rather than the publisher’s weird and artificial license rules designed to make digital behave like paper. And, I suspect, publisher’s license revenues would go up if we didn’t have to throttle the lend rate.

        Insider tip: It’s fairly common for state rural library systems to have statewide inter operation agreements that offer borrowing privileges if you live outside district boundaries but in an interoperation zone. Holding digital borrowing privileges with several libraries, you can shop around for the shortest digital hold.

        • Another tip: Sometimes large library systems offer borrowing to nearby communities in state. In particular, in my case, most California libraries will issue you a card as long as you have state ID, no matter where you live. Believe me, the selection at lapl.overdrive.com is much better than any of the other 5 cards I have.

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