By Holly Vestad, Simon Fraser University, Fall 2014 Semester.
A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner — English Proverb
Hugh McGuire, on his blog post “Sifting Through All These Books,” simply yet poignantly writes, “[t]here sure are a lot of books” (2014). The statistics are staggering: in 2009, 288,000 books were published through a publisher, and 764,000 books were self-published (McGuire 2014). If one was to glance at these numbers, one might assume that the publishing industry is healthy. But the reality is that this supply far surpasses the demand for books in North America. The book market is ominously saturated, and when this saturation is met with the digital distractions that take up much of today’s consumer’s time (like social media, Netflix, the “mediasphere” [Régis Debray qtd. in Nunberg, 1997], for example), it leads to many, often bleak, conversations about the future of the printed book. But I agree with Geoffrey Nunberg when he states, in his introduction to The Future of the Book, soon the talk of the end of the book will become “as dated and quaint as most of the other forecasts of this type… [that] photography will kill painting, movies will kill the theatre, television will kill movies, and so on” (1997). The reality is that there are different reading environments and different mediums that suit these environments. Print books will always have a place in culture so long as publishers adapt to the demand of culture. The answer to keeping publishers relevant in today’s market is twofold. Firstly, publishers must provide more rich media content online for consumers to search and access. Secondly, publishers must invest in establishing brand loyalty and creating or finding a preexisting “tribe” that is loyal, forgiving and emotionally invested in the brand they identify with. This will increase awareness and desire for print books. Books need to be viewed not as the core and base structure of the publishing industry, but as a structure with porous edges (Lloyd 2008, 1). The same must be true, I argue, for publishing houses; publishing houses must have porous edges and transcend the traditional roles of publishing, by evolving into multimedia content generators and marketing-focused businesses that cater to demand.
Multimedia Content Online: Keep the Consumer Coming Back By Staying Relevant with Today’s Demands
The book must be viewed as more than just content between two covers (Lloyd 2008, 2). Consumers are turning into prosumers, the prosumer’s attention economy is shrinking and digital content is a powerful force (Ibid., 1). In terms of digital content, downloading content has become irrelevant; it is access and search to content that is key for digital media (Lloyd 2008 and Hodgkin 2007). Search and access can be key for print books too. Publisher’s websites need to become avenues of exploration and seemingly unlimited amounts of rich multimedia content for consumers. As Sara Lloyd argues, “publishers have been slow to harness web techniques to promote and sell books, both in print and online, and in digital formats” (2008, 8). She suggests “seeding sample chapters, excerpts, video author interviews, links to media coverage, scheduled author appearances” (Ibid.) and other things of the like. Rather than having a website dedicated to the sale of books, a publishing house’s website must be a social space where consumers can interact, access and search various information and multimedia. The website must encourage an online community around the publishing house. With the shrinking attention economy, providing information that’s rich to the senses and that is apart from the book itself will keep consumers coming back. In the long run, this will promote the sale of books. This is an example of a “porous” publishing house transcending the traditional concept of gatekeeper and distributor; the metaphor must include multimedia content generator. This understanding of a publishing house adapts to the current demands of culture.
Marketing and Public Relations: Emotionality and Ideology
The second, and most important, aspect of the porous publishing house is its public relations. As mentioned before, the best customer is one who is loyal, forgiving and emotionally invested in the product or brand they identify with. This is how Scott Goodson (2011) defines Apple’s customers. Even when Apple’s new software for the iPhone 4S was draining battery life and it took the company weeks to acknowledge the issue, the loyal customers stood by, patient and forgiving. It is the late Steve Jobs that has contributed to this loyalty (Goodson 2011). Jobs created an emotional connection with his customers by showing an emotional investment towards the products Apple was designing; in other words, he provided a human face and emotion his customers could relate to. Goodson believes other companies can achieve this too, by firstly building a relationship with the consumer. This idea can relate directly to Lloyd’s suggestion of producing multimedia content; the publisher should establish an online personality that people can relate and identify with. A section on the website for the publisher’s blog, for example, would be an excellent aid in building a community; interviews with the publisher or blog posts could express his or her excitement towards the books in the upcoming season. Providing a charismatic face behind the publishing house will assist in brand loyalty.
The most important aspect to brand loyalty is “movement marketing. You have to stop telling people about what your company makes, and instead think about what you believe in. And what you believe in has to touch a nerve with your target market” (Goodson 2011). In other words, companies should focus more on their ideology and less on selling the product, for the latter will follow once the former is developed. This, again, can be expressed through the multimedia content posted to the publishing house’s website; posts must be relevant and time-sensitive to current events and issues in the industry, and the website should link to other companies that share similar values. To ensure the consumer can begin to identify with the publishing house, the mission statement and ideology of the publishing house must be clear when he or she is browsing the website. Strong brand loyalty means
people won’t go elsewhere, even where there’s lower prices — it
keeps revenues high and retains market shares. You can see why
brand loyalty is a priority for any business. If you want brand loyalty,
figure out how you can connect with your customers and start a
movement that you believe in. The rest will certainly follow (Goodson
Marketing and Public Relations: Your Loyal Tribe
Roger Dooley (2012) has a different perspective on why Apple is so successful: they defined an enemy. He agrees that there are many things that contribute to Apple’s success, including the product design, originality and creative marketing. But their definition of PC users as their enemy is often something that goes unnoticed, yet is a big component to their marketing success. Dooley acknowledges that many start up companies attack their competitors, but Apple’s approach was different in that they “attacked the PC users themselves, and drew a sharp distinction between Mac users and everyone else.” What they were in fact doing was creating a “social identity of Mac owners” (Dooley 2012). At the same time Mac was implementing this marketing genius, Henri Tajfel and John Turner were developing the social identity theory, a theory which states “your self image is defined in part by the social group or groups you consider yourself to be part of” (qtd. in Dooley 2012). Apple was turning a brand into a cult by using a key principle in the social identity theory: “it is ridiculously simple to divide people into groups and create a rivalry” (Dooley 2012). Apple divided users by imposing an “us or them” ideology, an ideology that the social identity theory suggests is relatively easy to create. Tajfel and Turner’s experiments showed that, regardless of the minute ways in which groups were created, “members of each group became increasingly loyal to their own group and discriminated against the members of the other group” (Ibid.). It was in this way Apple so successfully created the cult of Mac users: through rivalry to PC users.
Seth Godin (2008) stresses the need for companies to create or find preexisting tribes. Tribe management holds the belief that “what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies… build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story and something to talk about” (Godin 2008). Apple successfully created a tribe of its own through the social identity theory and through defining its enemy. People were quick to respond and quick to grow their loyalty to a company that provided a sense of community.
The publishing industry is in fertile ground to define an enemy. Amazon and self-publishing have emerged as powerful forces that are inherent enemies to the publishing model. Guy Kawasaki, author, investor and businessman, stated “I think it’s a great time for writers because everyone can publish a book, more or less. But now you don’t rely on five publishing houses in New York to see success. So the democratization of publishing is good in that sense” (qtd. in Pozin 2014). I argue that self-publishing is not democratizing the publishing industry, but rather providing an avenue for monopolization by Amazon. The more that authors self-publish through Amazon’s service, the more power they’re giving to the company; “[t]he fear is that Amazon could end up doing to independent authors the same thing it has done to publishers — make them reliant on a system and then use its leverage to negotiate relentlessly” (Abbruzzese and Nelson 2014). Authors are being misled into believing that Amazon has made the publishing industry more accessible: perhaps it may appear that way now, but in reality the success rates of self-published books are few, and for those self-published books that are successful, it only provides Amazon with more fuel. The battle between Amazon and Hachette is a poignant example of the manipulation of power Amazon can exert within the industry.
Publishing houses can work to create or find a preexisting tribe around the traditionally published book and around their own books by reaffirming their ideology and defining their enemy. By providing rich multimedia content on their website, publishing houses are staying relevant to their time and encouraging traffic, and in the long run, building a community. This community will provide avenues of exploration and discoverability, and once loyalty grows, the community will then buy books because of their loyalty. Although Amazon is a powerful tool of discoverability for consumers, consumers are incorrect in thinking this is the only means of discovering books. If the latter belief holds true, then publishers and other retailers are not doing a good enough job in providing other avenues of discovery for consumers. 49th Shelf and goodreads.com are good examples on how to discover new material. Although they don’t sell books, they can lead the consumer to the publisher or retailer who does. If that loyalty is there, and Goodson is correct, the price should not matter.
Understanding the Future of Print Books by Redefining the Role of the Publishing House
The future of the book is defined by a new understanding of the publishing house. No longer gatekeeper and distributor, the publishing house must become a multimedia content generator and a marketing specialist, alongside traditional roles: such is the demand of culture. Publishing houses must define their tribe and their enemy. This porous metaphor allows the industry to be affected by the demands of culture and the demands of the publishing house’s tribe. This will be pivotal to the future of print culture. It has never been technology to shape the outcome of books, but rather the culture (Hesse 1997). If publishing houses become porous to the demands of culture, the demands of culture will shape the outcome of print books. To demonstrate Nunberg’s opinion on print books, he relates Sartre’s feelings on the significance of his grandfather’s library and the significance of the physicality of the print book:
the importance of its essential physicality… In this ‘miniscule
sanctuary,’ Sartre transformed himself through what [Régis] Debray
describes as a reverse eucharist into the ‘man-book,’ an inert object
become a kind of gendered being… In its permanence and fixity we,
like Sartre, find an emotional stability, a shelter against the rush of
time and death… [Debray] suggests that the very capacities of digital
media to overcome the material and temporal limits of print must lead
to a kind of fundamentalist reaction to them (Nunberg 1997).
Here too, Nunberg, perhaps a little dramatically, explains culture’s force in determining the outcome of print books. Culture demands that publishing houses become multimedia content generators, and the saturated market of print books demands precise marketing strategies to promote brand loyalty. Until digital media can affect people as print books have affected culture, as Nunberg and Sartre explain, the future is bright.
Abbruzzese, Jason and Katie Nelson. “How Amazon Brought Publishing to Its Knees — And Why Authors Might Be Next.” Mashable. N.p.30 July 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://mashable.com/2014/07/30/amazon-has-killed-publishers-they-just-dont-know-it-yet/
Dooley. Roger. “Build Loyalty Like Apple: Define Your Enemy.” Forbes. CMO Network, 17 July 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2012/07/17/apple-enemy/
Godin, Seth. “Tribe Management.” Seth Godin. N.p., 30 Jan. 2008. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/tribal-manageme.html
Goodson, Scott. “Is Brand Loyalty the Core to Apple’s Success?” Forbes. CMO Network, 27 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2011/11/27/is-brand-loyalty-the-core-to-apples-success-2/
Hesse, Carla. “Books In Time.” The Future of the Book. Ed. Geoffrey Nunberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. 21-36. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://web.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/HistoryWired/Hesse/HesseBooksInTime.html
Hodgkin, Adam. “Amazon versus Google for eBooks?” Exact Editions. N.p., 24 Nov. 2007. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://blog.exacteditions.com/2007/11/24/amazon-versus-google-for-ebooks/
Lloyd, Sara. “A Book Publisher’s Manifesto for the 21st Century.” The Digitalist. Pan Macmillan, 27 May 2008. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://thedigitalist.net/blog/2008/05/manifesto-download
McGuire, Hugh. “Sifting Through All These Books.” Tools of Change for Publishing. O’Reilly Media, 14 June 2010. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://toc.oreilly.com/2010/06/sifting-through-all-these-book.html
Nunberg, Geoffrey. “Introduction.” The Future of the Book. Ed. Geoffrey Nunberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. https://web.archive.org/web/20050717022848/http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~nunberg/FOBIntro.html
Pozin, Ilya. “Guy Kawasaki Reveals the Future of Publishing.” Forbes. Entrepreneurs, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ilyapozin/2014/01/15/guy-kawasaki-reveals-the-future-of-publishing/