marketing

The growing BookTube community has become a powerful marketing tool and publishers are beginning to take notice. BookTube is an online community of people who are passionate about books and create YouTube videos about what books they have recently read, purchased, or are looking forward to being released. Some of the biggest names in BookTube have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and are able to promote their favourite books to large audiences of potential readers. There is currently very little statistical research about the content that BookTubers produce and how that influences the publishing industry. For the purposes of this project data was gathered from the ten BookTubers with the largest subscriber counts about the types of videos that have been produced in 2017. Through the analysis of this data and considering the format of BookTube videos as well as the books that are being featured within this community it is evident that while BookTube is a powerful marketing tool it also reproduces many of the existing power dynamics within the industry between large and small publishing companies.

The most popular type of videos within the BookTube community are videos that rapidly discuss many titles. This includes bookstore hauls, monthly updates on what books were read, listing anticipated upcoming releases, or tag videos where BookTubers answer a series of book related questions. These videos not only make up a substantial amount of the type content that BookTubers are creating but also are often the most viewed videos on the channel. These videos that feature many titles but only a brief description of each very much resemble the popular online format of list articles or “listicles”. Listicles are defined by Nordquist (2017) as following a standard two-step format:

First, you need an introductory paragraph that sets up the article by explaining the purpose of the list. Since these articles are straightforward, the introduction should be brief and to the point. Second the list is presented in either a bulleted or a numbered format.

BookTube videos such as hauls, monthly updates, anticipated releases, and tag videos also follow this format. The reason for the list is briefly introduced with a sentence or two, such as “these are the books that I read this month”, and is then followed by a quick discussion of each book. The transition between each title is minimal and typically done with a “jump-cut” where the transition is edited out in post-production. The other key element of these listicle style videos is that brevity is crucial, this is because “contemporary media culture prioritizes the smart take, the sound bite, the takeaway-and the list is the takeaway in its most convenient form” (Nordquist, 2017). Viewers do not click on these listicle style videos and anticipate a detailed review of a book; the expectation for these videos is that each book will be discussed in a minute or less. When examining the type of videos that the top 10 most popular BookTubers have created in 2017 it is immediately apparent that listicle style videos make up the majority of book related content and that some channels such as Katytastic only use the listicle format for book related videos. For the purposes of this study the type of content that BookTubers produce were broken into three categories; reviews-any video that discusses a single title, listicles-any video that discusses numerous titles, and non-book related videos-any video that does not directly discuss the content of any book such as vlogs.

In fact when examining the overall type of videos uploaded by the top 10 BookTubers this year it is clear that listicle videos are the majority of content formatting, followed by non-book related videos, and finally detailed book review videos make up a small overall percentage of content being uploaded.

Listicles and therefore listicle style videos are organized in a pattern that aids memory. Konnikova (2013) explains that the structure of listicles allows for:

both immediate understanding and later recall, as the neuroscientist Walter Kintsch pointed out back in 1968. Because we can process information more easily when it’s in a list than when it’s clustered and undifferentiated, like in standard paragraphs, a list feels more intuitive.

Therefore listicle BookTube videos are more likely to have the viewer remember the information that is being presented and if they are persuaded by the BookTuber’s presentation of the title they are more likely to remember the title the next time they are purchasing books. This is obviously something that publishers would be interested in because it could potentially raise the visibility of their titles in a significant way. This however raises the question of if listicle style videos are able to adequately persuade viewers to purchase a book if it is only discussed briefly amidst many other titles. There is currently very little research about what type of BookTube videos result in viewers purchasing books so a comparison must be drawn with other ways that publishers gain visibility within the book market. If book being featured in listicle style videos are seen as comparable to books being placed face-out on a bookshelf in a bookstore then books that are featured in review videos are comparable to books being placed on a display. The books in the listicle videos are still being given more visibility than other books but not as much as a book that has an entire seven minute video dedicated to it. The listicle nature of BookTube still is a powerful marketing tool but it is limited by its focus on brevity.

One defining feature of BookTube is that there is an expectation of what books should be reviewed and many titles are reviewed by large portions of the community. This therefore reduces the number of unique titles that are being promoted within the BookTube community. When comparing the titles that have a review video created about them by the top 10 BookTubers there is a considerable amount of repetition of titles being reviewed.

Given the minimal amount of reviews produced in the BookTube community this means that  the number of titles being reviewed is even smaller yet. This means that it is very difficult for a publisher to have their books be featured prominently on a BookTube channel through a review. Similarly the type of books that are being promoted on BookTube are predominately produced by major publishing companies. When examining the books that have a dedicated review video produced by one of the top 10 BookTubers in 2017 it is clear that over two thirds of reviewed books are published by one of the Big Five Publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster). The titles that are published by other publishers are mostly published by Bloomsbury which is still a larger publishing company.

This leaves very little room for smaller publishing companies to compete to get visibility within the BookTube community in a significant way. The type of books that are most likely to attract a BookTuber’s attention are ones that are highly anticipated through expensive pre-publication marketing promotions or by paying large advances to secure the most popular authors. Due to the repetitive nature of the BookTube community this means that popular titles produced by major publishing companies are promoted multiple times within the community. Philbrick (2016) explains that the type of books that are promoted on BookTube channels follow six pieces of criteria: the books are recent releases, they are hardcover, they are written by a popular or mainstream author, they are published by a major publishing company, they are ordered from a major book distributor such as Amazon, and they have existing hype. Philbrick goes on to say that this sends the message that “used books, library books, mass market books, paperback books, ebooks, indie books, etc. are all somehow inferior”. This results in powerful marketing for major publishing companies that is inaccessible to small houses. Therefore BookTube actively reproduces the existing dynamics within the publishing industry; the major publishing houses continue to turn a sizeable profit due to the sheer scale of their operations and small publishing companies cannot compete. It should be considered that the scope of this research was limited to just the ten most popular BookTubers in 2017 but that other BookTubers are potentially willing to feature smaller publishers’ books that could still reach audiences of thousands of people.

By gaining a better awareness of some of the structures that influence the BookTube community it is evident that while this is a potentially powerful marketing tool for publishers it is still very limited to major publishers. Small publishing companies struggle to have their content featured in a meaningful way by the major BookTubers and most of the community continues to reproduce similar content. BookTube is still a relatively new community and it continues to grow and evolve, so while it is currently dominated by books produced by the Big Five Publishers that is not to say that this will not one day change. Publishers should continue to be aware of the BookTube community and the power that it holds in reaching younger audiences.

 

Works Cited:

Alsherg, S. (n.d.). abookutopia. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/abookutopia
Bissett, A. (n.d.). Ariel Bissett. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/ArielBissett
Burlin, A. (2015, February 13). Book Publishing Comes to YouTube. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/65605-book-publishing-comes-to-youtube.html
Daspin, E. (2016, June 22). From shelfies to BookTube, publishers embrace video. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2016/06/22/shelfies-booktube-publishers-embrace-video-vidcon/86146422/
Feeney, C. (n.d.). Little Book Owl. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/LittleBookOwl
George, J. (n.d.). jessethereader. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/jessethereader
Herdt, Z. (n.d.). readbyzoe. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/readbyzoe
Konnikova, M. (2013, December 3). A list of reasons why our brains love lists. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-list-of-reasons-why-our-brains-love-lists
LeBlanc, H. (n.d.). Hailey in Bookland. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/hailsheartsnyc
Nordquist, R. (2017, May 8). What’s a Listicle? Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms [Educational]. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-listicle-1691130
Okrent, A. (2014, February). The listicle as literary form. The University of Chicago Magazine. Retrieved from https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/listicle-literary-form
O’Keeffe, K. (n.d.). Katytastic. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/Katytastic
Perusse, R. (n.d.). PeruseProject. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/PeruseProject
Philbrick, N. (2016, January 13). The 3 Dangers Of #Booktube. Retrieved from https://youwritefiction.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/the-3-dangers-of-booktube/
Poole, S. (2013, November 12). Top nine things you need to know about “listicles.” The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/12/listicles-articles-written-lists-steven-poole
Riccio, C. (n.d.). polandbananasBooks. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/polandbananasBOOKS
Thompson, D. (2013, December 17). 7 reasons lists capture our attention (and confuse our brains). The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/7-reasons-lists-capture-our-attention-and-confuse-our-brains/282414/#disqus_thread
Vliegenthart, S. (n.d.). booksandquills. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/booksandquills

Writing books is a tough business.

Selling books is an even tougher business.

The world of marketing has been going through a lot of changes over the past decade thanks to technological advances. Advertisements are less effective, competition is higher than ever, and people’s attentions are split between so many things. Media types sit on a vast range now, and the scope of the world just grows.

What was thought to be effective marketing ten years ago is barely mentioned now.

In April of 1997, an article in the New York Times proclaimed that advertisements for TV was the new way to sell books. It had just reached a time where TV ads were affordable, audiences were reachable, and book publishers were getting excited to jump on the new platform. Not only were publishers competing with each other, they were competing with other entertainment and media: internet, television, and movies. So, expanding into the new frontier of marketing was sensible, and necessary.

It meant learning a whole new form of advertisement. “The challenge that we face is that the advertising has to be entertaining, especially in the movie theatres. It’s as much entertainment as the movies,” the article says (Carvajal).

This is a pretty humorous article to read considering books rarely touch TV now. Maybe the author gets a televised interview somewhere–but a commercial? Unlikely.

According to one experiment run by a non-fiction author, which ran a tv ad for a new book for 10 days, the conversion rates of impressions to customers is terrible. The author measured it by having the commercial direct viewers to a specific website and enter their email. “The commercials created a total of 8.3 million impressions but led to only 112 website visits…. Even worse, a mere 40 people filled in the … form requesting name and email to receive the two free chapters.” (Ford).

With such a low conversion rate, it’s no wonder book trailers on TV are so rare, if they ever appear. The costs do not justify the returns.

In a world where book competition is massive and consumer attention to platforms advertising books is infinitesimal, it almost seems like actually creating awareness of and selling a new book is impossible (ignoring, of course, books from names with already-established huge followings). Most book publishers are cornered with such razor-thin profit margins and slim marketing budgets that taking a risk on new marketing strategies that might cost a buck or two is just not considered.

Nowadays it seems more and more like a books marketability is entirely dependent on an author’s established platform. “In the old world… [a]uthors created the product and relied on their publishing company to market it. But that world is dead. That doesn’t mean that publishing companies expect [authors] to do everything. But it does mean that they are more effective if [authors] have a platform already in place.” (Hyatt).

Now while the branding of the author and the ability of the author to sell by having a following is great and makes sense in some cases, it does not create a very inviting atmosphere for newer authors and, to me, does not seem like a very healthy ecosystem for publishers to thrive in.

How can a publisher take a work of fiction from an unknown author with no platform and turn it into a relatively decent success in sales?

How can a publisher create awareness of a book and drive sales enough to at least break even?

According to my Management and Marketing class in SFU’s Master of Publishing program, we know that the driving force of creating title awareness in a customer base is word of mouth. This is corroborated by a study done by GoodReads, which reported: “One of the biggest things we learned—or should we say confirmed—is the power of word of mouth. Searching for titles on Goodreads is the top way people find books for their to-read shelves. That means they first heard of it elsewhere—likely from friends or the media.” (Brown). This study also shows recommendations from algorithms (Goodreads, Amazon, etc) as influential, and browsing in-store and online as big players.

If most book sales are a result of word of mouth—friends, family, coworkers, influential blog reviews, recommending books to each other—and browsing and algorithm-based recommendations, how is advertising fairing as a driving factor? According to Bruce Batchelor, not very well. (The same Management and Marketing class also states that print, broadcast, and TV advertising does not factor in very highly). “Even the largest publishing houses are quite tight with spending on display advertising—that’s the term for any ad that isn’t in the classified section—because display ads really don’t work all that well for book sales even when promoting a likely bestseller by a politician or other (in-)famous celebrity.” (Batchelor).

Essentially, advertisements aren’t a trustworthy marketing practice for books. To sell enough books warranting its print, marketers must turn to other strategies.

One of my fears about the trade fiction publishing world is that books will live and die by the whim of the algorithm, and what little control a publisher seems to have of noticeability will be wrested from their fingers. Publishers will throw in the relevant info about the book and have to bank on a confluence of digital forces to resolve into that title becoming a suggestion for a certain browser. Playing in the digital space limits the flexibility in tactic a publisher has to draw attention to their title. The algorithm dominates. A little bit of self-feeding popularity loop with a dash of randomization.

One company sprouted to try and combat this inherent issue with the digital suggestion algorithm, a company that has conceptualized a program called BOOKSAI, an Artificial Intelligence book recommendation program that relies less on the “people who bought also bought” method in favour of a different philosophy for recommendation.

They claim that the traditional recommendation setup reinforces an elitist selection of books where few books tap into a torrent of momentum that lifts them to massively popular status, and most books are left in the dust, being unable to create awareness in the audience that would want to read them (Booksai). As well, the traditional system can be gamed by fake reviews and purchases to vault the title into mass market awareness (see the story on how Handbook for Mortals trumped The New York Times in the Donaldson article).

How BOOKSAI hopes to solve this is through an artificial intelligence that actually reads books and recommends them based on qualities such as style, attitude, mood, and tone. It aims to shift recommendations from books of similar genre or plot or by the same author, to books of similar style. From what is it written about to how it is written.

Now that isn’t a new concept. Traditionally, book recommendations have always incorporated the how factor over the what factor. However it is a new application of the concept and it’s fun to think about the effects a recommendation AI like that becoming commonplace might have on the publishing industry. Could it level out book awareness more equally and more specifically to audience target needs?

I do not think BOOKSAI is the solution I am setting out to find, however. An integral part of books is community. The shared knowledge of having read the same text connects people. This is why word of mouth is such a powerful selling force.

As well, the idea of sitting back and letting an AI pick what people read next, for the traditional algorithm and the proposed BOOKSAI algorithm both, goes against a couple basic tenets of publishing and marketing which I will describe after a brief comparison.

After Donald Trump won the USA election in November of 2016, a lot of minds turned to social media and an outpour of critical analyses of the effects of social media on the outcome of the election ensued. It was suddenly all Facebook’s fault for two reasons: fake news (Facebook did not employ a rigorous enough filtering system to ensure only the best news), and highly targeted algorithms controlling what people saw, based on their tastes. “Tens of millions of American voters gets their news on Facebook, where highly personalized news feeds dish up a steady stream of content that reinforces users’ pre-existing beliefs” (Wong, Sam, Solon). This effect created a “bubble” of news that conformed to your interests. Liberals were aghast that Trump won because they were not aware of how many people there were in alignment with Trump. Because they did not see those newsfeeds.

In the world of fiction, it’s different but similar, there are parallels. Fiction feeds ideas, creates modes of thought, enhances understanding of language. Broadens understanding of perspective, creates empathy, exposes readers to boundless viewpoints. With the approach that fiction exists not just to entertain but educate and shape and grow people and societies, the parallels suddenly start to get startlingly similar: the algorithmic approach of recommending books similar to ones we like will create closed minds and “bubbles,” if you will, of modes of thought.

The two tenets I hinted at earlier are this:

In Marketing, it is a marketer’s responsibility to create awareness of a product and educate people why they need it (Luecke). Essentially, it is the marketer’s job to create the market for the product. In book publishing, this translates to creating awareness of a book and educating people as to why they need to read it, and encouraging that need into a sale.

In Publishing, it is a publisher’s duty to distribute books (or other forms of written media) to a public/market for the sake of the betterment of society. This means pushing people out of their comfort zone to read something that otherwise would not fit into their profile of what they already like.

Together these two principles underlie why I cannot stand behind an algorithm-dominated mode of book recommendation. And hence, the problem of marketing is returned with no solution found.

I will bring back my original question: How can a publisher market a book of fiction from an author with no platform—and now expand my question—without relying on the traditional recommendation mode of similar reads and avoid an algorithm-dominated future?

The answer, I believe, holds close parallels to how publishing continues to exist in Canada at all. Much like people (cultural policy nuts) must educate about the importance of cultural content so that the government funding for books will continue, people (intellectual growth nuts) must educate about the importance of that same cultural, and intellectual, content so that people want to (creating a market) broaden their modes of thought.

The approach to this I am not sure about. With a lack of capital and a lack of effectiveness in many traditional advertising methods, it is difficult to create that awareness, that need for a book, especially with the overwhelming number of books in existence. But I will argue this: book marketing should move beyond finding the audience that wants the book to creating the audience that wants the book. Publishers must not just concern themselves with publishing books, but must also focus on ensuring the continued importance of books to a society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Batchelor, Bruce T. “Book Marketing Demystified: Enjoy Discovering the Optimal Way to Sell Your Self-published Book; Learn from the Inventor of Print-on-demand (POD) Publishing.” Agio Publishing House, 2007.

 

BOOKSAI. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. http://booksai.blogspot.ca/

 

Brown, Patrick. “How do books get discovered? A guide for publishers and authors who want their books to find an audience.” Goodreads.com. February 17, 2012. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/343-how-do-books-get-discovered-a-guide-for-publishers-and-authors-who-want

 

Carvajal, Doreen. “Promoting books via TV commercials and movie trailers has become affordable.” Nytimes.com. April 28, 1997. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/04/28/business/promoting-books-via-tv-commercials-and-movie-trailers-has-become-affordable.html

 

Donaldson, Kayleigh. “Updated: Did This Book Buy Its Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List?” pajiba.com. August 27, 2017. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. http://www.pajiba.com/book_reviews/did-this-book-buy-its-way-onto-the-new-york-times-bestseller-list.php

 

Gardner, Rachelle. “Do Publishers Market Books.” Rachellegardner.com. June 30, 2011. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. https://rachellegardner.com/do-publishers-market-books/

 

Greenfield, Jeremy. “How Do You Discover New Books?” forbes.com. October 16, 2012. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2012/10/16/how-do-you-discover-new-books/#61ff9c0e74e4

 

Hyatt, Michael. “Four Reasons Why You Must Take Responsibility for Your Own Marketing.” Michaelhyatt.com. June 28, 2011. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. https://michaelhyatt.com/four-reasons-why-you-must-take-responsibility-for-your-own-marketing/

 

Kung, Lucy; Picard, Robert G; Towse, Ruth. “The Internet and the Mass Media.” SAGE. May 14, 2008.

 

Moody, Nickianne. “Judging a Book by its Cover: Fans, Publishers, Designers, and the Marketing of Fiction.” Routledge. Dec 5, 2016.

 

Rust, Roland T.; Moorman, Christine; Bhalla, Gaurav. “Rethinking Marketing.” Hbr.org. Jan 2010. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. https://hbr.org/2010/01/rethinking-marketing

 

Wong, Julia Carrie; Levin, Sam; Solon, Olivia. “Bursting the Facebook Bubble: we asked voters on the left and the right to swap feeds.” Theguardian.com. November 16, 2016. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/16/facebook-bias-bubble-us-election-conservative-liberal-news-feed

 

Zickuhr, Kathryn; Rainie, Lee; Purcell, Kristen; Madden, Mary; Brenner, Joanna. “Part 2: Where people discover and get their books.” Libraries.pewinternet.org. June 22, 2012. Accessed Nov 27, 2017. http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/06/22/part-2-where-people-discover-and-get-their-books/

 

 

The idea for me to write this essay comes from a discussion I had in my Master of Publishing class about Amazon. The discussion went from,  “Amazon is this evil entity that is crushing innocent publishers” to me saying, “Even the big five publishers HAD the power to crush Amazon from the very beginning, but they chose not to.” Truth to be said, Amazon wouldn’t have “crushed” the battle if only publishers cared more about their audience. In order to care more about their audience, they should know their audience and better yet, how to reach them. And that is what Amazon is doing and they are not slowing down.

Quick disclaimer: this is not an essay about Amazon and why they are a “publisher crusher”.

To begin my argument, I would like to share a personal experience coming from a book project I’m currently doing in my graduate class. Coming from a business background, I’ve been constantly told that nothing is more important than your customer aka your target market aka your audience. It does not matter if you have innovative, out of this world product if you can’t sell it to anyone. It does not matter if you have strong and highly experienced team if you can’t sell your product to anyone. It does not matter if your strategy, corporate culture and budgeting are nearly perfect if you can’t sell your product to anyone. In short, if everything around you is doing well but your product does not reach your audience, there will be no profit for you. That is exactly what happens in this book project I’m currently in. Me and my team (and I’m pretty sure other teams do this too) spend A LOT of time garnishing our company specs, our mission statement, our titles and our authors but we failed to spend even a DECENT amount of time to get to know our audience. We know about them, but we don’t exactly give a f*ck about them. It’s like knowing the friend of a friend that we barely see on Sunday brunch. They are there, we know they are there, but we just don’t care.

And it gets worse. We had a lesson about persona marketing but nothing from that lesson is implemented in our marketing strategy.

I double checked our syllabus. I was right.

Please all of you in MPub 2017 cohort and my beloved instructors, don’t hate me for saying this, but we sell our books to ghost.

I have to back up my points here with some numbers and real-life survey otherwise whoever reads this essay will just be saying that my points are not justified. So here goes.

These data I am showing you is provided by an agency in the UK called Agent Hunter. From the chart above, we can see that nearly 50% of published authors said that we, publishers, are doing a pretty good job on our editorial side. In fact, less than 5% of them said that we are doing nothing at all.

   

Again, more than 70% published authors said that their publishers are doing an excellent & good job on copyediting their books. Only 1% of them said that they did not receive any copyediting or proofreading.

Praise the design team! More than half published authors said that they are highly satisfied with their book cover, and less than 5% of them said they are not.

We are doing a great job so far, aren’t we. Unfortunately, happy endings do not exist in real world. Let me drop the bomb.

These numbers are well distributed, but it pains me to say that one of the highest number falls to authors saying that “My publisher did not seem to have ANY marketing plan.” Not convinced yet?

My question is simple : why? Why is the majority of published authors here said that “I felt my books weren’t really marketed at all.” It is not only that we often neglect the authors’ skills, passions and networks, but we also forget that some of them are already strong in their digital presence and we do not make use of it.

This brings me back to the point that most publishers do not know their audience and how to market to them. Pete McCarthy, co-founder of The Logical Marketing Agency, said that unique research into the audiences is needed for every book and every author to better understanding on how to reach and sell to those audiences. It is a constant process of segmenting, researching, tweaking, analyzing and doing all of that in repeat. Publishers should also throw the effort to examine the market for each book they might publish before they bid on it. Publishers also need to have the ability to quickly segment and analyze the audiences.

SOVRN’s CEO, Walter Knapp, also said that the value in an audience lies in knowing who they are. “It’s about understanding who those people are – are they a man or are they a woman, are they married or are they not married, do they have kids, what’s their income level, where do they live, what devices to they use?” He also said that greater understanding of the audience helps to generate more money. Publishers need to know if their reader is planning to buy a new house or even deciding where to go for the next vacation. “Those are all sorts of things that you have to know to intimately understand the people that are engaging with your work. Once you understand that, on an individual basis, that’s when you can start to make money.” Knapp also said that in order to monetize the audience, publishers need to tie in what people want, how to get it and when to get it. It requires a ‘holistic’ understanding of the audience. “We think about in terms of these three pillars. How do I understand who’s engaging with my work, how do I get distribution for it and then, how do I make money from it?” Moreover, in 2013, there were roughly 2.9 billion people on the internet, increasing to 3.2 billion in 2014. Knapp pointed out that those billions of people don’t tend to just go to one place to get news or entertainment. Knapp believes that publishers need to think beyond their “online presence” but to also think about how they can infiltrate their work to the other distribution channels where the audiences are already in. “It’s also important to understand the people who are interacting and engaging with you there so you can bring that back to produce better content .. to learn for your readership and how people are enganging and how they are interacting.”

Furthermore, how we market the books are also changing. We have now replaced “knowledge of the book” with “research into the audience”. It was then a process to communicate the knowledge of what was inside a book to reviewers and buyers so they could deicde whether it was suitable for their audience or their customers. They were the professional intermediaries we wanted to tackle; those who would get word of the book and sell the copies of the book to the market. Unfortunately, in the digital world we live in now, none of that applies any longer. Title Information Sheet or TIS is no longer urgent. Writing a descriptive copy without knowledge of the potential audiences, their intention, their language, their preferences, is not going to achieve the desired results for discovery, no matter how accurately the books content is described and passed along. The TIS was the core information needed by book marketers before Google. But now we have Google. Fortunately, I found a solution for us.

Two months ago, The Logical Marketing founders ­– Peter McCarthy and Jess Johns – came up with a new tool that will be substantial to publishers to determine their audience and how to reach them. It is called Audience Information Sheet or AIS and here are the components :

  1. A high-level audience profile which essentially describes the book’s audience in very general terms, such as “Single women who range in age from their early twenties to late thirties.” This description might also include other authors the audience might consider to be “comps”.
  2. Demographic insights into the audience to analyze the characteristics of the people and to learn their age, marital status, gender and income level.
  3. Behavior and lifestyle insights which points to personal interests, occupations and purchasing habits of the audience.
  4. Geographic insights gained from “search trends” and “social trends” to determine the interest in the book’s subject, genre and settings.
  5. Audience segmentation and targeting examines each of the major audience segments (“Single women”, “Pop culture”) and tells you where to find them (geographically or institutionally), their interests, the platforms they use and frequent (Facebook, Instagram).

Every components of the AIS give marketers usable data to better understanding their audiences, specific to each books they are publishing. AIS is the new era in publishing; it has been beta-tested in the Big Five clients and they are all agree that AIS will be somewhat deeper and more sophisticated than the ones they have already created that are only “right-sized”, in restriction to the publisher’s capabilities and resources, especially in marketing and sales.

Now we know the answer to our audience problem. Now we also have the way to reach our greatest potential. The question is, are we willing to do so?

 

WORKS CITED

Kamdar, Sachin. June 24, 2017. “The top five things digital publishers need to know about audience loyalty.” Accessed November 10, 2017.

https://blog.parse.ly/post/1336/the-top-five-things-digital-publishers-need-to-know-about-audience-loyalty/

 

Moses, Lucia. June 14, 2017. “As audience development grows, publishers question who should own it.” Accessed November 10, 2017.

https://digiday.com/media/audience-development-grows-publishers-question/

 

D’Cruz, Matt. May 12, 2016. “Publishers, how well do you know your audience? What are you doing to maximize its value?” Accessed November 10, 2017.

http://www.trippassociates.co.uk/2016/publishers-need-to-know-about-audience-development-tripp-associates/

 

TheMediaBriefing. May 10, 2016. “SOVRN CEO Walter Knapp on why publishers need to understand their audiences.” Accessed November 10, 2017.

https://www.themediabriefing.com/spotlight/sovrn-ceo-walter-knapp-on-why-publishers-need-to-understand-their-audiences

 

Shatzkin, Mike. August 31, 2015. “The Audience Information Sheet is more useful than the Title Information Sheet for marketers (and for publicity and sales too).” Accessed November 10, 2017.

http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-audience-information-sheet-is-more-useful-than-the-title-information-sheet-for-marketers-and-for-publicity-and-sales-too/

 

Shatzkin, Mike. March 2, 2015. “Better book marketing in the future depends a bit on unlearning the best practices of the past.” Accessed November 10, 2017. https://www.idealog.com/blog/better-book-marketing-in-the-future-depends-a-bit-on-unlearning-the-best-practices-of-the-past/

 

AgentHunter. February 10, 2015. “Published authors data.” Accessed November 10, 2017. http://agenthunter.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Data_All_Final.pdf­­

Diversity within children’s literature has been a long standing issue that has gained a tremendous amount of attention in the past five years. This has resulted in an ongoing discourse  about the lack of diversity and how best to make children’s literature more representative of all the children reading and consuming books that are being published. The lack of diversity within the publishing industry is obviously a contributing factor, with approximately  79% of publishing employees being white/Caucasian (Low 2016). However the successful marketing also plays an integral role in the success, and therefore profitability, of diverse books in the children’s publishing industry.

Successful marketing of diverse books is integral to the overall success and profitability of the book. This is because it is marketing that dictates the audience, key selling features, and positioning of the book within the market to retailers and in turn the consumer. How a book is marketed can therefore make the difference between a best seller or a book that goes unnoticed and is lost amidst the overabundance of titles that are currently in print and available for sale. Therefore a keen understanding of the diversity of the market is necessary to accurately position a book within it. Jean Ho (2016) highlights Kima Jones who runs a publicity company as  an expert in culturally specific marketing. Jones has been brought in to other publishing companies to assist specifically with the cultural marketing on particular titles and also works to promote her clients’ work that represents their diversity, “whether that’s a culturally specific campaign or organizing a national tour aimed to draw as many attendees as possible across the country.” Hannah Ehrlich (as quoted in Ho, 2016) explains that “when you’re marketing diverse books, it’s important to build connections with influencers within communities that the book is about who will become the evangelists.” Each title may have a unique set of “evangelists” but the most common found within children’s literature are librarians and classroom educators. Current trends within education are showing a demand for diversity within the classroom and this includes the need for diverse books. Improving how diverse books are being marketed to teachers and librarians is necessary in order gain these “evangelists”. One potential way to improve marketing of diverse books is to have these titles better highlighted within marketing catalogues. As previously stated successful marketing is integral to prevent titles from getting lost in the vast array of titles currently on the market. Krista Mitchell (2016) explains that “discoverability has always been a major hurdle for publishers… Maybe it’s time we start calling for more diverse catalogues.” For example Groundwood books has created a catalogue specifically to showcase their culturally diverse titles. Providing a unique space in which to display these titles will make it easier for those invested in diversity within children’s literature, such as classroom educators and librarians, to access information about available titles. As this catalogue is still a recent development for the company it is unknown what the long term effects are and if this marketing decision is successful or not, however it shows that Groundwood books is invested in finding new and alternative ways to improve the marketing of diverse books and other publishing companies need to follow suit.

Conversely one issue that has occurred within the marketing of diverse books is the view that these titles are a part of a niche market and are therefore not marketed to a wider public. June Cummins (2017) explains some of the intricacies of children’s literature through a Critical Race Theory lens and explains that “white maleness is so hegemonic that it is considered neutral… [resulting in] the assumption that white maleness is ‘normal.'” (p. 97). Therefore everything outside of this white maleness is considered niche. Classifying books as diverse can aid those searching for titles with these themes however it also labels these books as “other”. Therefore a delicate balance between making these titles easily accessible and also not being branded as exclusively for a niche market is integral to the success of diversifying children’s literature. Ramona Caponegro (2017) expresses a need for two types of diverse books, those that focus overtly on issues of diversity and those that feature characters outside of the white male hegemony where issues of diversity are not the primary focus. Caponegro explains that the need for these two distinct types of books is because “books about our common humanity may make cultural differences seem less threatening. Yet, precisely because cultural differences are still feared, we also need ‘issues’ books.” (p. 126) Caponegro argues that books that focus on the shared humanity of all people will work to deconstruct fear associated with the “other”. Similarly there is a need for diverse characters within genre specific books in children’s literature, such as fantasy, so that readers across genres can encounter diverse characters. However Caponegro acknowledges the intersectionality of experience and the still profound need for books that overtly focus on themes and issues of diversity. Publishing companies need to be careful that their marketing and branding of diverse titles is not done so in a way that reflects that it is only intended for a small and niche audience. Rather they should highlight selling points of an individual title by including but not solely focusing on the diversity within the book.

One of the reasons that children’s publishing companies are hesitant to produce diverse books is the fear that they will not be profitable. Christopher Meyers (2014), son of famed author Walter Dean Meyers, discusses at length in his article “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” the profound lack of diversity in children’s literature and the harmful repercussions this has on children. Meyers comes to the conclusion that “The Market” is responsible for the lack of diversity in children’s literature. It is evident through Meyers’ tone that The Market is not actually at fault but that it has become the scapegoat that the publishing industry shifts blame onto. Meyers laments that “The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says.” The Market in this article is presented as a pre-existing and non-changing entity that dictates what books will and will not sell. This notion is however troubled when Meyers points out instances where The Market does change and allows for new and different types of children’s books, such as the rise in popularity of fantasy. The Market is no different than Warner’s (2002) concepts of publics. Just as there is not one Public, there is also not just one Market. The Market is not a unified and homogenous group that is fixed but rather a series of publics that are organized through the distribution of texts and are constantly changing and evolving. The publication of texts is done with an intended public in mind but it is also the responsibility of the publisher to adequately market so that the potential public is formed. Meyers explains that throughout his time working in the children’s publishing industry he’s “heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s ‘commitment to diversity.’ With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances.” It is not enough for publishing companies to simply acknowledge the problem but actual progress needs to be made. Diverse books are being written and it is not up to just the author to ensure that they are made available, but the publishing companies need to better market these titles to find their intended publics.

The success of diverse books in children’s literature is so dependent on proper marketing by publishing companies. Culturally specific marketing needs to occur so that titles can be successful and find their “evangelists” who will continue to promote the books. However the marketing should not be done in such a way that diverse books are presented as simply for small niche audiences and segregated away from other titles that are available. Finally the idea that diverse books are unprofitable and that The Market is a force working against making children’s literature more diverse is false and fails to represent the role of the publishing company in finding and marketing to different publics. Significant work has been started to improve the state of children’s literature but there is still much more that needs to be done to properly represent all children readers.

 

Works Cited

Caponegro, R. (2017). Peter’s Legacy: The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. In K. B. Kidd & J. T. Thomas Jr. (Eds.), Prizing Children’s Literature: The Cultural Politics and Children’s Book Awards (pp. 118–129). Routledge.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (n.d.). Publishing Statistics on Children’s Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators. Retrieved from https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

Cummins, J. (2017). The Still Almost All-White World of Children’s Literature: Theory, Practice, and Identity-Based Children’s Book Awards. In K. B. Kidd & J. T. Thomas, Jr. (Eds.), Prizing Children’s Literature: The Cultural Politics and Children’s Book Awards (pp. 87–103). Routledge.

Ehrlich, H. (2015, March 5). The Diversity Gap in Children’s Publishing, 2015. Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2015/03/05/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-publishing-2015/

Ho, J. (2016, August 9). Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/09/483875698/diversity-in-book-publishing-isnt-just-about-writers-marketing-matters-too

Low, J. T. (2016, January 26). Where is the Diversity in Publishing?  The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results. Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

Ly, D. V.-K. (2017, April 19). Publishing Diversity with The Boy & The Bindi: A Case Study of the First Children’s Picture Book From Arsenal Pulp Press. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from http://summit.sfu.ca/item/17278

Mitchell, K. (2016, March 8). We Need Diverse Catalogues. Retrieved from https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2016/3/8/we-need-diverse-catalogues?rq=children

Myers, C. (2014, March 15). The Apartheid of Children’s Literature. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrens-literature.html

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88(4), 413–425. Retrieved from http://knowledgepublic.pbworks.com/f/warnerPubCounterP.pdf

Authors as Brands: How does this affect the publishing landscape?

In the publishing industry, marketers are constantly looking for the best way to sell a book. One of the most notable practices in marketing is branding an author. This is when an author has name recognition and generally has a genre or style attached to them. The act of branding is not something new to the industry, but it has definitely become more prevalent in later years with the rise in authors and more books in the market. To make an impression, or to make a sale, people need to recognize the name. Branding authors is a very important practice from a marketing perspective, and one that makes selling a book much easier but this is problematic for a number of reasons, internal to the publishing industry and to authors. There is a risk that if the publishing industry relies too heavily on using brands or on branding authors, other books will not receive enough funding, or even be acquired unless they already have brand recognition.

Authors have been revered by publishers and by audiences for many years. They are often thought of as the holders of truth, as the singular genius that have created a work and are treated with respect and admiration. Whatever your feelings are on authors, it’s clear that there are many people who view them as the most important figure in relation to their work. J.K. Rowling, Danielle Steele, Robert Ludlum. These are names that are easily recognizable and are, themselves a brand. J.K. Rowling will forever be associated with Harry Potter. Danielle Steele has been featured in Forbes’ list of 10 top-earning authors for the past three years.  Robert Ludlum is such a notable brand that even though he died several years ago, books are still being published in his name.[i] Joe Moran’s text, Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America, comments on the growth of celebrity authors and how it has become common to see authors in the public sphere, like talk shows and book signings. There are many different types of celebrity that Moran describes, but it is still obvious that they are still creating a brand through their work, interviews and the persona they create.[ii] To “focus on the personality, not the work”[iii] has become common practice because it is much easier to market a person than it is to explain what a book is about and why it is important to read. Since the book became an important cultural phenomenon, the author has been tied to the work in equal measure. What has changed in recent years is the devotion to celebrity culture and the size of the market, which makes it even more difficult to compete which is why authors and marketers have turned to creating a brand.

In my research for this paper, I found hundreds of articles online to help new and growing authors in their quest to become a brand. So what exactly does this mean? And what does it entail? First, it is clear that you have to have a distinct vision and style.[iv] This is probably most clearly demonstrated in genre fiction where authors are often tied heavily to the world they have created. For example, when a reader picks up a Stephen King novel they can expect suspense, horror and science-fiction. If he were to change how he writes, there is the chance that this would “disappoint and alienate his readers.”[v] To become a brand, an author has to form an identity: one that connects to the public and is easily distinguished from others. Codex data has shown that customers are willing to pay 66% more for an eBook by a favourite author over an unknown author.[vi] If you still doubt the power of a name, consider Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling published by one of the big-five publishers Little Brown (Hachette) in 2013. Despite being well-reviewed, in its first month it sold just 440 print copies. When it was later revealed that it was written by JK Rowling, the sales increased considerably.[vii] An author’s brand is meant to establish with audiences, “Why you?” over the many other authors “vying for their limited attention”, and it should be consistently delivered through every work.[viii] This does not mean the work has to be the same, but it has to be clear to the audience that it is your work.[ix]

From a marketing perspective, there are many reasons why branding an author would be beneficial. First, you are creating a niche that the author can fill. This means in the long-run you will continue to sell books from this author because of the specific space they fill in the market. After their name has been established it’s easier to sell their work as “the new book from…” instead of trying to express what the book is about. Furthermore, this makes it easier to fulfill audience expectations and to have an idea of what audiences want if they want a book by a specific author. Ultimately this means you have guaranteed buyers who will always want to buy their work. This is substantiated in a poll in The Making of a Bestseller. Editors and agents believe that fan base and “whether the author’s previous book was a bestseller” are keys to success.[x] Generally branded authors have a big audience because their name grows with the amount of books they publish. This is because their relationship to their audience is constantly developing and they are always gaining more fans as their name gains popularity.

Also in the long-term, it is much easier for a marketer to invest in a single person than investing in many up-coming authors. If the marketer feels an author has a strong voice, they can spend time building them a strong platform and social media presence. Pouring money and time into one person who ultimately will produce work consistently and connect with audiences is more worthwhile than trying to do this with every author who might not suit being branded. Certainly author’s fan bases and well known authors existed before marketing books, but marketers have helped increase author celebrity and contribute greatly to branding authors.  Marketers are dedicated to helping the book sell and having an author with an audience is an easy way to sell books. Branding is an easy way to get books bought, but it can have negative effects on authors and publishers.

In the publishing industry, the marketing department has a limited budget which can only spread so far. An author with name recognition or who in future could become a brand name for the company would most likely receive more funding. These are the authors that will get to tour, have posters made, be sent for interviews and will have more exposure than others. The publisher wants to stay in the mind of the audience and further the author’s name in hopes that this will lead to more sales and generate fans. If a large chunk of the marketing budget is put towards these authors, then other books will suffer from a lack of funds. Even with big name publishers who have more money than most are still more likely to put money towards authors who have the potential to sell more books. There are also many authors (especially in literary fiction) who are not easily branded, depending on what they write or how much they are willing to be in the public eye. Because of this, there is a hierarchy set up within the industry between authors who are willing to be branded and those who will not. There are also books that have difficult subject matter and need more money to generate interest, which they are less likely to receive. It’s certainly cynical to believe that marketers will go for an easy sale, but considering how dependent publishing is on sales, it is not surprising that their money would be focused on authors who can generate the sales needed.

Also, smaller publishers have trouble competing with bigger publishers who are more likely to be able to support branded authors and can help brand authors because of their resources.  Not only is it harder for smaller publishers to hold onto authors who could become high-sales brands, it is also difficult for them to compete with the marketing budget these authors receive. This is one of the many aspects in the industry where smaller publishers just can’t compete on the same terms. Furthermore, generally smaller publishers are known for their high literary work, which is often viewed of in opposition to celebrity. In Star Authors, Moran details how authors are constantly struggling to come to terms with their celebrity and how mass market work is sometimes viewed as not as valuable as literary fiction. Fame often becomes the focus of many notable authors work as they struggle to hold onto what they want to create with many expectations being placed upon them.[xi] Although, many of these authors cannot remain in the small-literary-publishing sphere because they do not have the resources to print enough copies or market the authors widely. Branding authors has contributed to an unnecessary, forced dichotomy of mass market vs. literary fiction. This is only perpetuated by the status and amount of money in big name publishers vs. smaller cultural publishers.

Another downside to branding authors is the possibility that this could affect acquisition choices in big and small publishers. If the publishing industry becomes too reliant on big name authors and valuing pre-established marketing power then a lot of authors will not be chosen. It is apparent through the many people I have met through this program that often publishers look at the platform an author already has before signing them. This includes their followers on social media, what they have published, whether or not they have a website, and what their estimated audience will be. The author might only be valued because of their pre-existing platform rather than because of what they are contributing to literature. Some publishers might decide to start branding an author or choosing work simply because their style is unique, not necessarily because they should be published. If we are too reliant on this mode of marketing, and the potential for money-making over what actually works for the publisher and author, the publishers will make more money but also could ignore voices that should be published, because they are harder to market.

If publishers invest too heavily in the brand of the author, this can lead to their compromising their integrity in a big way because there is a greater potential to incorrectly market a book or value the author’s brand over the quality of the book. There are many authors in the world who are notable enough names that often their books covers are all designed similarly to give them an aesthetic appeal. In this case, publishers are not really selling the work itself, but the idea of the work. There is also a possibility that the quality of the book would diminish because as long as it is contributed to the brand, that is more important that what the product is. The intention or value of the book also might be lost because it was more important from a marketing perspective to promote the author as a whole brand rather than their work as individual pieces. This could also alienate new audiences who are misled by the cover design. Since author branding is a very innocent way to promote a book, and one many do not think about, I believe there is more of a risk to compromise in the name of the author. A publisher might believe they are doing something good to help one of their authors instead of seeing branding for the troublesome space it occupies in the industry. If a publisher is willing to compromise in this regard, and turn to only authors who can and should be branded, there are many authors who exist outside of this realm that would be lost.

Branding an author is problematic for many reasons, but what are the alternatives? One option would be to make the publisher the brand instead of the author. In this case, the publisher would have to focus their publications considerably to create the niche and following an author receives. There are also already brand-name publishers that exist, but because of the variety of what they publish they don’t exist in the same way a branded author does. A benefit of having a publisher as the brand would at least steer aware from this author-worship that often exists in the current model, but would also push a lot of reform from companies that are very hesitant to change.

Another option would be to steer clear of branding completely and instead market each book as an individual work. The difficulty of this is that many people invest heavily in the author still, and we would have to change people’s thinking from emphasizing who created it, to what was created. Branding is shorthand for marketers and it is necessary in the current climate with audiences who’s time is precious to them. It’s easy for marketers to say “this is the next Gillian Flynn” than it is to say how the book distinguishes itself in the current market. In both instances, the changes are quite significant but I think either model would be preferable to what we have currently.

There are many expectations placed on brand name authors by marketers to fulfill their role in publishing as a creator who falls into a certain style. Beyond just how this affects the author, branding in publishing can negatively affect the industry in many ways. As convenient as it is for the marketing department in a publisher to depend on an author’s name to carry their work, it has become standard in the industry to push for authors who will be willing to put themselves forward in hopes that they will eventually become a brand. Authors as brands are an easy way to make a sale, but limit the authors and often put publishers in a position to put money towards these works rather than new books.

 

ENDNOTES:

[i] Hephzibah Anderson, “How Authors become Mega-brands,” BBC Culture, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140219-become-an-author-mega-brand.

[ii] Joe Moran, Star Authors : Literary Celebrity in America. (London, GB: Pluto Press, 2000), 10. Accessed February 20, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] NY Book Editors, “Your Guide to Branding Yourself as an Author,” Ny Book Editors, http://nybookeditors.com/2016/09/guide-branding-author.

[v] Writer’s Relief Staff, “Why Every Writer Needs An Author Brand,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/writing-tips_n_5241199.html.

[vi] David Vinjamuri, “The Strongest Brand in Publishing Is…,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/#4a7d074f67b2.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Kimberley Grabas, “How To Build Your Author Brand From Scratch (And Why You Need To),” The Book Designer, https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/12/how-to-build-your-author-brand-from-scratch-and-why-you-need-to.

[ix] Writer’s Relief Staff, “Why Every Writer Needs An Author Brand,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/writing-tips_n_5241199.html.

[x] Brian Hill and Dee Power, Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them. Chicago, US: Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005. Accessed February 20, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

[xi] Joe Moran, Star Authors : Literary Celebrity in America. (London, GB: Pluto Press, 2000), 10. Accessed February 20, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Anderson, Hephzibah. “How Authors become Mega-brands.” BBC Culture, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140219-become-an-author-mega-brand.

Grabas, Kimberley. “How To Build Your Author Brand From Scratch (And Why You Need To).” The Book Designer, https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/12/how-to-build-your-author-brand-from-scratch-and-why-you-need-to.

Hill, Brian, and Power, Dee. 2005. Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them. Chicago, US: Dearborn Trade Publishing. Accessed February 20, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

Moran, Joe. 2000. Star Authors : Literary Celebrity in America. London, GB: Pluto Press. Accessed February 20, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

Vinjamuri, David. “The Strongest Brand in Publishing Is…” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/#4a7d074f67b2.

Writer’s Relief Staff. “Why Every Writer Needs An Author Brand.” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/writing-tips_n_5241199.html.

NY Book Editors. “Your Guide to Branding Yourself as an Author.” Ny Book Editors, http://nybookeditors.com/2016/09/guide-branding-author.

Nike’s swoosh line, Starbuck’s two-tailed mermaid, McDonald’s golden arches; branding and being recognizable to consumers is of utmost importance for a company. But according to Erin Cox, “the trend in trade publishing has been to focus on branding an author instead of an imprint[1].” This essay will argue that branding a publisher or imprint like any other company is more lucrative and better on a long-term basis. It will first consider the many ways in which Penguin Random House, the number one player in the publishing industry, uses its logo, distinctive colour palette, imprints, and its new bookstore to brand themselves and the effect they have on their readers. Finally, this essay will consider several advantages publishing houses, whether big or small, have in branding themselves, as well as look at productive ways to do so.

 

Brand Recognition

But first, it is important to have a clear understanding of what “branding” means. Borrowing Erin Cox’s definition, “branding is a method by which a publisher or a publishing imprint defines who they are and the types of books they publish in order to establish a relationship with the reader.” It is easier for a niche publisher to define who they are and appeal to a chosen audience as they focus on one specific compartment of the industry. Harlequin is a good example of genre specific branding. Romance readers know what to expect when they pick up a Harlequin book. Many go as far as to subscribe[2] to them, something that isn’t easy to accomplish in the industry. Much like someone chooses a Starbuck’s coffee over a Tim’s for its overpriced quality, a fan of the romance genre will choose a book published by Harlequin because they know they will not be disappointed with the brand’s consistent delivery and quality.

 

It is, however, more difficult for a trade publisher like Penguin Random House to establish that kind of relationship with their readers[3] because they publish in a variety of genres and every book targets a unique audience that isn’t necessarily related to the previous publication. Yet, the brand of the black and white penguin inside the orange circle is still recognized widely, even among readers. To understand this occurrence better, let us consider the merger of the two companies together. In 2013, Penguin Group (owned by Pearson) and Random House (owned by Bertelsmann) combined to form Penguin Random House, a global trade book publisher that produces over 15,000 books a year, employs over 10,000 people, and owns 250 recognized publishing divisions, imprints, and brands[4]. It was announced that Bertelsmann (Random House) now owns 53% of the company’s share while Pearson (Penguin) has the remaining 47%[5]. Yet, the new company’s name is Penguin Random House and the brand’s new logo is a penguin. Even its wordmark uses Penguin’s distinct orange shade.

 

My theory is that Penguin Random House decided to keep the penguin logo and iconic colour because of its established brand in the publishing industry. While most publishers kept—and still keep—the front cover of their books free of their personal branding, Penguin went the opposite direction. From the start, Penguin Group was careful to include its logo and colour (when possible) on many of their series’ front covers, or at the very least, prominently displayed on the spine of every book. This recurring imagery became, with time, meaningful to readers. Now, after several years of promotion, the Penguin brand is “synonymous with quality books, impressive design, experimentation, and a great sense of fun[6],” or a “combination of quality authors and quirky legacy[7].” Readers associate the penguin and the bright orange to their favourite books and have grown to trust the brand to deliver an enjoyable product of quality. Thus, when faced with the choice of buying George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from Penguin or from another publisher, a reader is likely to decide based on brand recognition, because that feeling of trust cannot be bought or forced on readers. And, as Edward Nawotka said, “[a]t the end of the day, branding is about making you feel something[8].”

 

Along the lines of brand recognition, Penguin Random House recently opened a bookstore in Toronto, under the company’s Canadian headquarters. The shop features a “curated selection of titles and trusted recommendations[9]” that changes every so often, as well as book-related merchandise like mugs, notebooks, and tote bags[10], and other “high-quality modern accessories[11].” In addition to their recommendations, the shop also offers special editions of their reader’s favourite books and a collection of Canadian authors’ bestsellers. As you can see in the photo below, everything—from bookshelves to products—was designed to match the brand, creating a friendly, sophisticated atmosphere. Finally, the store has only one permanent employee who is assisted by rotating volunteers from the office above[12], and it sometimes holds author signings and other such events. Readers might even cross paths with their beloved authors who may be on their way to the company’s office. According to Robert Wheaton, Penguin Random House Canada’s chief operating officer, the shop “is not a venture into direct bookselling, but an experiment in research and development: a way for employees, from sales and marketing to design and editorial, to interact directly with book consumers[13].” In conclusion, considering insights[14] that the company gains from interacting with readers, the store is a means to improve the production and delivery of future publications. But it also strengthens the brand in the customer’s eye with its unique design, its propagation of branded high-quality items that consumers will display proudly to their friends and on Instagram, and its commitment to allow readers a certain access to their favourite authors.

 

Communities and Relationships

But even after considering Penguin Random House as the world’s largest book publisher[15] and recognizing its distinguishable logo, the company still faces the same challenge as every other large trade publishing house: branding for a specific audience. They do, however, have a certain advantage given that some of Penguin’s and Random House’s imprints already had a distinctive brand before the merger. Based on Mike Shatzkin’s theory, those imprints are at the heart of the company’s success. Much like General Motors would not have been as profitable without their sub-divisions, marketing Chevrolet cars to a different audience than Cadillac[16], each of PRH’s imprints targets a unique market, facilitating the brand’s marketing efforts. Penguin Classics, for instance, with its recognizable, classy look and illustrations, holds its highbrow reputation[17] of classical texts. The penguin logo is on every single front cover, assuring that, even when the book is mentioned on a website or in a review, showing only the front cover, readers will be subjected to the brand. Rough Guides is another example of a branded imprint. The logo is big, graphic, and used on every publication and promotional item, feeding Rough Guide’s reputation of “providing indispensable travel information[18]” to every pair of eyes that comes in contact with the books. And these are only two instances among many others.

 

But although some of PRH’s imprints evoke a clear sentiment of trust in readers, the company still hasn’t achieved the “Harlequin status” of reputable, branded publishing house. An imprint like Plume, for example, which publishes mainly trade paperbacks written by authors whose “voices [were] previously neglected by mainstream publishing[19],” offers no element on the front cover of their books that indicates who publishes them. There is neither a logo nor a recurring feature that distinguishes their books from any other publisher’s. But there is hope for change. According to Tom Weldon, CEO at PRH, the new company brand system will be “evolutionary not revolutionary[20],” meaning that the company will evolve over time, recognizing the “diversity and individuality of the Random House imprints alongside Penguin’s more unified brand approach[21].” Whether PRH decides to distinctively brand each imprint as an individual, marketable identity or not isn’t clear, but there are many reasons why they should.

 

First, branding authors is a great way to create reader loyalty, until the author decides to move on to another publishing house, taking their readership with them. In addition, because the most productive authors produce one or two books a year[22], branding opportunities are limited[23]. Therefore, instead of relying on authors, publishers could rely on their own personality and talent to remind readers how much they liked their previous books and why they will enjoy the publisher’s next publication, no matter who writes it. This, according to Erin Cox, could be accomplished by addressing the reader directly. Publishers could put more energy and capital into advertising for the brand. They could also pair current titles with the backlist, package books differently to promote the publisher’s brand more prominently, train staff members to become spokespeople for the company (organize interviews, host book clubs, write blogs, etc.), and interact with readers—something that Penguin Random House is doing with their Penguin Shop—through the publisher’s website, giveaways, or any other medium that makes sense for the publishing house[24].

 

All this capital spent on marketing the publisher’s brand would not go to waste, even as authors come and go, because it is, as Mike Shatzkin explained in his article, investment marketing. Compared to spent marketing—which doesn’t last—investment marketing is all about building a community and developing relationships[25]. It is not only interacting with readers but giving them a common interest that will enable them to interact with the brand even when the publisher is not involved. Such communities already exist in the publishing world. They are informally called fandoms. Pottermore was a great example a few years ago when the website was interactive. Harry Potter fans would create their own accounts and interact with peers from across the planet while learning more about the world they all adored. A similar community could be possible, especially for niche publishers and imprints. And here, being niche doesn’t require publishing in only one genre, but instead defining the publisher’s editorial vision and focussing on books that uplift this vision. Doing so would not only reduce marketing costs[26] but also help readers know where to look for their next read, reducing their chance of being disappointed[27].

 

Increasingly Digital

All these advantages and tips are becoming more and more crucial as the publishing industry progresses into a digital world. For instance, as Michael Smith points out, branding book covers is even more important now with the growing popularity of e-books. Elements that individualized the print book, such as the type of paper, size, and wrap cover, don’t matter when a reader buys the Kindle version. “The brand experience is owned and loaned by the Kindle machine[28],” he says. Even as potential customers search the web to find their next read—on Amazon for instance—they rarely have access to full wrap covers, making it difficult for them to recognize who the publisher is. This, along with the increasing number of books published every year, is why carefully branding publishers and imprints must become a priority.
_________________________________________________________

 

[1] Cox, Erin L. “[INSERT PUBLISHER HERE]: Why Branding to Readers Should Matter to Publishers.” Publishing Perspectives. March 031, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/insert-publisher-here-why-branding-to-readers-should-matter-to-publishers/.

[2] Shatzkin, Mike. “Publishers, brands, and the change to b2c.” The Idea Logical Company. September 06, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2017. http://www.idealog.com/blog/publishers-brands-and-the-change-to-b2c/.

[3] Cox, Erin L. “[INSERT PUBLISHER HERE]: Why Branding to Readers Should Matter to Publishers.” Publishing Perspectives. March 031, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/insert-publisher-here-why-branding-to-readers-should-matter-to-publishers/.

[4] “About Penguin Random House Canada.” Penguin Random House Canada. April 24, 2015. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/content/about-penguin-random-house-canada.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cooney, Jessica. “Penguin Random House Canada to Open Retail Location in Toronto.” Penguin Random House Canada. August 24, 2016. Accessed February 18, 2017. http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/news/penguin-random-house-canada-open-retail-location-toronto.

[7] Smith, Michael. “The importance of publisher brand on book covers.” A Brand Day Out. October 22, 2010. Accessed February 15, 2017. https://abranddayout.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/the-importance-of-publisher-brand-on-book-covers/.

[8] Nawotka, Edward . “What Makes for Effective Publisher Branding?” Publishing Perspectives. March 31, 2010. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/what-makes-for-effective-publisher-branding/.

[9] Cooney, Jessica. “Penguin Random House Canada to Open Retail Location in Toronto.” Penguin Random House Canada. August 24, 2016. Accessed February 18, 2017. http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/news/penguin-random-house-canada-open-retail-location-toronto.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Penguin Shop – About.” Penguin Shop. 2017. Accessed February 17, 2017. http://penguinshop.ca/pages/about-us.

[12] Tobias, Conan. “Penguin-branded bookstore opens in Toronto.” Quill and Quire. August 24, 2016. Accessed February 17, 2017. http://www.quillandquire.com/omni/penguin-branded-bookstore-opens-toronto/.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Nawotka, Edward. “PRH Canada Opens Toronto Bookstore.” PublishersWeekly.com. August 25, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2017. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/71274-penguin-random-house-canada-opens-toronto-bookstore.html.

[15] Greenfield, Jeremy. “Penguin and Random House Combine to Form World’s Largest Book Publisher.” Digital Book World. October 29, 2012. Accessed February 18, 2017. http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/penguin-and-random-house-combine-to-form-worlds-largest-book-publisher/.

[16] Shatzkin, Mike. “Publishers, brands, and the change to b2c.” The Idea Logical Company. September 06, 2010. Accessed February 18, 2017. http://www.idealog.com/blog/publishers-brands-and-the-change-to-b2c/.

[17] Jojal. “Penguin’s highbrow reputation.” Paperbackrevolution. January 03, 2017. Accessed February 11, 2017. https://paperbackrevolution.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/penguins-highbrow-reputation/.

[18] “The Rough Guide to Provence & the Cote d’Azur.” Bookstobrowse. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://www.bookstobrowse.co.uk/books.php?content=Rough%2BGuide%2BProvence.

[19] “Plume Overview.” Penguin Books USA. Accessed February 17, 2017. http://www.penguin.com/meet/publishers/plume/?ref=2B4575AB81AF.

[20] Shaffi, Sarah. “PRH unveils new branding | The Bookseller.” PRH unveils new branding | The Bookseller. June 14, 2014. Accessed February 18, 2017. http://www.thebookseller.com/news/prh-unveils-new-branding.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Cox, Erin L. “[INSERT PUBLISHER HERE]: Why Branding to Readers Should Matter to Publishers.” Publishing Perspectives. March 031, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/insert-publisher-here-why-branding-to-readers-should-matter-to-publishers/.

[23] Nawotka, Edward . “What Makes for Effective Publisher Branding?” Publishing Perspectives. March 31, 2010. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/what-makes-for-effective-publisher-branding/.

[24] Cox, Erin L. “[INSERT PUBLISHER HERE]: Why Branding to Readers Should Matter to Publishers.” Publishing Perspectives. March 031, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/insert-publisher-here-why-branding-to-readers-should-matter-to-publishers/.

[25] Shatzkin, Mike. “Stay Ahead of the Shift: What Publishers Can Do to Flourish in a Community-Centric Web World.” The Idea Logical Company. May 29, 2009. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://www.idealog.com/blog/stay-ahead-of-the-shift-what-publishers-can-do-to-flourish-in-a-community-centric-web-world/.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Cox, Erin L. “[INSERT PUBLISHER HERE]: Why Branding to Readers Should Matter to Publishers.” Publishing Perspectives. March 031, 2010. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://publishingperspectives.com/2010/03/insert-publisher-here-why-branding-to-readers-should-matter-to-publishers/.

[28] Smith, Michael. “The importance of publisher brand on book covers.” A Brand Day Out. October 22, 2010. Accessed February 15, 2017. https://abranddayout.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/the-importance-of-publisher-brand-on-book-covers/.

Cooking with video

Now that personalized entertainment is more readily accessible than ever, people are experiencing bursts of entertainment anywhere an internet connection is available. As video consumption has shifted from prime-time to all-the-time–and to address this shift in behavior, there is a need for new marketing models when it comes to video strategy. No longer do people have to share the television, when they can access the web.  Are publishers waiting for them when they log-in?

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capitalist firm that has helped build and accelerate growth at pioneering companies like Amazon, Google, Lending Club, Nest, Twitter, projects that by 2017, 74% of all internet traffic will be video (Meeker, 2015), and with mobile watch time on YouTube already surpassing desktop in 2015, the time for brands to make sense of their online video content marketing strategy is now — like yesterday.

Three hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so when a consumer turns to their mobile device, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, they can choose from a nearly limitless library of on-demand content. This makes what they choose to watch more personal than ever.

What is a video micro-moment?

When consumers looks for answers, discover new things, or make decisions, (this sounds like a good opportunity for any number of books/magazines), these instances are called “micro-moments,” a term coined by Google. They can happen in search, on a brand’s website, in an app, and, increasingly, they are happening on YouTube.

These moments of intent are redefining consumer behaviour. In order for a company to win at video micro-moments, they have to know how to identify them and how to respond.  

Video micro-moments generally fall into four broad categories:

video-micro-moments-what-do-they-mean-for-your-strategy-chart

In a micro-moments world, intent trumps identity.

Lucas Watson, VP of Global Brand Solutions and Innovations at YouTube, suggests that brands can remain relevant and useful by understanding the intention of their prospective consumers. Though it remains significant to know “who” the consumer is (age, gender, interests, etc.), for the video micro-moment play to work, one must understand “why” and “what/how”. Why is this person searching and what do they hope to do/how do they intend to use the information, once they have it. Is there other related information that could be presented? In a micro-moment world, intent trumps identity.

Publishers have an opportunity, books and magazines, as media for the transfer of information, have built up consumer trust. People are willing to turn to books and magazines to 1. be entertained, 2. be informed, 3. learn “how-to,” 3. purchase (primarily magazines).

Creating video content can be expensive, and there may not be enough time, money, or other resources. The recommendation is to create content gradually and build an engaging library over time. With a traditional production mind-set, this may sound daunting, but to produce at scale requires rethinking that production process, and getting a little help while you’re at it.

create-collaborate-curate

 

 

 

 

That’s where “CCC” comes into play—Create, Collaborate, Curate. The idea is to use this framework to “feed the content monster,” so that content creation—video production, specifically—no longer feels like a barrier to entry into the video marketplace.

Some publishers have already begun using this model, most notably, Harper Collins. They started an online video content division in 2010, focused on Young Adult books, called Epic Reads.

They have gained over 10.5 million views to date and use the CCC model to some degree. They are currently continuing their efforts to aggressively  target collaboration opportunities, and to branch out beyond the obvious “new book release” tagline.

Start up costs may seem prohibitive, but at this juncture the book crowd must flex the brain muscle to figure out how to get his done or face loosing more ground to other media formats. There exists opportunities to create high quality videos on a small budget, e.g. working with up coming videography groups or  film students, even if infrequently, and using  other collaboration opportunities to generate the additional content, perhaps with YouTubers looking for content, as the CCC model suggests.

Here’s some on the CCC model:

Create

The first type of content in the CCC framework is created by the brand. It feels like the brand, captures the brand’s tone, and offers a more traditional creative polish. It tells a story about the brand that’s entertaining, educational, or inspiring. “Create” content might simply be entertaining video that gets people’s attention, or it might deliver on the specific micro-moments we talked about earlier, such as how-to content in an I-want-to-do moment.

Collaborate

This content is the product of the brand’s collaboration with digital influencers. It’s often content that features a YouTube creator and is produced and promoted in partnership with the creator’s channel. Ultimately, the goal of “Collaborate” content is to help brands broaden their relevance and connect with a uniquely engaged fan base while leveraging the expertise of experienced creators.

Curate

Make a story, arrange the videos into distinct groups to be enjoyed by the consumer in a block, at their leisure. An example is a series of videos with interviews or DIY tutorials.

Book publishers are in the game, many medium to large outfits have some online presence, but are they branching out to meet their consumers, or are they predominantly waiting on consumers to be interested in a particular title and then go searching. How can they bring people to the books without screaming “hey, new book!” Here are some recommendations on that front (some already being used by the other side of the business, the magazine gang).

1. Identify the micro-moments where your audience’s goals and your brand’s goals intersect

 

what-brands-stand-for-what-audiences-care-about-venn-diagram-3

People go to YouTube millions of times each day, looking for videos that meet their needs, wants, and interests. Once a publisher has mapped out their consumer’s micro-moments, they can then move to understand their own place on the map: Where does the brand have the right to play?

Beauty brand Sephora, for example, knew that beauty content on YouTube grew by 50% from 2014 to 2015 and that YouTube searches related to “how-to” were up 70% year over year. For Sephora, how-to videos and tutorials were the magical intersection of the brand’s beauty-centric message and its audience’s beauty needs. That how-to and tutorial content now makes up more than 60% of Sephora’s library of video content. (ThinkWithGoogle, 2015)

Closer to home, in magazine world, TeenVogue started a YouTube channel back in 2006, to meet their customers where they live. They were ready and waiting. Their articles, and advertisers offer information and products on health, celebrity gossip, social issues, and much more.

teen vogue

2. Be there when your audience is looking with useful content that answers their needs

With an understanding of the pathways your consumer might take, plan a strategy to intercept them at the most opportune times. The first step is creating relevant, useful YouTube content that adds value in those key micro-moments. The second is making sure your brand shows up when they need you, with organic and paid search, for example, or with shopping ads on YouTube.

3. Help your audience find you, even when they’re not looking, with relevant video ads
Even when people aren’t actively looking for answers, brands can “delight” them by showing up with messaging that’s relevant to their interests. That means going beyond demographic targeting and connecting with viewers based on signals of intent or context.

Here are some scenarios:

  • Create — A person is online searching for fantasy related information e.g. are ghosts real, what are some super human abilities? Perhaps run the video below as an ad, before they watch the content they searched for:

  • Collaborate — A Beauty YouTuber wants to create another beauty vlog, but wants to set it a part in some way from all the others she has done, and all the others that the other Beauty Vloggers have done. A publishing house wants to promote a new book it thinks is hot and the lead character at some point in the story gets all “glammed” up. Here’s an opportunity to cross-pollinate — this YouTuber has 16, 000+ subscribers.

  • Curate — Put all those lovable videos you’ve created or collaborated on into a playlist, you’d be surprised that people will sit and let one video run into the next, after they’ve clicked through from their search for superhuman strengths or their quest to find out the truth about ghosts.

Finally, context is key, beyond sharing video ads before or during video content, you can share your ads when people are in the mood for that messaging. For example, when consumers are already watching a commentary video on feminism, then perhaps an in-video ad on a book about successful women in the workplace or how to be successful as a woman in the workplace would be a good fit.

It is important to be where the customers are, not just in terms of where they are when making purchases i.e. on e-commerce sites, but also where they lounge around, and hang out with friends (real or of the online variety). There are even opportunities to meet consumers in real time via some sites, but that can be discussed at another time. Companies that prove themselves useful and relevant in the most micro-moments—will establish the greatest brand equity in an era of infinite consumer choice. If your brand isn’t there in your audience’s moments of need, another brand will be.

Sources

  • Google Consumer Survey. U.S. online population ages 18-34; n=385. April 2015
  • Google Data, Q1 2014–Q1 2015, U.S.
  • Google Consumer Surveys. U.S. 10 platforms surveyed: YouTube, Hulu, ESPN.com, Facebook, ComedyCentral.com, Tumblr, Instagram, Vimeo, AOL, MTV.com.  March 2014
  • Larson, Kim. Building a YouTube Content Strategy: Lessons From Google BrandLab. www.thinkwithgoogle.com. Google. July 2015
  • Meeker, Mary. “2015 Internet Trends Report.” Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. May 2015
  • Watson, Lucas. “Video micro-moments: What do they mean for your video strategy?.” www.thinkwithgoogle.com. Google. October 2015
  • The Consumer Barometer Survey, Question asked: “Why did you watch online video(s)” n=2,119, Base: internet users (accessing via computer, tablet or smartphone) who have watched online video in the past week, answering based on a recent online video session, 2014/2015.