Book publishing’s novel ideas

Not every book has the opportunity to be selected for the instant publicity machine that is Oprah’s Book Club, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road...

Not every book has the opportunity to be selected for the instant publicity machine that is Oprah’s Book Club, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was Wednesday.

And most books don’t experience the kind of hype around just the release of their covers that the final installment in the Harry Potter series did, either.

Without those kinds of marketing vehicles or popularity, book publishers, bookstores, and even authors themselves are innovating in how they promote books, capitalizing, of course, on new media.

Ruder Finn’s Planned Television Arts (PTA) division uses a service it calls Best-Seller Blast, an e-mail blast that uses limited-time promotions to drive short-term online sales.

From The Wall Street Journal:
Ruder Finn says it can propel unknown titles to the top of rankings on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble... Popular authors such as Mark Victor Hansen of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series recommend your book in messages to fans, and offer a deal: Buy the book today and you'll get downloadable "bonuses" supposedly valued at thousands of dollars – such as recordings of motivational speeches and contact information for important people. Orchestrating even 1,000 book purchases in a single day can drive a title from obscurity to the top of the charts.

Of course, the tactic is one largely based on instant gratification because, as the WSJ reported, online rankings are “of dubious value.” In all actuality, it serves more as a way to give authors the bragging right to say: “I was a best-seller – for a day. Online.”

As PTA’s Web site notes, “A word of caution... Some of these specific tactics won't work forever.”

After little success generating coverage of The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen because of the novel’s “salacious” content, publisher Harper Perennial spent $10,000 to create three “risqué” videos promoting the book, according to the WSJ.
Initially placed on YouTube before spreading elsewhere on the Internet including MySpace, the videos have become a Web sensation, with more than 1 million verified views in the past two weeks. Since its March 13 publication date, the book has gone back to press three times, raising the total in print to 30,000 from 20,000.

Key to the viral success, was the book’s target audience, men younger than 40, who tend to pass videos around online.

Harper Perennial apparently spent $2,500 in Web advertising to drive traffic to the book’s site, but it estimates that “only 1% of those who have seen the videos came from links for which the publisher paid.”

Perhaps it should have shifted some of those dollars over to PR.

Bookstores also are realizing the value of video, although in a different way. Portland, OR-based Powell’s Books has created a series of short films to be shown at bookstores “movie-premiere style,” an alternative to in-store author appearances.

Dave Weich, the marketing manager at Powell’s Books, told The New York Times:
Some authors go to events and are really captivating personalities. That does not describe most of them.

The films will feature author interviews, along with commentary from peers, fans, and critics.

Added Weich: “It’s meant to be entertaining. The last thing we’re shooting for is two talking heads sitting there talking about literature.”

In an industry that thrives on word of mouth, adopting tactics involving viral video and finding new ways to innovate and capitalize on new media look to be essential going forward.

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