Some Cheese with that Whine … Books, their readers and the big E

This is the second part of my multi-part series, “Some Cheese with that Whine …”, a follow up to the first part, on books (here). Publishing companies have a lot to ‘whine’ about these days. There are a lot of problems they are facing and they don’t seem to be able to figure out how to climb out of the holes they’ve dug for themselves.

The Whine….

Today’s book publishing world is worried about the changes in format (print to electronic), and is very focused on trying to wedge their way into the consumer conscious. With all the other types of ‘entertainment’ media out there, books take up a smaller portion of the industry then they once did. Publishers are trying (some in very interesting ways) to make their books stand out, and the convince customers to buy their products. So here’s some discussion on E Books, and the people who (still) read.

E Books
Most people in publishing know the history of the book. How the Egyptians used papyrus, the Chinese used silk, the Mesopotamians used clay tablets and the Romans used wax. They know how books evolved from being hand copied, to wood block printing, to movable type. Then, around the time of the Great Depression they created the paperback. And, they know that now, a new technology is upon us – the E book.

Kassia Krosier on Booksquare

it’s clear that, in addition to the generation that is growing up digital, we have readers young and old (ebooks are an amazing choice for older readers due to their inherent accessibility traits) who are actively using digital media to read, listen, view, communicate. Some book people really get this; they understand that it’s not about business as usual, it’s about accommodating readers. Some book people — too many, I think — remain focused on the book as a symbol.

The biggest question in publishing today is if E books will replace traditional books like DVDs replaced VHS and like CDs replaced audio tapes which replaced records…and, according to a wide variety of experts on the subject, the resounding answer is NO. They will not replace the traditional printed book. The main reason for this is that the book is a perfected technology. It is portable, cheap, and reasonably indestructable. E Books require a large initial purchase, and take a long time before that pays off. If you still believe that E Books are going to replace print, check out this Flip Test. We discussed this at the CIP Independent Press Book Fair this past weekend, and the consensus was that E Books are more like paperbacks – another version to be released with different options.

We discussed literally, just doing them as another format with a different release time. This has some potential, but publishers will need to keep in mind that the advantage to E Books is that they are “Right Now” buys. If someone with a reader is bored, they will look for something to buy right now – it’s an impulse buy format, but without the chance for publishers to create big flashy covers. So E Books need to stand out in a listing of other E Books.And then the question comes up of WHEN to release E Books. If you release them after the paperback version, chances are you won’t sell many E Books (except for people not specifically looking for THAT book, and impulse buyers). Personally, I think it makes the most sense to release them between your hardcover and paperback editions. That way, they are a cheaper version then the hardcover, but they shouldn’t negatively impact paperback sales by much, since the consumers who primarily buy paperback and probably those looking to keep a low price point, and they probably will not have invested in a E Reader yet. This may not be the case long-term, but I think it probably is for the time being.

One of the biggest things in Book publishing right now (other then the layoffs) is the recent Google Settlement. The exciting thing about this is that it gives new life to a publisher’s back list. For this reason, I think it makes a lot of sense to publish a back list in E Book format. The older the book, the cheaper you may want to offer it in the new format. As I said above, people with E Readers are likely to just “see what’s available” – one of the people on the panel discussing the future of independent publishing this weekend said that for that reason (and because there are still a limited number of books available in this format) he recently read Tarzan, and that he tends to find himself reading a lot of books he might not otherwise read. For the moment at least, this is a non-saturated market, that publishers should be taking advantage of.

Reaching the Reader
Publishing companies tend to forget that, like any other product manufacturer, they need to consider what their customers want, and they need to think about how, where, and why customers use their products. I talked a little bit about this in the first part of “Some Cheese.” The truth is all publishers (and all advertisers, really) seem to want their slice of the internet pie. They place random ads all over the place without thinking about who their users/readers/viewers are, how they interact with ads and the product, and without really targeting their ads. I don’t mean sites that use cookies to target ads based on a user’s likes and dislikes. That’s great – you get people who might be interested in your product with spam. (Note: sarcasm) Instead, check out the product placements on some blogs like Modern Cat. Here we see a blogger who has a following of people who buy the products she shows them because she has built a ‘brand’ – she showcases ‘modern’ products. As Malcolm Gladwell discusses in the Tipping Point; consumers have become immune to them. To stand out in the massive amounts of noise you need to be set apart somehow – for example by a respected peer. On Talking Digital recently they posted a article about establishing context. As he says,

In the past it was very difficult to quantify exactly who your audience was. […] Now, that is reversed. Targeting is easy … so easy that target filter premiums are a little excessive given the abundance of supply that exists within the market. It’s context that is difficult … or moreso, finding those environments that inspire users and finding a way for the advertising to compliment the content.

There is no reason I can see for publishers to be on facebook. In order for that to be a feasible marketing plan, they would literally have to hire someone whose full-time job would be working to establish a helpful facebook presence. I see no way that this could benefit the publisher, unless they want to host events for readers (book readings, boo release parties, etc) and set their account up so they can invite all their ‘friends.’ Facebook is probably a wasted effort. It would be much more useful for a publisher to find a blogger who blogs about the kind of books they publish and submit books for review. However, as Bernadette Swizzlesitck, Book Square’s intern complains in post, publishers should not just mail out their books willy-nilly. Ask authors what blogs they read regularly. Ask readers of the book, fans of the author, what blogs they read – and offer them a free book for their feedback (maybe from another author in the same genre you happen to be trying to promote – who knows, maybe they’ll tell a friend!).

Kassia Krozer says it well in her recent Book Square post,

Books are social. Reading, usually, is a solitary endeavor (though I still think back to dinners where my mom read stories about King Arthur to us while we ate). Books, however, invite conversation. The continued popularity of book clubs is not just about the wine; it’s the fact that people love to get together and talk about books (also, gossip about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness).

She even gives some examples of publishers who get this… and there are some.

publishers like Little, Brown and Co are doing on Twitter: talking about books and engaging readers (they get bonus points for the frequent offers of review copies to people). I think it’s amazing that publishers like Unbridled Books make it a point to reach out and talk to people like me on a regular basis — even the business contacts have a personal flavor. Pan Macmillan has a team of really smart bloggers talking about the future, as does HarperStudio, via their blog “The 26th Story”. Harlequin Twitters, blogs, and maintains a robust, interactive website, not to mention constant blogger outreach.

This idea of thinking about how readers find out about books is only the beginning. Recently, in one of my classes for my MS in Publishing we had a book cover designer (he did the Emily Giffin books) in to speak to the class and he mentioned that when designing covers he thinks about where the reader is going to be carrying his books. Think about it: in NYC books are subway accessories. I don’t know about other people but I love sitting on the subway looking at what other riders are reading. For this reason, when he was working on the Emily Giffin books, even though they are essentially romance books, he didn’t do a classic romance cover – instead the books feature a classy color with a single, simple image. As Kassia mentions, books are a conversation starter – on the train, if there is someone reading a book I have read, I’m always tempted to ask how they’re liking it. I recently spent 2 hours at a cocktail party talking about a bunch of books a friend and I had read in common. We recommended several books to each other. Publishers should do whatever they can to facilitate this. Books need to be thought about from the ground up again. E Books, the Kindle and the Sony Reader have brought this issue to the forefront. As I mentioned before, the printed book is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean that publishers can’t think about how they can sell more books then the competition.

The Book Club
Once upon a time publishers had book clubs. Today, Oprah has a book club. The sheer success of Oprah’s book club shows that demand exists; people are reading. The problem is that there is a lack of good marketing in the book world today. If it’s not on Oprah, it doesn’t stand out in readers’ minds. They turn to her because they don’t have anyone else they trust to recommend books to them. Could you imagine if instead of Oprah they turned to YOU for a list of promising reads? Imagine how good this would be for  your sales figures. This is why in my last post I went on and on about branding yourself. While Oprah is probably the best known example, if you find book blogs that consistently review your genre of books, this is a great opportunity for some Word of Mouth (WOM) advertising. Best of all, it’s cheap. And it works better than almost anything else out there.

Since we’re still a ways from publishers having a brand that readers turn to, I’d recommend starting this way. There are several steps you can take to find the best outlets of this type. First, talk to the author. Blogs they read regularly, and blogs for any networks or organizations they are involved with are a great place to start. It’s like I’m always writing for work – we tell pet store owners to learn as much about their products as possible so they come across as an expert. Your author is an expert – or else they shouldn’t be writing a book. If it’s a book on fly fishing, and they read a blog on fly fishing, maybe they can do a guest post. If your author has a fan club, that would be my next step. Contact those readers. In return for their feedback (what blogs they read regularly, etc.) offer one lucky fan a chance to interview your author – on their blog of course!

At the book fair I worked this weekend, there were several readers/speakers who mentioned they have books coming out in the next year. One woman in particular stands out. She said her book is coming out May of next year. She told a story that is mentioned in the book. But she didn’t have any printed material with the name of her book or when it is coming out with her. Buy your author business cards and on the back put the title of their upcoming book, the publisher, the date it’s expect to come out, and either your website or the authors. This will allow authors who even manage to mention their books in casual conversation to provide others with information about their book that they can then take home with them.

Set up a email list that notifies readers when a book is finally released. I HATE when I’m reading a series and the next book isn’t out yet and I’m supposed to remember until that book comes out, to look for it. If I happen to be in the book store and see it when it comes out, of course I’ll buy it. But more often than not, I forget all about it and am well onto another series by the time the book is released. If I received an email when the book came out, I would then go ahead and buy it – I know how many more books I would buy if this was the case, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m a major book lover, so I’ve actually created a account and set up email reminders for when the books expected release date is. But most readers don’t want to do the work of looking it all up. This is a simple enough thing for publishers to do – maybe even offer those readers who sign up for your email a discount in return for thier loyal service… the coupons are the only reason I signed up for borders emails. And, although it’s slightly off topic, I’ve never seen a better run email newsletter then the borders one. One of my co-workers goes to borders once a week with his weekly coupon – and always buys several things each trip (spending quite a bit more then he saves more often then not). Sometimes, if the coupon is for something specific (boxed sets, say) he’ll go in and not find anything he wants that he can use the coupon on, but will still buy something. That’s great marketing!

There are one or two more things I do want to talk about with books, so this will be continued….

Part I
Part III

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One Comment on “Some Cheese with that Whine … Books, their readers and the big E”

  1. […] Part II Part III (yet to be written) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)PUBLISHERS/AGENTS 10/27/2008Ten Blogs Authors Should Know: Publishing News & Professional Book Marketin…Jerry D. Simmons-topics from his latest e-letter FOR WRITERS FROM THE PUBLI…NaturalNews Launches Print-On-Demand, Publishing Services for Book Authors,… Explore posts in the same categories: publishing […]

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