Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Smart People on Two Tough Subjects

The first smart person is Kassia Krozser at Booksquare, and she wrote about social networking. What I like about this post is that Krozser asks companies to be responsible and involved in their social networking strategies. Rather than setting content adrift online or building a rudimentary Facebook page, Krozser insists that social networking is, at its heart, more about old-fashioned relationship building. It is a process that requires a personal investment of time and energy.

Social networking is not a magic new concept. If anything, it’s a return to
basics: talking to your customers, reminding them that they are important to
you. The only difference between then and now is that your customers are
everywhere and technology gives you the power to find them, listen to them, talk
to them, and build relationships that extend long beyond the boundaries of a
traditional marketing campaign.Social networking, by its very definition, is a
sustained, ongoing process. If you’re a publisher, this is requires changing
your thinking. You’ve traditionally maintained some distance from your ultimate
customers: readers. People buy books from retailers. Retailers buy books from
distributors. You might take out some ads and put dollars into promo, but you
haven’t spent a lot of time talking to readers. Focus groups don’t count.

It’s time to get your hands dirty, to dig into the real-world
conversation. It’s a weird thing, and sometimes awkward and uncomfortable,
especially if you’re accustomed to public relations-speak and the cheerleader
behavior that accompanies marketing messages. When you talk directly to real
people who read and buy books, they tune you out when you try to stay on
message. If they wanted to rehash cover copy, they’d read the back of the
book.


In a recent conversation I had with some social networking and media gurus, this very topic of proactive communication and interactivity came up. How do you get readers to visit your website and read your content? These days, you don't. You push your content and your expertise to the places your target audience spends time. You become the authority outside of your own space, which will eventually create an audience. Am I going to seek out books on a publisher's website? Not unless I have some personal relationship with that publisher or someone who works there (hint to publishers: most people outside the industry do not have that personal connection). And that brings us back to establishing relationships with readers through social networking.

The second smart person is Chad Post of Three Percent, and he wrote about the business of publishing in these economically challenged times (and will continue to write about this in follow-up posts). As this first installment seems to indicate, we are in trouble and it might be because our industry is a bit too top-heavy.

Rarely—if ever—did people start up publishing houses with the idea that
this would make them millions. Same goes for bookstores and bookstore owners. In
the best of times, these businesses aim for 3% profit margins. As conglomerates
took over the industry though, and houses started merging, the expectations
jumped to the 10% range, fundamentally changing the rules of the game and, in my
opinion, pushing the industry into its current tenuous position where a lot of
people are filled with anxiety and dread.

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