Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bob Stein at TOC on building communities

This short snippet of Bob Stein's TOC presentation comes from Ed Nawotka's article in PW today:

In this brave new world, the key role of publishers “is to build and nurture vibrant communities for authors and tend to their readers.” They will be judged on their ability to “curate and build communities for their authors around their readers.”

The idea of building communities and becoming more attentive to reading audiences has been a major one at this year's TOC Conference. Interacting with the target audience is presenting a major challenge for many publishers today who have traditionally taken a very distanced approach when it comes to readers.

How many times have we all heard or participated in a discussion about the "good old days" of publishing when it was a glamorous and artistic endeavor, when publishers were the "gate-keepers" of literary and academic taste? In the past, book publishers were situated on the forefront of cultural movements. Significant and society-altering ideas were published in print before they appeared anywhere else. I am not arguing that books can no longer play that role, but today, technology has pushed book publishing back to the lagging edge of cultural trends. Often times, authors have blogged about their revolutionary ideas long before these ideas make it into a printed book.

Publishers have to engage their readers, build communities of readers, and let these communities take some of the burden of marketing every title off the publishers' shoulders. User-generated content and viral marketing are very powerful, but they depend on a strong network of dedicated fans. Let's spend some real energy opening up to readers so they can become champions for the book publishing cause (obviously, the question is how to do this, and if I had that answer, I would be rich).

UPDATE: Chad Post echoes my sentiments in his analysis of BEA's new structure.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Free downloads and DRM

The other day I downloaded Free-Range Chickens by Simon Rich and The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss to my Kindle. For free. FOR FREE. I probably never would have read either of these books if I'd had to buy them. Sorry, Random House, but it's true. The good news is that they can only make money off of me, not lose any. What if these two authors turn out to be my new favorite authors and I rush out to buy more books by them (or more likely download them to my Kindle from the comfort of my shoe-box apartment)? Random House has just increased the chances of that happening.

Through February 28th, Random House has made a selection of their backlist books available for free on the Kindle and through Stanza, an e-book iPhone app. These books are also available for download from Lexcycle. According to a Lexcycle press release from December 8th, this promotion is to build a readership for these authors and encourage sales of more books by these authors. Excellent idea.

Fewer Book Trailers, More Market Research

This item in GalleyCat reminded me that book trailers even exist and that they don't work. Have a little faith that readers are intelligent enough to tell the difference between stock video footage and a description of a book. I know that GalleyCat's article is about how book trailers DO work, but I will argue that the two videos mentioned are not actually book trailers.

The lion video is amazing and (I will admit this only to my blog readers) brings a small tear to my eye. The book, A Lion Called Christian, came out in 1972. The YouTube video was posted in 2006. This is a perfect example of viral marketing at its uncontrollable finest. Marketers are hard-pressed to artificially generate interest for their products like this. Why? Because consumers are at a point where they want to control and interact with content instead of ingesting what is put in front of them. They take pride in discovering obscure videos on YouTube, then discovering long lost books that correspond to these videos (or pick your own example). Creating something obscure then making people discover it is a tough thing to do.

As for the other video mentioned, I will admit that this is the kind of cool, supplemental media that should surround a book (kind of like giving away free sample chapters or even free books), but I would not categorize it as a book trailer. The video gives people a better sense for the author and wins readers based on the content. There is nothing flashy about an author reading an essay out loud, but if the quality of the content strikes a chord with readers, that works.

On another topic, GalleyCat's opening line to this article reminds me of another pet peeve of mine about the publishing industry:
"...nobody really knows if 'book trailers' actually motivate readers to go out and buy books..."
Nobody knows? Why is that? No, don't answer that question because it was rhetorical. Instead I am going to tell you why. Many publishers apparently put more faith in their innate ability to artistically glean which books will be successful than they do in market research. Of course market research is less glamorous and scholarly than artistic gleaning, but it has the distinct advantage of giving businesses an idea of what their customers think and how they will spend money. If you are a publisher who is willing to spend money on book trailers, you should also be willing to spend money on market research.