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Does Bonus Content Help Sell Books?

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By Hannah Johnson

Many of the speakers and panelists at yesterday’s Mediabistro eBook Summit talked about ways to promote books to online audiences, as discussed in our feature story today. One of the most popular of these techniques was the creation and distribution of “behind the scenes” and bonus content, like book trailers, author interviews, extra stories, and blog posts.

But as Douglas Rushkoff pointed out in his presentation, publishers and authors distract themselves from the core product, the book itself, when they focus too much on creating free, ancillary content. He argued that publishers should focus more on finding and publishing great writing.

But in fact, some publishers won’t consider taking on an author who doesn’t already have some kind of online following, and the way an author creates that following is by putting free content online. While there have been plenty of blog-to-book success stories, is it possible that the online following for an author would really prefer just to read the free stuff?

Is it worth spending thousands of dollars a year on book trailers, especially when measuring the ROI on such content is an inexact science? Or does this content help publishers find and build online audiences who will eventually convert into paying customers?

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  1. Posted December 16, 2010 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    “in fact, some publishers won’t consider taking on an author who doesn’t already have some kind of online following, and the way an author creates that following is by putting free content online.”

    The problem is I don’t think some publishers would really be interested in any kind of online following. How many is “a following”? Neil Gaiman “puts free content online”, but his following was not created online. By the time he started blogging we were already buying his books.

    My perception is that most of the times publishers will take an author who is already selling books, not working like mad putting free content online. It’s a vicious circle that drives many of us crazy (and poor).

    Rushkoff is right, though. All the ancillary or bonus material in the world won’t make bad texts good. Maybe the focus would be not only in finding good writers (often in the least expected places), be adventurous and critical, and not going for the safe bet. And then focusing on publishing beautiful, important books people want to buy, not read online for free.

  2. Posted December 16, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it helps. Not for direct sales. It makes your product more interesting, but only if the extra content makes sense, and only when it is relevant to the content. So, just a book trailer, some extra photos or extra text won’t help you. But what if, during the making/writing of the book, you created source material (like video interviews, text interviews, photo research, etc.)? That might be interesting for the fans. But they would have bought your book anyway. How I see it, is that you have to think the other way around. What if you create other versions of your book (with or without extra material), that fans (ambassadors) of your book can use to spread the word? It’s something I have done a couple of times now, and it really pays out.

    The other thing mentioned, is that the author has to have a group of followers. I believe in that too (I do non-fiction publishing). When an author already has a group of followers, it means people find him interesting, listen to him and are potential buyers of his title. I do see this as an advantage over authors who don’t have a group like that. But it’s not black or white. It depends on the topic, the name (and fame) of the author and other variables. But only depending on your own marketing power is not the smartest way of publishing anymore.

  3. Posted December 16, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    There is no one-size-fits all solution. For some people, a following will help them sell a book. Extra added content in the right areas will drive sales for their books. For others, it won’t work. I think authors and publishers need to experiment and see what works for them. Saying “giving content away for free works” isn’t true. You need to add “.. for some.”


  4. Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I think a lot of magical thinking goes into marketing. What is the thing that will make this book visible? Oh from where’ O ‘where will the magical help come, the fairy godmother that will transform the workaday Cinderella into the most sparkling starlet.

    I have always subscribed to the “Oh, they have contacts, are well connected”. Which has been transformed into this thing called “online platform”. Is all this just grasping at straws? Why is something great? Why is something popular? Is it content, form, online presence, pixie dust?

    We answer this based on who we are…it is sort of a which religion will get you into heaven problem. Let me know when you have the answer. Until then we will try it all.

  5. Posted December 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Bonus content only seems viable when there is a buy button nearby, as a lot of readers are impulse buyers. However the focus should be on producing and promoting a book people won’t put down once they buy it. Those of us who self-publish do not see the advantage in producing videos of any kind anymore, since subjects like cute animals and people performing self-harming stunts are the most watched amond video viewer. I used to subscribe to various sites which only concentrated on book videos but there was a noticable trend on their part to grow slowly or attract few viewers, if at all. Adjunct content like readings might work, and I find this kind of content attracts more than just a slideshow with music. It’s just a pity that pop culture has been taken over by childish concerns.

  6. Posted December 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Addendum: I have been working on producing the most generic and site congruent previews for everyong to read in a separate window instead of forcing them to download for reading, but thus far no real measurable results. One could submit our book marketing to Mythbusters and find that the idea of generating bonus content to sell books may be “busted”.

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