By Alex Mutter
“Standing still is a dangerous place to be,” cautioned Rick Joyce, Chief Marketing Officer for Perseus Book Group, during his keynote presentation on the first day of the Digital Book World Discoverability & Marketing Conference.
Marketing executives, publishing professionals, authors and publicists gathered on Monday and Tuesday at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York to discuss the ever-changing digital marketplace and the challenges — and opportunities — it provides for bookselling and book marketing. And if the two-day conference is any indication, the publishing industry isn’t plan to wait and let change happen.
In an engaging presentation that likened book marketers attempting to harness new marketing tools such as social listening platforms to seafarers in the Age of Exploration, Joyce insisted that imaginative thinking and the reinvention of existing marketing strategies is of vital importance to publishing houses. While Joyce acknowledged that there is great risk involved with developing new technologies and experimenting with new strategies, it is “a risk [publishers] have to take,” lest a startup or business from outside the industry figure it out first.
Kelly Gallagher, Vice President of Publishing Services at R.R. Bowker, emphasized the importance of end-consumer research in deciding where to allocate marketing dollars. The key, he insisted, is “bottom-up research” — that is, understanding how consumers become aware of the titles that they eventually purchase. “Until we know the details of consumers,” Gallagher explained, “we’re kind of shooting in the dark.”
Word of Mouth is Still Top Priority
Contributing to a trend that would run throughout the entirety of the conference, Gallagher emphasized the importance of personal relationships and communication by noting that even in an increasingly digital world, with all of its algorithms and metadata, word of mouth was still key to influencing consumer choices.
“Successful discoverability needs to start with psychology, not technology,” said Rob Eagar, President of Wildfire Marketing. (Read his 10 Commandments of Book Marketing.) The statement would become an oft-repeated refrain throughout the two-day event. Eager argued that clear definitions of the direct value that can books can provide, along with clear and direct communication with consumers, are far more crucial to book marketing than topic lists, plot details or features.
Numerous speakers also testified to the importance of direct communication with consumers. Jessica Best, Community Director at emfluence, demonstrated that targeted communication with consumers can in many ways be achieved more easily through email than social media, despite the relegation of the former to virtual afterthought following the advent of the latter.
A great deal of time was focused on strategies for harnessing social media. Willo O’Brien of Stitch Labs explained that when it came to marketing through social, it was not about the total amount of followers but the amount of engagement with content, also known as “relationship marketing.” According to O’Brien, in the digital age we are “hungry for connections, we’re hungry for being seen and being heard.”
Colleen Lindsay, Community Manager of Penguin’s community writing platform Book Country, stated that when it came to using social media for book marketing, authors and publishers have to balance broadcasting messages with listening and responding to consumers — a fairly substantial departure from traditional book marketing strategies
Authors as Expert Communicators
Another of the days’ recurring themes was the untapped potential of authors as a marketing resource. They can reach out directly to consumers, form communities and even, according to author Elle Lothlorien, provide valuable customer service. Lothlorien, who gained both admiration and infamy for a particularly controversial blog post last summer suggesting that writers respond to bad reviews, maintained that a novel is a product, like any other, and authors should provide customer service befitting any other business.
On a related note, several presenters identified a lack of communication between authors and publishers regarding marketing duties. Erika Napoletano of Red Head Writing called for greater cooperation between the two groups in order to effectively market books, saying that there was a “chasm of communication between authors and publishers.”
Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, took publishers to task for leaving platform — and community-building almost entirely in the hands of authors. Pulizzi made the case for catering to a given niche and sharply focusing content, as opposed to the generalist strategy of most large publishers. He also urged publishers to not be quite so focused on selling only books and instead experiment with ancillary ways to deliver content. “Channel focus,” Pulizzi insisted, “is the number one sin of content marketing.”
Fuelling Search Engines
The immense importance of search engines for book marketing was undisputed throughout the conference. Google’s Gavin Bishop identified search as the leading indicator of consumer intent, showing that searches correlated closely to sales figures. Bishop also reported some encouraging statistics about the book industry as a whole: since 2009, generic book queries have nearly doubled, and search volume has risen across all book genres.
Many presenters endeavored to show marketers and publishers how best to utilize search engines.
“SEO is not a project,” said Marshall Simmonds, Founder and CEO of Define Media Group. Simmonds was just the first of several presenters to elucidate the importance of search engine optimization (SEO), stressing that it is not something that can be tacked on after the fact or done occasionally. Rather, SEO and managing metadata must be part of the content creation process from the very beginning.
Len Vlahos of Book Industry Study Group also emphasized the need for SEO and metadata to be part of every stage of the book publishing and bookselling process. Vlahos echoed Simmonds’ assertion that SEO cannot be a side project, saying that metadata changes rapidly and frequently, and publishers need to keep up with the change.
Amazon’s Jon Fine described metadata as being as important to selling digital titles as an enticing cover and store display are to selling physical copies. Echoing the sentiments of many other presenters, Fine put a premium on strong, original content, and declared that the entire text of a book can serve as its ultimate set of metadata.
Fine expressed an urgency for Amazon, and all publishers, to provide more and stronger tools for authors.
“It is an incredibly easy to publish a book,” Fine said. “It is not incredibly easy to write a book…and regardless of who published them, [authors] have got to do a heck of alot more now.”