Marketing in ‘Tandem’: Naomi Bacon and Taipei’s Publishers

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Tandem Collective’s Naomi Bacon flew to Taipei International Book Exhibition to introduce ‘community-led’ book marketing.

Tandem Collective founder Naomi Bacon speaks with a member of Taiwan’s publishing business after her presentation at the Taipei International Book Fair’s professional program in association with Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

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Taipei International Book Exhibition Opens Its 31st Edition

Taipei’s Professional Program: Tandem Collective’s Clout
In Taiwan, the 31st Taipei International Book Exhibition has just provided us with facts and figures for its 2023 return to a fully physical show with its “Multiverse of Reading” theme.

And during the course of the show’s very busy week, two sequences of professional programming were in operation.

One was produced by the Taiwan Creative Content Agency program—with which Publishing Perspectives readers have been familiar since its 2020 development. And the other was produced by Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s ongoing program of international publisher training and support, this time led by Claudia Kaiser and Katherina Rapp.

We’ll have more in our upcoming Rights Edition from TAICCA’s programming. Today, we want to look at part of the social-media focus in Thursday’s (February 2) focus on social media, a major segment of Frankfurt’s programming, which was titled “How To Thrive in Times of Crisis.”

In this case, the program offered an eye-opening update on a new company in book marketing, one that has developed a formula for social-media book-marketing campaigns that flourishes amid relatively new demands for “authenticity” in leveraging various social media for book sales and readership cultivation.

The Fast Rise of the Tandem Collective

Naomi Bacon, founder of the Tandem Collective, explains the company’s community-led book-business marketing approach during the 2023 Taipei International Book Fair. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Publishing Perspectives readers may recall that in April 2022, we described a new social-media “read-along” project that a company called Tandem Collective was opening for HarperCollins’ release of Don Winslow’s City on FireHaving been established by Naomi Bacon and Rob Cox in 2016, the company—as Bacon told her publisher-audience in Taipei—already had discovered an unexpected role for itself. And it was on a trajectory of growth that would see the original duo of its workforce expand to some 35 people today.

“I never set out to create a company focused entirely on community-building,” Bacon said. “Originally, we were a traditional marketing agency. Our business focus was a response to community demand and client needs rather than our own intellectual foresight.”

She calls it a “fortuitous accident” that four years ago, Tandem was approached by a publisher wanting a four-hour read-along campaign for a paperback–on Instagram. Bacon was “not from nowhere,” as the saying goes. As long ago as 2013, she’d been among a group shortlisted for The Bookseller’s FutureBook Awards in London for her work the team supporting Pan Macmillan’s release of Kiss Me First.

But being something of a veteran of publishing marketing, Bacon–like everyone in the business–was grappling with the demand for “authenticity” among users of TikTok and Instagram, in particular. Unlike the days when a publishing house could create its own BookTube channel and seed it with its own talent to talk up its own books, the peer-to-peer dynamic of today’s social platforms is entirely skittish about commercial promotion. Only sincere user-to-user communications succeed.

And what Bacon’s first outing with that short paperback read-along was, as she puts it, that you have to “Create campaigns that are company-initiated but customer-implemented.” And this is why she uses the term “community-led” for the kinds of promotions Tandem now is running at a rate of as many as 20 or more per week.

This happens through a three-tiered structure:

  • Tandem’s workforce promotes its upcoming read-along events to “creators,” as they’re called–key TikTok/BookTok or Instagram influencers who are eager to be involved in a book project. A Tandem manager then selects creators for that read-along project. A publisher may provide as many as 30 copies of a book to go to creators, a relatively small outlay.
  • Although those creators may have relatively small followings, their enthusiasm and willingness to engage in “challenges”—such as to create a short video about a point in a book’s plot, etc.—will attract the interest of their own followings. The challenges are placed in the copies of the books at strategic points, triggering content in these creators’ feeds and amplified by their followings.
  • A community, potentially of hundreds of thousands, then, arises from this creator-driven process of the read-along, with both those central creators and their followers interacting in the real time of a read-along campaign, passing their enthusiasm across the ether to each other—and generating book sales. None of the user-participants, neither the creators nor the followers, is paid. The creators benefit from the boost to their own followers, their feeds gain power as they develop content and signal their followings. In short, they become stronger influencers, the currency of the social-media realm.
International Expansion: More Than 1,000 Read-Alongs

In this slide from Naomi Bacon’s Tandem Collective presentation in Taipei, you can see various engagement rates generated by ‘participants’–the ‘creators’ chosen for read-alongs–and their followings. Image: Tandem Collective

Today, Bacon told a standing-room-only audience in Taipei, Tandem Collective has run more than 1,000 Instagram read-alongs internationally. The City on Fire read-along, in fact, would spur 10 more, Tandem read-alongs taking Winslow’s book for HarperCollins into a total seven languages and 11 territories including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and Japan. Another such international Tandem hit has been Karin Slaughter’s Girl Forgotten.

And all of this is happening because Tandem “has the receipts,” as the saying goes, meaning the sales to prove its effectiveness: “For a recent campaign involving 30 participants,” or creators,” Bacon said in Taipei, “we had 60 people message to say they’d bought the book after seeing their fellow bookstagrammers posting about it. And in a poll with 200 members of our community, 72 percent said they’d bought a book off the back of seeing a Tandem read-along.”

Tandem now is in discussion with publishers based in non-English-language markets including Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany. And one means of expansion for the company is a licensing program being developed for small projects, allowing them to operate Tandem-designed campaigns, themselves. And the core members of Bacon’s company work from many parts of the world. Bacon, herself, has traded winter for summer, decamping England to live for several months in Cape Town.

TikTok read-alongs are proving worthwhile. One in Australia recently showed a 16.5-percent engagement rate, where the industry average for a sponsored-content event on that platform is between 5 and 9 percent.

The Power of ‘Small, Emerging Accounts’

In this slide from Naomi Bacon’s Tandem Collective presentation in Taipei, the seminal effects of the company’s implementation of a read-along for HarperCollins’ release of Don Winslow’s ‘City on Fire’ are laid out, culminating in a reach of more than 1 million users. Image: Tandem Collective

Another insight into the often baffling ways of social-media promotion: accounts with fewer than 1,000 followers frequently can deliver the highest conversion rates, running at some 1.46 percent, while accounts with more than 21,000 followers may see only 0.61-percent conversion rates. “This is because small, emerging accounts,” Bacon says, “are even more eager to engage and are much closer to their followers.”

Among some of the most specific guidance Bacon offered the independent publishers in the Taipei program was that starting their own TikTok channels could be immensely time- and labor-consuming, and with scant promise of success. “Connecting with pre-existing community segments,” she said, “will be much more cost-effective and impactful, especially as there are so many niche, targeted micro-communities on the platform.”

Bacon—by nature a warm, welcoming personality who enjoys publishers’ interest in the formula she has developed—fielded an intense round of sharp questions as part of her presentation, the Taipei community, of course, being one of the best-versed in social-media operations. Taiwan is as fully online as it is masked these days, and the concentration in the room for her talk was palpable. After the session, as many as 100 attendees asked for her card, many realizing that they could look into a Tandem Collective campaign for their own releases, rather than trying to create the wheel, themselves.

The guiding point here: “Create campaigns,” Bacon said, “that are company-initiated but consumer-implemented.” And that, it turns out, means prompting user-generated content.

Publishers at the Frankfurter Buchmesse session at Taipei International Book Exhibition take notes during Naomi Bacon’s Tandem Collective session. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

You can see the full two-day programming listings from Frankfurter Buchmesse’s publisher training program for the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition here (Day One) and here (Day Two).

And we’ll have more in coming days from the Taiwan-based programming, as well. 

More from us on Taiwan and its market is here, and more on the Taipei International Book Exhibition is hereMore from us on international trade shows and book fairs is here, more on social media is here, and more on book marketing in the world industry is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.