Open Road’s ‘Free Voices’: Selling Banned Books in a New Initiative

In News by Porter Anderson

The idea behind Open Road’s new ‘Free Voices’ is to market banned books to consumers through the company’s ‘Ignition’ channels.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Andranik Hakobyan

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

Steinberger: ‘We’re Going to Fight Book Bans’
Amid a rise in publishing-industry alarm around book bannings and other attempts at censorship, Open Road Integrated Media overnight (May 10) is announcing a new initiative called Free Voices, described as “a new marketing service to fight book bans and enable challenged works to be discovered and purchased by readers everywhere.”

Open Road’s timing couldn’t be better. Just hours earlier today, Ron Brownstein, senior editor at The Atlantic and a senior political analyst with CNN, released a story in which he writes, “Across multiple fronts, Democrats and their allies are stiffening their resistance to a surge of Republican-led book bans.”

Brownstein, focusing primarily on the United States’ widespread right-wing efforts in censorship–something being replicated in many other publishing markets of the world–points to Illinois which has become the first state “to pass legislation designed to discourage local school districts from banning books. And a prominent grassroots progressive group today will announce a new national campaign to organize mothers against the conservative drive to remove books and censor curriculum under the banner of protecting ‘parents’ rights.'”

David Steinberger

At Open Road, CEO David Steinberger—who also serves as the chair of the National Book Foundation—says, “We could not believe more strongly in the First Amendment and the right to free expression.

“With Free Voices, we are going to fight book bans with the same proven Open Road marketing technology that already drives discovery and sales increases for more than 40,000 titles from more than 100 publishers.”

The idea is that as books come under the pressure of book banning efforts, Free Voices will put those books into the faces of readers through Open Road’s online marketing framework, presumably building both sales and visibility for the very books that censorious parties believe they have a “right” to suppress.

Free Voices, Open Road says, is open to all publishers with books targeted by banning efforts at schools, libraries, and/or bookstores. Each title is to be featured in marketing vehicles that regularly reach the company’s targeted segments of readers who have been identified by Open Road’s analysis.

In its media messaging this evening, Open Road says, “The initial response from readers has been extraordinary,” with open-rates of better than 75 percent on segmented email

Titles already featured include such books as:

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  • Hello, I Lied by M.E. Kerr
  • Always Running: La Vida Loca–Gang Days in LA by Luis J. Rodriguez
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Peter McCarthy

Peter McCarthy, chief marketing office with Open Road, is quoted, saying, “Our technology enables a nuanced connecting of books with readers that’s unique, targeted, and powerful.

Our message is that if your book is the target of an attempted book ban and at risk of losing readers, Free Voices can help.”

As Brownstein points out at The Atlantic today, five “red” states are seen in research from PEN America—where Markus Dohle has founded his Dohle Book Defense Fund—as central to book-banning efforts: Florida, Texas, Missouri, South Carolina, and Utah. (For our international readers, a “red” state in the United States is a state with much of its political leadership in the Republican Party or aligned with other conservative dynamics.)

Free Voices then becomes a new offering in Open Road’s branded “Activation” marketing service.

Open Road launched “Activation” in 2022 to complement its “Ignition” marketing program, which utilizes machine learning, data science and marketing automation. Backlist titles may be particularly bolstered in the market by the approach. The company reports that “Activation” has “experienced dramatic growth since its launch in mid-2022 and is already serving four of the Big Five houses in the States, along with independent publishers and university presses.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Open Road Integrated Media is here, and more on marketing is here. More on book banning is here, and more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression 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.