Crain’s New York Business (Sarah’s tagline: a newspaper I love about a subject I know nothing about) has an article this week about blogs and podcasts driving sales of books. The headline blasts that the Web has become the “vehicle to create best-sellers,” noting that we bloggers (lest you forget, the sock puppets of evil) are “replacing traditional marketing.”
My first question: do we bloggers know that? I have said in my presentations to RWA chapters and groups that successfully building a blog rests partially on two elements that draw an audience: consistency and credibility. If your blog is consistent in content and style, and your credibility is based on that consistency, audiences will react favorably. But any deviation in one will damage the other. Credibility, at least, in my opinion for my site, is damaged if I’m shilling for a particular publisher or promoting a particular author without revealing my reasons for doing so. Most of the time, I write about X because I like X, or I have something to say about X, or because X has buxom, buttery man-titty. Exceptions so far include when someone wins a contest or a donated auction item, and there’s an interview or a guest review included as part of that prize – and I like to think I’m up-front about that.
I’m not saying that I’m a bastion of consistency – I’m also really damn forgetful. But I do value any credibility our site has earned, and I try to stay conscious of my own set of codes, as Jane called them in an email exchange we had about this article, because as bloggers we’re basically really loud words-of-mouth. Or words-of-screen. Recommendations that are based on some form of compensation, speaking solely from my own experience, are better received (by me at least!) when I know the scope of the compensation that goes on behind the scenes, if there is any. It’s weird to look at my site from the perspective of a blogger and a reader of blogs, but this article creates an opportunity for me to do so, because it discusses how bloggers are a new marketing tool for publishers.
Of course, I can’t LINK to the article because Crains’ content is for subscribers only. So let me summarize a bit and explain. According to writer Matthew Flamm, “the Internet* is gaining ground as a marketing vehicle just as traditional outlets are pulling back.” He cites the demise of newspaper book review sections and the long-ago disappearance of the Today Show and GMA‘s book segments – to say nothing of Reading with Ripa, which has been gone since 2005, much to the disappointment of a few authors (two of whom set up a blog called “Stalking Kelly Ripa” that hasn’t seen a new entry since 2005, but was still a funny concept). Oprah chooses fewer books each year for her Book Club Of Massive Sales OMG HOLY SHIT Fire Up the Printing Press, and bookstores are charging publishers more for prime locations within the store. The market, it is shrinky-dinking.
*MUST we capitalize Internet?! STILL?! For fuck’s sake. And “Web page”?! PAH!
So publishers are looking right here on the saucy wench-wide web for “targeted sites, and pitching bloggers to review and discuss titles that jibe with their concerns and sensibilities.”
I have concerns and sensibilities? Y’all. I want something good to read that’s a romance. I don’t know if that’s a concern so much as a minimum daily requirement for general blissful Sarahtude.
M.J. Rose, founder of AuthorBuzz, calls the blog world “a million little Oprahs.” And we bloggers are efficient because we are inexpensive and damn near everywhere. Everyone who is everyone has a blog, and their blog probably has its own blog at this point. And a Facebook.
Fauzia Burke, president of another online book promotional firm, FSB Associates, agrees that the relative inexpensive ad prices online, coupled with the allure of a few million eyeballs, is a powerful draw for writer and publishers alike.
But one unnamed consultant says that “publishers haven’t made the seismic shift” to appreciating and fully understanding the Internet’s use and capacity for growth in terms of book sales: “You still have publicists…trying to get an author on Today.” Flamm’s article does say, though, that Web-savvy publicists and marketers are the most sought-after niew hires at publishing houses (so if you’re looking for a job, heads up, yo) and every publishing house is trying out new methods of web marketing.
The most obvious: the free ebook giveaway. The article cites Gaiman’s book American Gods as an example – sales reportedly rose 250% after HarperCollins made the book available online for free for a limited time.
Flamm also mentions podcast-to-book phenom The Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing as a web-promotional idea, because the publisher built a Web site around the book before the book was released. I’m not sure that’s a solid example of web marketing aside from the fact that her book was originally a frequently-downloaded podcast, except that now I want to read that book because it sounds cool.
(Note: Neither Crain’s New York, Grammar Girl, Holt, or any large sword-wielding figures coerced me into making that statement. I is a grammar nerd like woot and like whoa.)
What interests me is the end of the article where Bantam’s director of marketing, Betsy Hulsebosch, mentions that the more creative campaigns take more time than money, and cites a successful campaign on YouTube for Dean Koontz’s latest book (Does Dean Koontz need a YouTube campaign to sell his books?). Flamm continues:
The expensive efforts tend to involve brand-name authors, but executives say that eventually those tenchiques will also be used for lesser-known writers. Their hope lies with blogs for now, however.
Honest to biscuits, that sentence makes me say, eloquently, ‘Huh?’ Not that I have the least bit of experience with marketing, or consider myself an expert on building any kind of buzz or even a light flatulent noise, but… Huh? Expensive efforts will be used on the big-names, but blogs are ok for now for the rest of the author pack? I’m sure that there’s all kinds of mathematical marketing data to back up that opinion, but if the cost is time and not so much money, why not make a splash on a little-known author using a big online campaign? Why not try a four-episode 3:00 minute trivia game show Flash series linked to a book’s plot for one new release, while using a different method, such as a avatar-creating module with a selection of silly names and images for another book, both for new authors? Wouldn’t it be easier to quantify the results on a new product using new marketing techniques? Why save the big splash effort for the more likely sales? (Yes, yes, I know I sound really naive. I’m well aware.) If new web marketing techniques are indeed more about creativity (and, in my opinion, sincerity) than dollars and glitz, why not seize some of that creative power and use it to build the next big thing?
Note to self: there is a reason you are not in marketing. That paragraph right there is probably it.