Jumping off the page: HarperCollinsCanada’s Steve Osgoode

The book publishing industry isn't exactly renowned as a marketing leader. But, that is changing, and HarperCollinsCanada's Steve Osgoode, 32, is one of the marketers leading the charge, testing new online media initiatives and partnerships.

The book publishing industry isn’t exactly renowned as a marketing leader. But, that is changing, and HarperCollinsCanada’s Steve Osgoode, 32, is one of the marketers leading the charge, testing new online media initiatives and partnerships.

In 2006, the director of online marketing and new media spearheaded development of ‘book trailers,’ crafted book-related podcasts and began offering sample tracks of audio books for purchase on Puretracks.

‘I feel we’re in a leadership position because of Steve’s expertise,’ says Tom Best, VP sales and marketing at Harper. ‘He’s a fantastic lateral thinker. He finds intriguing ways to work in the Internet sphere – that is priceless to us.’

One such display of lateral thinking was Osgoode’s contribution to the launch of book trailers for titles like Londonstani and The Weather Makers. While the book trailer concept was very much a group effort at HarperCollins, Best credits Osgoode with pushing to test the format. ‘He feels strongly that we’ve got to be more visually oriented,’ says Best, adding that Osgoode not only worked hard at seeding the trailers online on sites like YouTube, but also sussing out offline homes for the pieces, like bookstores and at Toronto’s Harbourfront, as well as in cinemas and on diginet BookTelevision. ‘He’s found great venues to play them.’

Osgoode says it’s a challenge to offer visuals without stepping on readers’ imaginations. ‘Our guiding principle is: Let’s make something with the feel and the spirit of the book without imposing the setting and the look of the characters on the readers,’ he says.

In another effort to generate buzz, Osgoode orchestrated the 2005 launch of the First Look program, which selects readers to see galleys of books before they’re published, and invites them to submit reviews. Readers sign up online for a chance to be selected, and many participants have posted their advance reviews on their own blogs.

‘We do try to make sure that all of our members receive books at some point…it’s really nice to reward superfans,’ says Osgoode, adding that the program is growing an impressive 10%-12% per month. ‘When I talk about it being our golden child, it really is.’

He also teamed up with Flare for a special version of the program which offers several books to the magazine’s subscribers every two months. He describes the program as ‘highly cost-effective,’ ringing in at just hundreds of dollars a month which is really key in this category, and why online’s ability to cheaply harness fan power is triggering such a revolution in book marketing. ‘We publish thousands of titles a year…our marketing budget gets sliced so thin,’ says Osgoode, adding that around 10% is allotted for online efforts.

He saw the advent of podcasting as another potentially cost-effective way to engage readers. Last January, HarperCollins did a podcast with author/TV host Jay Ingram to promote his book, Theatre of the Mind. It was so successful, Osgoode began exploring how to further leverage podcasting to promote other titles. He decided to do a summer reading series, with six episodes of radio-style author interviews by Kathy Bond, former host of CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera. The response was so positive (even landing in the top five downloads on iTunes in the arts and lit category) another ‘season’ of podcasts is set to launch this month. ‘We got a lot of kudos from different blogs, which was gratifying,’ says Osgoode.

Before taking a marketing post at HarperCollins in 1999, Osgoode worked in editorial at Between the Lines Press. The Concordia liberal arts grad is still the only person at HarperCollinsCanada who works full-time on online marketing, though he takes part in weekly conference calls with the American office.

Best credits Osgoode with not only being a strong collaborator with the internal marketing and publicity team of 13, but also with developing strong partnerships with outside brands. Shortly after joining HarperCollins, Osgoode began exploring partnership opportunities as a cost-efficient way to boost the publisher’s web presence.

His first effort was with EMI Canada; Osgoode knew they had a new Susan Aglukark album coming out, which he saw as nicely tying in with a new book by Thomas King as both touch on Aboriginal themes. So, the companies joined forces for a contest giveaway of book/CD sets, and exchanged promotional space on each other’s websites.

Although it was the first music-related partnership HarperCollins had done, Osgoode recalls having a relatively easy time selling the idea internally. ‘No one really wanted to dampen my enthusiasm,’

he says, laughing. ‘I think they saw it as a minimal investment.’

He worked with EMI again in fall 2005 on a clever back-to-school promotion pushing academic texts like dictionaries and thesauruses. The books were stickered with co-branded messaging driving consumers to a microsite where they could enter to win iPods or CDs by the band Gorillaz. ‘It got a really strong response,’ says Osgoode. Sales of the back-to-school books jumped 13% over the previous year.

‘He really understands how to apply different titles to different media,’ notes Jennifer Evans, president of Toronto-based interactive agency Sequentia Communications, HarperCollins’ agency. A recent example is a fall promotion he did with Purina’s Pet Priority community to promote the animal-friendly book Marley & Me by John Grogan. He gave away 100 copies of the book in a contest that was promoted on the Pet Priority website and newsletter as well as doing a separate book giveaway contest internally for Purina employees. The results? ‘The response was well within our best-case scenario,’ says Osgoode.

Osgoode leveraged his penchant for partnerships and podcasting with a fall promotion for the book U2 by U2. He commissioned prominent radio personality/music historian Alan Cross to produce a podcast documentary on the history of U2, which was in turn made available as a free download on partner Bell Sympatico’s site. ‘It was perfect for the book. The results were phenomenal – there were almost 100,000 downloads in a week’s time,’ says Best. Osgoode also circulated the doc to booksellers before the release to get them excited about the book. ‘We try to repurpose this multimedia as much as we can,’ Osgoode explains.

Last spring, Osgoode entered into e-business with partners: A pilot project to drive users to buy digital audio books on Puretracks, enticing them with free sample tracks of books like Freakonomics, was promoted on Bell Sympatico’s landing page, and ‘they gave us millions of impressions,’ says Osgoode.

This year, Osgoode will likely devote more effort to promoting audio books. ‘There is no question that I see huge potential for growth in digital audio in Canada,’ he says, adding that the industry as a whole is beginning to embrace technology more. ‘Publishing is a traditional business. It takes time to get a large ship to switch directions.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Favourite book

In my business, picking a favourite is tough. I just finished a book that will be published this spring called The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. I have to say that it is one of the most creative and inventive things that I have consumed in a long, long time. The way we describe it around the office is The Matrix meets

Moby Dick.

Favourite current TV show

Battlestar Galactica is hands-down the best show on television. It’s not at all what you expect and provides some of the most compelling moments on television every week.

Reality show you’d most like to be on

My guilty pleasure right now is Dragon’s Den on the CBC. I’d love to present one of my crackpot ideas to those Dragons just to get their feedback, but I’d love to get some of their money too.

Favourite website

I go to Seth Godin’s blog every day. I love his take on marketing and the digital space. There are good reasons that he has developed such an incredible following in publishing, public speaking and online.

First job

I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone but it was in a bookstore. I stocked shelves and worked the cash.