Book marketing: new plot needed

Much like Hollywood hit-makers, book publishers rely on grand slams instead of base hits, and will only put marketing muscle behind sure things and big-name blockbusters. And since there are so many more books released each year than movies, those base hits are even harder to come by. Faced with a shrinking marketplace, publishers are loath to spend any dollars on consumer outreach. That's why we never really see any good marketing for books anymore - unless they're about gnomes, dunce politicians, self-help gurus and salacious bimbos (both male and female).

Much like Hollywood hit-makers, book publishers rely on grand slams instead of base hits, and will only put marketing muscle behind sure things and big-name blockbusters. And since there are so many more books released each year than movies, those base hits are even harder to come by. Faced with a shrinking marketplace, publishers are loath to spend any dollars on consumer outreach. That’s why we never really see any good marketing for books anymore – unless they’re about gnomes, dunce politicians, self-help gurus and salacious bimbos (both male and female).

It’s also hard to push through new marketing ideas and tactics to a time-honoured industry like book publishing – like trying to burn MP3s on Beta tape. However some forward-thinking publishers and cash-strapped independent book retailers are using guerrilla and buzz marketing tactics to tout their tomes. A small mystery book chain in Madrid has creatively used street teams to promote its upcoming titles by hiring actors who are rolled up in rugs and dropped off on busy corners. Others are placed in half-open coffins and left in public squares. The idea is to show that a crime has been committed, and signage around the stunt promotes the new mystery or book noir.

But the main thrust of book marketing comes from word-of-mouth. Buzz is indispensable to the viability of a particular title. That’s why many publishers are now choosing to hire so-called ‘buzz agents’ who are unleashed on the population to hype books to friends and strangers alike. Agents go on subways and conspicuously pretend to read the book in front of packed riders, or continually call up stores that they know do not yet have the book and request copies. Agents go on Amazon.com to write glowing reviews, or attend dinner parties where they shamelessly name-drop the book to their friends. All of this is often conducted without any disclosure that they are compensated marketers.

When brainstorming marketing tactics for my own book, I quickly discarded this approach because, quite simply, it is outright deceptive marketing. There are better, more experiential and consumer-friendly ways to market books.

Chris Bucci, my editor at McClelland & Stewart, thinks that content should be given away to interested customers for free. ‘Authors, agents and publishers have spent so much time protecting copyright that they forget that the best way to get people interested in a good read is to let them read it,’ he says. This summer, for instance, 150,000 sample chapters of a book by David Dun called The Black Silent were given away by street teams to sun-bathers in Central Park and in the Hamptons. Add personal communication devices – PDAs, iPods, cellphones, etc. – and that number can become astronomical.

Book marketers may also want to spend less time promoting the author and more time promoting the experience of reading a book, as my publicist Dulcey Antonucci would suggest. A number of private luxury resorts are now actively pursuing this experiential approach, working with publishers to provide their guests with as-yet unreleased books to enjoy while lounging on the beach, and in doing so seeding the book and enhancing the vacation reading experience. Why wouldn’t airlines do the same?

When writing my book, I couldn’t help but envision the marketing campaigns I would roll out to support it. I had thought of a series of lectures on experiential marketing delivered during lunchtime in major downtown business lobbies – the Lunchtime Speakers Series – sponsored by a brand wishing to connect with the business core.

I envisioned deeply engaging and sensory-stimulating displays at retail, with touch-screens and sound canons. I wanted Andy Kaufman-esque spectacles in Dundas Square, and Indigo employees to be my most loyal evangelists.

Perhaps a more experiential approach to book marketing is needed. If a cookbook is being touted, why not hold the signing at a restaurant? Why aren’t books a consideration as prizing for consumer sweepstakes? Why is there no talk of incorporating some sort of open product placement for books in other media? If publishers are scrambling for more dollars, why then aren’t books sponsored? Publishers don’t need to read palms or tea leaves to see the new ways of marketing to their readers. Authors must push them to do so.

Max Lenderman is CD at GMR Marketing in Chicago. His book is called Experience the Message: How Experiential Marketing Is Changing the Brand World. His blog is found at www.experiencethemessage.com.