Take a Fresh Look: Marketing & Promotion Strategies for Book Publishers
Find out what Regina, Ryan Gosling, and Bundling have to do with book publishing, and other sales and marketing tips shared by industry experts at ABPBC’s recent professional development day in this guest post from MPub Candidate Paulina Dabrowski.
On Thursday September 11th the students in the Masters of Publishing program were given the opportunity to sit in on a seminar put on by the ABPBC (The Association of Book Publishers of BC), which focused on marketing and promotional strategies for Canadian publishing.
Bruce Walsh of the recently re-branded University of Regina Press (formerly Canadian Plains Research Centre Press) gave an inspirational keynote address on how to stand out in a crowded marketplace, including pioneering the first reality tv show on publishing.
Joanna Karaplis, marketing and communications manager for BookNet Canada, provided insights into the latest BookNet Canada publications and research on marketing to the Canadian book buyer.
And after a collegial lunch at Steamworks, the attendees dug into the nuts and bolts of working with a sales rep and bundling eBooks.
The professional development day concluded with a roundtable discussion on the questions, frustrations and lessons learned by the members and presenters in attendance.
For those readers interested specifically in the “how-to” component of the day, here’s a recap of the session run by Kate Walker, sales rep and former owner of Ampersand, and Cheryl Fraser, VP Ampersand Inc. and manager of the gift division for the agency.
Everything you ever wanted to know about working with a sales rep but didn’t know what to ask
Kate and Cheryl have decades of experience in the industry and have worked with booksellers, librarians and specialty customers, authors and publishers. They described being a sales rep as follows, “we work with everyone in the publishing company, connecting book publishers to their customers, and customers with book publishers. Our goal is to get the books publishers acquire to the right customers in the perfect markets.”
In order to do this efficiently sales reps work hard to be good mediators. They spend most of their time communicating the right information from publishers to booksellers and back, and in order to do this they are constantly reading, and keeping updated on the book world. They need to keep track of which books are selling, which books are winning awards, and predict needs before they arrive. Kate describes sales reps as “adaptable chameleons” in that they must be responsive to the customers or book publishers’ needs.
Utilizing sales reps effectively can save publishers a lot of time and money. Sales reps have a more personal relationship with book buyers than publishers, and they use this in-depth knowledge to place books where they will sell. Sales reps create and distribute lists on “hot topics” making it easier for book buyers to see a single collection of comparable titles from multiple publishers (books by First Nations People, for example). They make it a priority to visit and build professional relationships with book buyers, creating what Kate refers to as a “bankable trust relationship”, which is a huge benefit to publishers both immediately and for future productions.
Kate and Cheryl also took the time to explain ways of creating good relationships with sales reps. Many times this relationship begins at sales conferences, when publishers present their books for the season. It’s important for publishers to be prepared and speak clearly. Reps will be asking what they know their customers will ask so they expect presenters to know intimate details such as the author’s hometown, or sales history for previous books by the author. Kate notes, however, that it’s important not to make “promises” to sales reps about acquiring information they are missing in their presentation. It’s better to come with a thorough knowledge of the book, and enthusiasm to get sales reps excited. Publishers should know the competition as well as comparable titles, and be open and honest with sales reps as to where the promotion money will be focused, as well as be transparent about any pre-arranged special sales.
The next stage in an important publisher-to-sales-rep relationship is to keep the doors of communication open, and to share information about updates with the book such as pushed release dates, nominations for awards, or upcoming events. It’s also important for book publishers to have easily understandable terms of sale and distribution channels.
In planning author events, it’s important for the publisher to do their research. They have to ask themselves:
- Who is this event for?
- Is the author prepared and do they have the right personality for the event?
- Where will the event be held; private spaces offer intimacy but public spaces open the event to potential new audiences.
- It’s also important not to forget attention to detail; does the event have a microphone available, will the event need seating, does the date conflict with any holidays, will the publisher provide extras such as food and wine?
- And, which channels will be used to advertise the event? Sales reps can assist with this type of planning, after all who doesn’t enjoy a good party!
Cheryl also explained the dynamics of the “gift market”. Gift books are fun and exciting, but not all books one might give as a gift are appropriate for the gift market. To give an example of the differences, below are two books by photographer Philippe Halsman.
The first is a coffee table art book, it’s large in size and is filled with Halsman’s well-known jump photography alongside accompanying text that share the stories behind the photographs. The second is a smaller, simpler book; a photo interview with Salvador Dali that is quite silly and playful, meant to share with the reader the many faces of Salvador Dali and his famous mustache. The first book, Jump Book is a great book to give as a gift, but the second book Dali’s Mustache is a book made for the gift market.
How gift books are bought by buyers differs in many ways from how other trade books are bought. Gift book buyers are really focused on the visual. They want to see the book, hold the book, place it by their cash registers and see how it looks. It’s important for gift sales reps to have physical copies of the books to bring to their customers. Authors are much less important, and the focus is all on the visual appeal of the subject matter. It’s no surprise to hear from Cheryl that her top sellers last season were books on Ryan Gosling, Cats, and Darth Vader.
The gift buyer also heavily relies on the print catalogue, which led to an interesting discussion about the use of electronic catalogues. But I’ll save that for another post.
After a short break, Mary Alice Elcock gave the final presentation before the roundtable discussions.
How to Bundle Up: Making the Most of your Bundled eBooks
Mary Alice is a MPub alumni who is VP of Marketing and Publisher Relations for BitLit. BitLit is an app that allows publishers to offer eBook editions to readers who have purchased a print copy. To quote Mary Alice, BitLit “connects readers to books, and connects publishers to readers”. BitLit’s main market are hybrid readers, ones who read both print and eBook, as research has shown more readers are beginning to fill this middle category.
- Out of 120 million people who own eBooks only 4% are eBook only readers.
- Their studies have shown that 48% of people would pay more for a print book if it came bundled with the eBook.
- Currently less than 1% of customers have purchased both the print and eBook edition of a book, which means there is no cannibalization of sales for publishers if they decide to bundle.
BitLit bundling pricing is typically done in one of two ways. In all cases the bundling is available after point of purchase, but publishers have the choice of offering the eBook as a free add-on which is the case for about 25% of the books BitLit currently has bundled, or the eBook is offered for around 75% off the cover price.
Bundling gives publishers great opportunity to create extra net income. Mary Alice provided example pricing of a book and its net income in print, eBook, and bundling.
BitLit can currently be downloaded (for free) on Apple and Android devices. The user opens the app, takes a picture of the cover which is then recognized in BitLit’s system. To claim the book, the user takes another picture of their name written in capitals on the top of the copyright page, which BitLit uses to match with the user’s name on the credit card they provided in their sign up. Once the book is claimed, the user is given a link to their eBook if it is provided for free by the publisher, or the user is offered the eBook for the discounted price which they can then purchase. The reader can then choose to read the eBook on any of their eReading devices including Kobo, Nook, Kindle, or iPad.
For being only 2 years old (and local to Vancouver) BitLit has already made some major waves in the publishing world. There are currently 20,000 books available to bundle and many authors have fallen in love with the cross-media platform such as well-known horror writer Joe Hill (son of Stephen King).
BitLit’s next big move is a project called “Shelfie” which will save book lovers (and book hoarders if you’re like me) tons of time. Users simply take a picture of their book shelf and “Shelfie” will find all the books which are currently available to bundle, so there is no need to search titles one by one!
Overall, the ABPBC professional development day was a great opportunity for sharing and learning about the realities of the book publishing industry.
Paulina Dabrowski is an MPub candidate, avid reader, occasional knitter, and master of microwave meals. You can find her on Twitter @paulinkaaa_d