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Friday, July 29, 2011

Popular Brands: When Will Book Publishing Do Some Branding?

In the current issue of Direct Marketing News a list of the Top 10 brands was featured.  The list was compiled by Ignite Social Media in June 2011, based on brands that had the most “likes” on Facebook.

Of course this list, like all lists, just give us one snapshot in time (must brands be judged by how many “likes” they got?), but it’s worth noting that only one company involving books made the top 10, though that company, Disney, is really known for its movie business, cartoon empire, theme parks, and Mickey Mouse dolls. The rest of the list lacked a single author, book publisher, or bookseller.  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Random House, Harper Collins, Harry Potter’s JK Rowling or anything connected to books was nowhere to be found.

Then again I didn’t see Apple, Google, McDonald’s and hundreds of other popular companies in the Top 10.  Still it makes me wonder why book publishing doesn’t have good branding.  Most consumers don’t notice who published a book they had read, yet many publishers feel they have a distinct imprint as to why, what and how they publish.  How come consumers can’t distinguish a title from Wiley vs. McGraw-Hill or Simon & Schuster vs. St. Martin’s Press?

I believe (drum roll for a bold prediction) that book publishers will be forced to brand themselves, that they will form their own sales channel to consumers, and that they will open their own stores.  I also think that book publishers will co-brand with their corporate sisters if they are owned by a bigger company.  Why wouldn’t Harper Collins go market Fox TV, The New York Post, and its other cousins owned by the parent company of Rupert Murdoch? I also think you’ll see more media companies merging together – in any given city, newspaper and magazine publishers will be under one company along with a book publisher, a web-based company, a music label, a radio station, a TV station,  a movie house, etc.  It just makes sense to do so.

In case you are wondering, the Top 10 Facebook brands, by “likes” are:

1.      Facebook
2.      YouTube
3.      Coca-Cola
4.      Disney
5.      Starbucks
6.      MTV
7.      Ones
8.      Red Bull
9.      Converse All Stars
10.  Skittles

The lists skews to favor the young with food and entertainment.  We need more book industry-related companies to make this list if we are to make sure we don’t all go the way of Borders.


Does Book Publishing Need A Bailout?

The United States bailed out the banks and they are back to making billions of dollars.  The auto industry was bailed out and car sales are back up.  Is it time for a book publishing bailout?

Maybe it’s because I earn a living in a fast-changing industry or maybe it’s because I cherish printed books and brick-and-mortar stores that create a sense of intellectual community, but I have a professional and personal stake in wanting to see the book industry not only survive, but thrive.  Our society, our culture and our nation’s future depends greatly on raising literate citizens.  When our book world suffers, so does the country.

What could government do if it had the will and the means to get involved?

·         Give more grants to writers, so they can afford to craft quality books and not have to worry about rent payments.
·         Give tax incentives to open more bookstores in communities that lack them.
·         Fund libraries so they can serve our young readers better.
·         Create a Reading Czar who encourages the reading of books and makes reading fun and accessible.
·         Teach English to immigrants at a greater level so they get to the point of reading English books and not just learning functional English to get by.
·         Keep the printed book alive – don’t just invest in e-readers, computers, and electronic reading.
·         Increase awareness to promote literacy at home.

Books are a wonderful gift and they keep on giving in immeasurable ways.  Books can change how we think and act.  Information, in the context of a book, is invaluable.  Don’t wait for a government bailout: Buy a book today.

Interview With PGW Sales Director Keith Arsenault

Book Marketing Buzz Blog recently conducted an interview, via email, with a 19-year book publishing veteran.  Keith Arsenault, a native of Providence, Rhode Island and now a San Leandro, California transplant, is currently the sales director for airports and wholesale clubs at
PGW, Perseus Books Group, Perseus Distribution and Consortium. He has over eight years of indie bookstore retail experience, nearly five years in marketing/sales/PR for book publishers, and six years as a book sales rep.

1.      Keith, as the director of sales to wholesale clubs and airports for a major book distributor and publisher, what do you find is most challenging about the marketplace today? Honestly, right now I don’t see challenges, only opportunities: that’s the advantage to having 300+ imprints and clients in the bag – there literally is something for every one of my accounts, so I suppose the only challenge I have is finding the time to sift through all of the books to match them up with the appropriate retailer, but that also makes the job never dull.

2.      Where do you see book publishing heading? It is certainly not a boring time to be in publishing! Obviously, print books are being challenged with the ascension of digital and the other diversions of our media-saturated lives, yet there are plenty of our publisher’s titles that are still selling just fine (or outselling) their digital companion, so it’s a different situation for every publisher. The larger houses, with big advances to earn out and by publishing more traditional “blockbuster” titles or in genre/commercial fiction, are being most adversely affected. Thankfully we’re not very heavily in that business with our publishers. The opening up of the publishing culture has been interesting to watch unfold—it’s always been insular, at times elitist (You’re reading THAT? You haven’t read THIS?), so seeing publishers and readers have dialogue on social media sites has, from my perspective, been welcome, long overdue, and in need of perpetuating and expanding. Finding more opportunities to engage with (and NOT JUST pitch/sell/market to) readers should be on every publisher’s mind these days.

3.      You used to do marketing and event planning for several college bookstores. What is it like being on that side vs. the publisher side trying to sell into stores? The thing they both have in common is there are always lots of moving pieces to keep together! Planning events for a university bookstore was a great learning experience, and many of the skills I learned there have transferred to my current job. Planning events makes you a pitch person for your store: why a publisher should send an author, what you’ll do to help sales, etc, and the same skills are used when you’re selling books to a retailer. The other thing they both have in common is co-op—yes, it’s a useful tool but very time-consuming and at times frustrating!

4.      What do you make of what happened to Borders? As has been discussed elsewhere, it’s very sad to see a bookseller of that size fall. I made many literary discoveries in Borders stores as a teen, and have known good people who have worked at the chain and reps who sold to them who are now trying to figure out what to do next. It’s been great to see the outpouring of concern for their well-being, and to find them continued work in some capacity within the industry.

5.      What can authors do to make your job easier? Many of them are doing it already by having a platform and alerting people to their book—they’re on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc, or they are working with outside PR or marketing firms to drive sales. These help, as do the efforts of in-house marketing & PR at publishers, but on my accounts, sometimes those efforts don’t do much to drive the sales. It can be a case of it’s just the right book for the right audience, the jacket treatment is right (and that’s ALWAYS subjective and constantly debated in-house), there’s some regional resonance that helps drive the sales--basically, there are many variables and intangibles that can help a book succeed, and authors should know that there isn’t one sure-fire way to make every book a success. They should focus on writing the best book they can, doing the best marketing that they can for it within whatever their comfort level is (some authors are just not good at promoting themselves), and let the reader decide.

6.      What types of genres do you see as selling better than others? Again, with a very diverse bag of imprints and clients, different titles are selling with different accounts—what works in the airports won’t necessarily translate to strong sales in the clubs (and vice versa), and what one club can sell doesn’t always mean it will sell in the other two; that certainly makes the job continuously interesting! We are very strong in regional publishing, literary fiction (HC has taken a hit, but trade is holding its own), strong narrative non-fiction and a great deal of niche/specialty non-fiction, which is very search-engine friendly for discoverability. We also have great kids book lines, which are seeing increases in sales, as well as cookbooks.

7.      What do you love most about being in sales—and in being in the book publishing industry? It always comes down to the people—the ones with whom I work across our several distribution/publisher office locations that are owned by Perseus, as well as the hundreds of publisher clients spread across the globe; the great buyers I sell to; the authors I’ve met and continue to meet; and the other publishing industry people I’ve known for years or might have only just recently met—we all (generally) seem to get along and navigate this rather small, incestuous world called publishing because we share a love for words, story, and language in all of their various shapes, forms, and modes of delivery. Nearly 20 years later it’s still a great industry to be in, and I can’t picture being anywhere else.

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