Friday, September 16, 2011

Bookstore Chains Down 33%

Twenty years ago these were 3293 bookstore chain outlets.  There are now 2206, mainly because   Borders has disappeared.  Goodbye also to Waldenbooks, Crown Books, Zondervan Bookstores, Bookland, Lauriat’s, Tower Books, etc.  Books-A-Million recently took over 24 Borders locations, which is fine, but hundreds more simply got wiped off the book landscape. Unless the  the e-book revolution slows down and the recession ends, neither of which seem likely in the near-term, the bookstore world won’t stabilize or grow.

Banned Books No More?
Banned Books Week takes place September 24-October 1, but one has to wonder if the 30th year of this event is losing its significance.  This would be a good thing if true.

For one, not much has been banned or complained about.  USA Today noted 513 “ban” challengers were registered in 2008.  Only 348 last year.  There are 100,000 public schools in the US educating 50 million students.  There are 33,000 private schools and 10,000 public libraries. A few hundred complaints seem to indicate not much is being banned, assuming people know of which books are banned.

On the other hand any banning is harmful to America.  Our rights and freedoms depend on free speech and equal access to all books.  But with the availability of materials online for free, as well as access to cheap e-books, soon nothing should be considered “banned.”

Interview With Sean Maher, Marketing Manager, Da Capo Press
Sean Maher has been in book publishing for nine years – five in marketing and four in publicity. He is the marketing manager for Da Capo Press ( and he shares his insights on today’s publishing landscape below:

1.       Where do you see the book industry heading? With so much intellectual energy directed towards digital now, I think some interesting projects and partnerships could emerge on the shoulders of book content, making the reading experience richer while also introducing certain titles to a larger audience. For instance, Da Capo Press publishes a very strong list of music books. It makes sense to me that a music book in a digital format would allow the reader to connect with a partner like iTunes within the framework of the book and hear the music of the artist being examined (with the option to purchase the music). And it makes sense that a reciprocal connection would be provided in iTunes when the artist is searched or music is downloaded, letting the consumer searching music know that the artist has written an autobiography (with an option to purchase the book or ebook). Or, this summer a lot has been written about in-flight tablets replacing back-of-the-seat entertainment, with airlines planning on pre-loading some content.

To my mind, this keeps the consumer in the airport bookstore throughout the flight. I think it would be interesting for publishers—especially publishers of travel guides, genre fiction or children’s books, but even general non-fiction—to partner with the airlines in some way to determine what content is pre-loaded, or what book content can be promoted with the tablet and at what price, adding value to the passenger’s experience in a targeted way, based on the airline’s customer data.     

Obviously—and thankfully—some (if not most) books should be books only. The most-preferred format being words printed on a page. But I think, now and going forward, everybody making books needs to—very early on in the process—constantly think about what it means to have words and book-length content on a screen, and experiment with ways to meet the expectations of the person interacting with that screen.

2.      What challenges are you finding when it comes to marketing books? The first challenge, always, is to convince everyone involved with bringing a book to market (sales reps, designers, booksellers, etc.) that the books we publish are necessary and valuable and deserve attention. It has to be made explicit that the book is not going to waste people’s time. It’s not a promise (it’s important to note) that every book will change lives or that every book is for everybody, but more that it’s being published because we know that there is an audience of people that will find value in the work.

And so the second challenge, for marketers, is to define, reach out, and connect with that audience. Social media, of course, has helped tremendously in targeting the ideal reader….for some books. For all books, though, the challenge is in determining the right retail outlet, bookstore, partner organization and/or communities, often through intense research and through the expert input from authors, editors, and agents.             

3.      How do you work with your authors to maximize their efforts to promote and market? In one of your previous interviews, Jaime Leifer, Publicity Director at PublicAffairs, described authors as “collaborators in the publicity process….There’s no one who’s a bigger expert” in the author’s particular field or subject. I agree with this whole-heartedly, and rely on the author’s knowledge of his or her community—online and off--to develop a campaign that fully leverages that community. How do the authors find or learn about books they’re interested in? What websites do they read? Who do they follow on twitter and who follows them? What conferences do they attend? When is there next album coming out or when are they getting the band back together? These are questions that need to be asked as soon as the book is acquired. Knowing the answers can only strengthen everyone’s promotional efforts.

4.      Are you marketing e-books differently than you do printed books? How so? Right now, my effort is being invested in targeting the audience, raising awareness, and illustrating the value of the book’s content, then letting the audience decide what format works best for them. To this point, it’s of vital importance that we are offering the ebook across devices. My hope is that if the partnerships I mention in question #1 become reality, that we would create a space for different ebook-specific marketing.  

5.      What do you love about being a part of the book industry? It’s interesting to be in an industry in which so much is changing so fast. There’s a nervous excitement about the whole thing. It reminds me a little bit of how I felt when my dad unpacked my family’s first VCR in the early ‘80s. My dad was an expert at changing the oil in the car and fixing things around the house, but didn’t play—or even understand—Pac-Man. He certainly wasn’t what you’d call a technology guy. But because of who he was, I accepted the fact that at first there were probably going to be some glitches and the clock might blink 12:00 for a while, but ultimately he’d figure it out. Right now, publishing seems a little like my dad unpacking the VCR.           

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