More recaps of the sessions we attended at Digital Book World. A conversation on how to work effectively with the media and insights into the future of audiobooks.
How to Work More Effectively with the Media
Speakers: Alexandra Alter (Publishing Reporter, The New York Times), Melissa Egan (Executive Producer, WNYC’s The Leonard Lopate Show), Ellen Frankman (Senior Producer, The Takeaway), Tina Jordan (Senior Editor, Entertainment Weekly), Robin Sanders (Planning Producer, CBS News Sunday Morning)
Moderator: Yona Deshommes (Associate Director of Publicity, Atria Books)
The room was packed for the panel of book reporters and reviewers, radio and television producers, and bookers from some of the top U.S. national outlets. As discussed in our previous blog post about DBW 2017, there are many new ways to market books. Despite what some may think, the strongholds of traditional media still have clout.
As moderator Yona Deshommes said in her opening, “Oprah used to the biggest get. You used to want that and a New York Times review.” All campaigns used to include tours, and every book was reviewed in the press. That doesn’t happen anymore, she lamented. Publishers have to choose which authors to tour and budgets are struggling to accommodate the costs. Getting media coverage is hard, especially for a debut author. Since the economic crisis of 2008 many media outlets have fallen by the wayside. And yet, media coverage still makes a huge difference for books, concluded Deshommes. “These represent the people who are still booking books” for national media coverage, she said, indicating towards the panel. So the question is how do we get our books into their hands?
When examining how digital has changed media coverage for books the answers from the panel were mixed. Alexandra Alter from The New York Times pointed out that digital has completely transformed what they do, drastically so. In fact, it altered the very core of The New York Times, she said. Now the focus is on rebuilding the publication as digital first, print second. With the NYT running a wide gamut of online articles, podcasts, print articles, and Facebook live events – if something doesn’t work for print there are other outlets to explore. Tina Jordan of Entertainment Weekly and Melissa Egan of The Leonard Lopate Show were quick to agree. Both said they are always on the lookout for new ways to connect readers with books. Ellen Frankman echoed the need for recycling coverage, topics, and interviews across various formats and outlets available on their site, as well as the need for social media engagement. The Takeaway is more likely to pick up a book if it’s inciting online conversation, she said. Interestingly, Robin Sanders of CBS News Sunday Morning noted that digital technologies have had little effect on the ways they present and discover stories. The exception to the rule.
Podcasts were a topic of significant discussion and interest for the panel. The majority of panelists actively used podcasts as an outlet to connect with readers. Jordan said she often finds podcasts a useful way to promote those authors and books she didn’t have room to fit into the magazine, those who may be better served in digital outlets, or even those who are overlooked and subsequently discovered in year-end reviews. Podcasts help to give these titles a flexible platform, she said. Frankman had a similar approach. Since their show is a radio broadcast they often produce a longer podcast version of the radio show—allowing more time for author and book coverage.
Perhaps the most useful question asked of the panel was “How do you vet the books you read? What grabs your attention and makes you decide to go with a particular title over another?” All panelists acknowledged that they do examine each book that gets sent—even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way—so keep em’ coming! For Sanders, the marketability and timing of the book play a huge role in her decision. She requires books be sent significantly ahead of publication in order to qualify for a spot on CBS News Sunday Morning. Their coverage is mostly focused on non-fiction, with the occasional space for big-name fiction hard hitters like Stephen King. The New York Times’ Alter had a different approach. For Alter, it is often the press release or blurb that catch her eye. She is constantly on the lookout for books with an interesting backstory, whether debut or a seasoned author. The two radio producers had yet another approach – for them, it’s all about the theme, topicality, and what fits into the narrative of their overall programme. Both Frankman and Egan were open to hearing about new and older titles. It is more important that they complement the theme of a particular episode. Both are seeking authors who can move the conversation forward. Both also cited the importance of authors being vetted for audio broadcast and the requirement that the material be substantial enough to warrant an interview. Jordan had yet another approach. She prefers receiving books ahead of the curve, in manuscript format, and is open to titles of all varieties and genres.
All panelists agreed that personal touches go a long way. When submitting titles, a handwritten note or a phone call can sometimes make a world of difference. Many of the panelists also indicated they would prefer to receive advance copies or materials anywhere between 2—10 weeks in advance of publication, sometimes even six months before. When it comes to following-up, the panelists suggested email or phone is preferred. As for timelines, they asked for patience. They have a lot of reading to get through and not enough time in the day, despite their best intentions. A feeling familiar to many, I’m sure.
Essential Insights into the Future of Audiobooks
Speakers: Michele Cobb (Executive Director, Audio Publishers Association), Amanda d’Acierno (Senior Vice President, Publisher, Penguin Random House Audio), Ron Formica (Director of Acquisitions at Tantor Media), Ralph Lazaro (VP, Digital Products Group, Findaway), Erica Lazzaro (General Counsel and Director of Publisher Services, OverDrive)
Moderator: Lorraine Shanley (President, Market Partners International)
The recent success of audiobooks has made this format one of great interest to a number of publishers. Many publishers are seeking information on how to maximize their products through the creation of audiobooks. Although it was disappointing that this panel took the form of individual presentations rather than a candid discussion about the opportunities and challenges of audiobook publishing, there were some key takeaways for those interested in keeping abreast of developments in this field:
- Audiobook sales have seen continuous growth over the last five years. In the past two years alone, there has been an increase of 47% in the number of units sold, according to the Audio Publishers’ Association (APA).
- In 2015, audiobook sales totalled US$1.77 billion. Of these, only 3.5% were abridged titles. Fiction (77.3% of sales in 2015) is more popular than non-fiction (23.7%) (APA).
- 55 million Americans listened to audiobooks in 2015 (APA).
- The majority of users are between the ages of 45-54, but 25-35 year-olds represent a growing part of the market. They have time and money to spare and may become lifelong listeners (APA).
- The five most popular genres are: Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, History/Biography/Memoirs, Popular Fiction, Classics, and Science Fiction/Fantasy (APA).
- The advent of podcasts, smartphones and growing media coverage have been largely responsible for the growth of audiobooks. Today, they are a recognizable part of the consumer industry (PRH Audio).
- When marketing audiobooks you need to think outside the box. Focus on niche markets and communities that may not apply to marketing/publicity teams for books in more traditional formats. For example, knitters, business travellers, gardeners, and cooks are all niche markets for audio titles. Audiobook listeners are often the most voracious readers who enjoy the flexibility of listening to a book while doing other tasks and/or jobs. Find ways to connect with them. Trade shows are a good place to start (PRH Audio).
- Make your books available in public libraries. According to OverDrive, “audiobooks in libraries have been experiencing double digit, meteoric growth.”
- 40% of library readers use both ebooks and audiobooks (OverDrive).
- The majority of library audiobook users are female, aged 45-54, with advanced degrees, a household income of over US$75,000, and are readers of books across all formats (OverDrive)
- Although there are parallels between ebook and audio sales, ebook success doesn’t always translate into audio success. Price point remains an issue (Tantor Media)
- In a case study where readers were provided with access to both ebook and an audio versions of a title and given the option of how to consume it, 55% of users opted to read first, while 45% chose to listen (Findaway, discussing their DuoBook app).