In January we attended Digital Book World in New York City. Taking a new direction this year, the programming for DBW 2017 was divided into four tracks conceptualized to deliver something for everyone in the industry. These were: Editorial Acquisitions and Development, Production and Distribution, Marketing and Sales, and Data Analysis and Reporting.
Our industry is constantly evolving and publishers and staff across all levels are challenged daily with the evolving needs of our customer base. As noted by Phil Sexton, former Vice President and General Manager of Digital Book World:“It’s no longer simply about succeeding with digital books. It’s about succeeding as a publishing professional in a digital world, where every product you create – and how you create it – is impacted by the requirements of new revenue channels, methods of delivery, consumer expectations, author needs, and so much more.”
Indeed, publishers today are being asked to be more knowledgeable, engaged, and adept than ever. DBW 2017 addressed key areas of opportunity and development in contemporary publishing. We’ve recapped two of the sessions we attended with more to follow next week.
7 Questions for Macmillan CEO John Sargent
Speaker: John Sargent, Executive Vice President of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and CEO of Macmillan
John Sargent opened the conference with a keynote address examining critical issues facing today’s book publishing industry. Attendees were invited to submit questions in advance of the conference. Sargent said that he was surprised to find that very small number of questions were specifically about digital publishing. One can speculate that perhaps this is a marker of our times. Digital is now fully engrained in the publishing process. Its role in our daily lives is momentous and it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern “digital” as a separate entity. It operates hand-in-hand with the traditional processes, making publishing today a hybrid entity of the old and the new.
One of the critical questions Sargent was asked is “What is an example of your own experience that you think is the very essence of our business?” A tricky question with a simple answer. For Sargent, the most joyous and important experience in publishing is making a book work. After many years of working in the industry, he still finds little greater pleasure that launching a book that works and lasts and touches millions of people over time. With this, Sargent astutely identified the reason so many of us were drawn into the industry in the first place, and stay involved even when the going gets tough.
Sargent also addressed the question “Is there a future in this business? Can our current structure possibly be right in this current world?” Another difficult question to answer. Sargent raised the point that publishers have a habit of seeing the dark side of things. Strange for an industry whose core business model relies so heavily on a sense of optimism, he said. 2016 didn’t see a massive drop in revenue across the industry. Even with all the consumer penetration across different devices, Sargent identified that print is still coming out on top and there is no clear device on the horizon that seems set to change that. Ebook growth has stagnated, and did so before it forced book retailers out of the business, unlike what we have seen in the music industry. Rather than allow ebooks to introduce a new form of writing, said Sargent, consumers have instead voted that ebooks will simply mark a new format for the writing we have always enjoyed. Certainly new formats will continue to exist, he said, but “they are the margins, not the meat of the business”. What is old becomes new again. Digital audiobooks are a format whose very core harkens back to the serialized radio stories of years past. In the midst of the digital revolution, Sargent spoke about how we are returning to forms that have historically worked, simply executed differently.
If our business isn’t shrinking and digital businesses are growing, said Sargent, then that means that there is more time for reading happening all around. It is just happening across a variety of formats. And yet, discovery in an ever-growing problem. In a world where readers are constantly surrounded by so many distractions and influences, how do we stand out from the crowd? This, he noted, is the struggle.
Sargent then went on to address the elephant in the room: “What is the future of our industry?” Today we turn to algorithms and data for answers. He cautioned, as publishers in the 21st century we must adjust our culture to ensure we use the data available to us, and use it correctly. We also need to make sure we can publish anything writers write, and that we’re able to do so in the format and way in which they choose to publish. If we get it right, he said, we will have a successful data-rich business. So, the question is: how do we get there? Firstly, Sargent insisted we must continue to invest in direct marketing to communities of readers. This is something we can do better than Amazon, he said. Secondly, we must continue to invest in social media and analytics. In doing so, Sargent said publishers will have finally be able to measure success in a meaningful way, something they have struggled to do since the first days of the industry. Finally, we must compile databases across a host of workflows and ensure we make use of the power and tools they can provide. We can’t do it all ourselves, he said, so let them help us out.
All in all, publishing today comprises a significant and diverse skill set beyond those afforded in the traditional format of our business. Nevertheless, Sargent insisted that at its core publishing remains the same. There are new skills required, but our mandate is still to find the best authors and connect them to as many readers as possible.
Sargent ended on a positive note. The final question was, “Is publishing a good place to make your career?” In his reply, Sargent simply suggested to ask anyone in the industry whether they enjoy going to work in the morning. Chances are, most people in publishing love what they do. His final answer? “If you don’t need a lot of cash, it really is!”
Next Generation Influencer Marketing
Speakers: Susan Ruszala (OptiQly), Marguerite Joly (Head of New Business Initiatives, Ullstein Publishing), Grant Deken (Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, Grapevine), Patrick Brown (Director of Author Marketing, Goodreads)
Word-of-mouth is one of the most sought after and elusive forms of book marketing. In an era where consumers are inundated with content, word-of-mouth is a necessary ingredient for success. Influencer marketing focuses on using leaders in your industry to drive your brand’s message. This can take many forms by inspiring, activating, hiring, or paying influencers to engage with your product and get your message out.
Digital and social media technologies have introduced a new wave of opportunities for influencer marketing. But how do we get our books into the hands of those key individuals who will shout their praises from the rooftops? DBW gathered together a panel of industry players who have successfully bridged this gap. Here are a few key points and best practices that emerged from the discussion:
- Don’t try to reach everyone. Focus on reaching the right people. Some of the most effective influencer marketing happens on an organic level. Create your own influencer marketing network focused on incubating micro influence.
- Ebook giveaways are an effective and proven method to sell books. Start the conversation early. Offer ebooks to key influencers ahead of publication. Encourage them to discuss them in their networks. On sites such as Goodreads this can generate lots of reviews for a book before publication.
- Target people with a known network of followers. Targeted giveaways foster a feeling of exclusivity. Make the most of the emotional connection between audience and tastemaker.
- Think outside the box. Marguerite Joly provided the example of a marketing campaign focused on targeting lifestyle bloggers as their key influencers. The result was a very successful (and visually appealing) campaign that grew to include wrapping paper printed exclusively for the book and a collaboration with a nail polish company. In breaking new ground they were able to influence a large audience that would have otherwise been beyond their reach.
- Engage directly with consumers and build an organic network of influencers. Joly described a campaign where Ullstein invited readers to read an excerpt of a book and write a 400 word blurb on why they wanted to win an advance copy. As a result they received several pre-publication blurbs from readers about why they couldn’t wait to read the book. A great marketing tool.
- Let the experts guide you. Know your influencer, but let them apply their own personality and art to the product and promotion.
- Make use of your assets. Every publisher has access to a pool of authors. Leverage that advantage and get your authors to work as influencers for you.
- Focus on the long term. Influencer marketing is about building a relationship, not running one campaign. Start small, figure out what works, and build from there.
- Be authentic. The reader needs to believe in the recommendation. Social media is democratized and users can easily identify when you’re selling out. Be careful about pandering to your audience as this can come across as disingenuous.
- Honesty is key. If you are sponsoring an influencer, disclose it. Otherwise you run the risk of making your consumers feel like you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
- Don’t shoot for the stars right off the bat. Celebrity influencers come at a premium. Better to start with someone small and up-and-coming. Building a relationship early in the career of an influencer has its advantages. They will value your loyalty and you will have the privilege of growing with them.