Crikey. T'warnt there, but apparently the publishing industry panel at SxSW did a major crash-and-burn. While the session was entitled "New Think for Old Publishers," what it demonstrated was that publishers can't new-think at all–or at least, they can't articulate what they are thinking (let alone doing) to nudge publishing over that bridge into the 21st Century.
About a decade late.
The best follow-up article on it comes from the perspective of an audience member, Booksquare's Kassia Kroszer. Another can be found at Medialoper.com , which points out how much publishing relies on reviews from newspapers–sadly, another almost extinct media dinosaur. The first cuts there go to (you guessed it) book review sections. According to Medialoper.com, a truly telling remark was when one of the panelists lamented: “'Maybe we should begin cultivating relationships with bloggers, or something'. Or something?"
On the other hand, contrite panelist William Aicher gives his take here. Essentially it is a heartfelt mea culpa that validates what audience members could hear for themselves: in his words, and I quote, "they no longer hold the keys to the kingdom."
So, who does?
My answer: All of us hold the key to the survival of our industry.
Marketing 101 teaches us the 4 P's. Here how it applies to marketing:
Readers (our consumers) want - and need - books to read. Authors want to write (produce) them. Publishers want to bring them to market (produce & price & promote). Booksellers want to sell (place & promote) them.
In other words, we're all in this together.
Unfortunately, while publishers seem to have a handle on the producing and pricing tasks, they're behind the 8 ball in promotion.
In the old days, that meant a couple of hundred newspaper and a handful of literary mag outlets, maybe a few radio shows that promoted books (much easier for nonfiction than fiction, as we all know). Inhouse publicists would handle placement for this, as well as getting chapter excerpts in magazines (also a dying breed–or moving online), among other tasks.
In this new media world, that means creating and maintaining relevant websites, blogging, wooing bloggers who follow books, and again a few "terrestial"(meaning old school over-the-airwaves) radio shows.
To keep in the game, authors have picked up the ball to some extent. We have blogs, send out missives to fans and bookstores, run contests during book launches, and hit the road to meet readers and booksellers. Booksellers, too, have learned that promotion is key to their very survival.
And yet, neither authors nor booksellers have the financial firepower of the pub houses.
The music industry, too, has gone through a similar restructuring in its distribution format. Metaphorically speaking, if we are to take a page out of that book, publishers will have to do heavier promotion of all their books. The "put all your eggs in one basket" (i.e., bestsellers) biz model is old school. Most bestselling authors I know (other than the prolific Nora Roberts) would prefer to just write one book a year anyway. Will publishers be able to survive on that?
The new biz model: Grow a thicker tail, as opposed to a longer one.
That means do more promotion of more books. Support more authors: those hungry mid-listers and debut authors who have a voice you want to support, and already are doing what they can to help sell their own books.
They just can't do it alone.
If you get rid of the old model, a lot will go to the wayside. Will less books be published? Just like in the music industry, self-publishing will grow, but most that do so won't survive: unless they're wizzes at promoting as well.
In this new media world, promotion is the most important p there is. That said, pub houses can create the most bang for their books by:
1. Immediately assigning ISBNs, and creating book covers and cover blurbs. In regard to marketing, packaging is the first thing a consumer sees. Books don't get on the shelves for, say 11-18 months after the manuscripts are bought. That is 11-18 months in which a book can be promoted for pre-sale. But you can't do that if you don't have these three elements in place.
2. Making their own websites interactive hubs for ALL their authors. Authors should be encouraged to blog there. Communities should be started. Excerpts should be posted there. Chats should be an ongoing feature. Many pub houses already have this in place. Kudos for this! Now put it out there to all your authors, so that they may take advantage of it.
3. Create other online campaigns that promote to a specific market segment that matches up to the book's core audience. Or as my netvixen friend, Poppy, puts it: "The net is fragmented. People hang with their clans and don't venture beyond their bookmarks for the most part. Good marketers identify the social networks and blogs where their core audience hangs out, then 'drills down.' For example, if your demo is knitters and you write cozies, you'll find the blogs that cater to them: invite them to read excerpts, enter a contest...."
You get the picture.
4. Promoting their authors via online radio. Better yet, start their own online radio shows, featuring their authors.
5. Cross-promoting books with other products. In the past, this has happened sporadically. Believe it or not, the marketing and promo teams of major consumer products are always looking for stickiness to their own sites, and something that pops their instore shelf space. Maybe excerpts inside products? Or contests for trips in which you meet the author? Or book giveaways?
6. Distributing books in places other than bookstore. I feel that printed books will always be with us. That said, it's time to think outside the box on where we can sell them. Frankly, that's old school: they used to be sold in department stores and still are in some toystores, gift stores, etc. To use Poppy's "drill down" analogy with the knitting cozy: contact brick-and-mortar stores as well -- like yarn stores-- where you can have Point-of-Sale materials, instore promotions, and tie-ins with products that are already being sold.
7. Investing in indepth market research. Sez Poppy: "Initiate focus groups with your core readers: Say, non college-educated moms between 18-26, graduate-school women who commute and make over 100K a year people who use libraries, people who buy on Amazon (review-focused readers) vs. people who buy mostly at B&N (cover and blurb focused) v. those who shop indies (Word of mouth, where ARCs are appreciated). Then train your marketing team to act as true middlemen between the sales teams ("this will/won't sell") and editorial ("I love this book"); to identify and merge priorities, to translate and get everyone to think outside their specialty. By incorporating business trends and focus studies to find 'the next big thing,' you avoid being the last house to jump on the 'accidental success.'"
We're all in this together. Let's all pick up the promotional "p" and reclaim the kingdom we all hope will be our home for a long, long, time.
PS: Catch me here, on TWITTER: http://twitter.com/JosieBrownCA