Publishers Must Sell Brands, Not Just Books
The Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS) held its first annual Book Marketing Conference in Philadelphia last week for publishers looking to sell titles in traditional and non-traditional bookstores. To do that, many speakers emphasized, takes a great deal of creativity and plenty of branding.
The story that exemplified this is one that Sumya Ojakli, senior director of special sales at Simon & Schuster, shared in her keynote. One of her most memorable projects was taking on Pat The Bunny, which has been a long-time bestseller since its first publication in 1940, and owes its recent resurgence to Ojakli's efforts.
When she took on Pat The Bunny, sales were flat, but she saw potential in the nostalgic nature of this touch and feel baby book. Over a six-month period, she started to create samples of products that could be sold as part of the Pat The Bunny brand. Ojakli enlisted her assistant to iron Pat The Bunny images onto baby clothes, had a manufacturer make a few stuffed-bunnies, and asked a friend to create an old steamer trunk that would display these products. She was no longer selling the book itself, but rather a brand to which parents could become loyal.
Ojakli presented this to Barnes & Noble and the store's representatives' first reaction was, "We can't do this." What Ojakli suggested was something that had never been done before with the title and the retailers were skeptical. She pressed them, asking, "But what could you do with this?" The question spurred Barnes & Noble to display the Pat The Bunny brand on porches in over two hundred of their stores and soon many licensees were vying to buy the Pat The Bunny license.
This creative approach is similar to that of David Jacobs of 29th Street Publishing, who was recently interviewed by Publishing Executive. Although he is a magazine app creator, his approach to promote his clients' publications is similar to that of Ojakli. Jacobs' advice: publishers need to approach the industry as if they were a startup, unburdened by any preconceived notion of how the industry should work. They should ask themselves: Does a book have to be sold in a bookstore? Can publishers market a book, not as a book but as a brand?
Ojakli and Jacobs aren't involved with content creation; they leave their authors' words untouched. It's the repackaging that sways retailers and grabs reader attention. Publishers need a startup's imagination to deliver that content in a package that readers want to consume, but more than that. Publishers need brands that create brand loyalty, like Apple or Coca-Cola or Pat The Bunny.
It is not an easy task, but Simon & Schuster is not alone in pushing brands first. As more publishers adopt these practices, it will be interesting to see if the industry reaches a point where magazines and books are packaged quite similarly-not as content that stands alone but as an all-encompassing brand.