Adult trade publishers with a “change is good” attitude are finding success in today’s market. From promoting literacy to experimenting with new marketing initiatives, such as social networking sites and author videos, and new distribution formats, such as e-books and digital downloads, industry leaders are now acting upon, not resisting, the significant turn the publishing world has been taking. Data indicates that while monthly sales fluctuate, overall, sales are still up, and many publishers are proactively striving to keep them that way.
Last month, The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reported that adult hardbound book sales totaled $2.8 billion in 2007, a 7.8-percent increase over the previous year. Adult paperbacks sales totaled $2.3 billion last year, a 0.2-percent increase over 2006. )
“The gains in the adult trade segment… have been incremental over the years, and … the compound growth rate over the past few years has been steady,” says Tina Jordan, AAP vice president.
What does this mean for publishing executives? “The health of the trade market indicates that there is an ongoing enthusiasm for reading as a leisure activity, not to mention that the selection of titles consumers have to pick from is endless,” Jordan says. “The formats available to them—audio (via CD or digital download) and e-books—give consumers a selection of how they want to read.”
Focus on Readership
Today’s readers are multitaskers: They digest more information in less time, and for this reason and many others, the Internet has become a powerful tool. It also, in some cases, rivals books as a potential source for information. With the emergence of Web 2.0 applications, consumers have easy access to a wealth of information online, from forums and blogs to online databases and usergenerated content Web sites such as Wikipedia.
An August 2007 Associated Press- Ipsos poll showed that three-fourths of adults read at least one book in the past year. But what about the 25 percent who didn’t?
Patricia S. Schroeder, former congresswoman and president of AAP, is hopeful that initiatives like the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read campaign, which promotes literacy through communitywide book clubs, and the emergence of book groups among individuals, will keep Americans reading for pleasure, regardless of whether they do it in print or digital format. “We’ve been very excited about the NEA’s Big Read, where they’re pushing reading across the country. It’s really helping people focus on reading,” says Schroeder.
In addition, the AAP’s Get Caught Reading campaign, which Schroeder created nearly a decade ago, continues to encourage literacy by featuring celebrity spokespeople including Alicia Keys, Drew Carey, Diane Sawyer, Derek Jeter and dozens of others. Schroeder says “the program is still vibrant,” and reports that the AAP is currently developing a spin-off campaign, Get Caught Listening, which will focus on audiobooks.
While consumers now have wider access to entertainment than ever before, the intrinsic value of books is still appreciated. Ursula K. Le Guin’s February Harper’s Magazine article, “Staying Awake: Notes on the Alleged Decline of Reading,” points out, “The book itself … is a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye and a human mind.”
Johnny Temple, publisher of Brooklyn- based Akashic Books, an independent publisher producing roughly 25 titles per year, recalls the reason he entered the publishing world in the first place: the beauty of books. “The book form has been around for so many hundreds of years, and [remains] basically unchanged,” he says. “Books are so special and singular and beautiful, so I don’t think it’ll ever be obsolete, but I do believe that the book as a form will shrink down.”
The Digital Boom
Regardless of the tactile pleasure of flipping pages, the digital format is one that all publishing executives need to consider. Of digital readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, Temple says, “Culture changes, culture evolves and it moves forward. [As a publisher], you don’t want to be a curmudgeon, so I think we have to embrace it.”
Ed McCoyd, director of digital policy at AAP, agrees. “The fact that 90,000 titles are already available for use on the Kindle is clear evidence that book publishers are embracing digital distribution,” he says. And, so it seems, the numbers are only going to get bigger. “While e-books still only account for a very small portion of total book industry sales, their sales numbers have been increasing steadily for the past several years,” McCoyd says.
Even libraries are making adjustments to accommodate new publishing technologies. McCoyd explains, “Libraries purchase the books outright, and the encryption attached to the [e-]book permits a one-patron-at-a-time lending model,” which mimics traditional library lending. “The patron ‘checks out’ the book and reads it on the device of his or her choosing,” McCoyd says. “When the lending period expires, the book automatically ‘checks back in,’ and the next patron can access it.”
But while e-books have shown signs of success so far (the AAP reported sales of $67 million in 2007, a 23.6-percent increase over the previous year), Schroeder points out that there hasn’t yet been a huge surge in the market. “All of our members are doing e-books, so if people prefer reading it on-screen, they have that available,” she says. “Someday there may be a device that they will read books on,” in the same way iPods have transformed music-listening, “but most people [still] like to read an actual book.”
Financially, Schroeder indicates that smaller publishers initially may be frustrated with the emergence of e-books, since they’ll be pushed to make their product accessible in electronic form as well as print.
But Brian Tart, publisher and president of Penguin Group division Dutton Books, which produces approximately 45 titles per year, predicts that small publishers will not suffer. “We’ve invested money into converting books into digital files, but they’re not unreasonable costs at this point,” he says.
“Eventually we’re all going to get to the point where reading books on readers [like the Kindle] is just going to be the norm,” Tart continues, “and I think most publishers are going to be fine, because we’ll still be presenting the books to the readers, and that’s what matters.”
Schroeder agrees. “Publishers don’t own paper companies or printing presses,” she says. “They don’t care how you read it, as long as you read it.”
Making Authors Accessible
Fostering positive relationships between authors and their readers is becoming an integral part of many adult trade publishers’ marketing strategies.
This strategy has been particularly successful on the Web. Lauren Naefe, online marketing manager for Avon A, a division of HarperCollins geared toward women, is enthusiastic about building an online community with readers. “From coordinating virtual blog tours and events to hosting largescale sweepstakes, we’ve certainly tried a lot online—and we’re continuously testing new ways to reach our demographic on the Web,” she says. “In my experience, the best online campaigns have involved authentic author participation and uniting readers together in communities.”
Avon A also has experimented with community- building via social networking sites Facebook.com and Gather.com. By collaborating with these existing Web sites, Avon has been able to strengthen its reader base through an already-established online infrastructure. The publisher taps into those Web sites’ users by offering original content created around its titles and authors, such as articles and book reviews; organizing author participation, such as in live chats; and providing visitors with a platform to converse and connect around shared interests and passions, notably reading. On Gather.com, for example, Avon sponsors a fiction-readers group, which has nearly 500 members who engage in content and discussion related to Avon books and authors.
In addition, many publishers are incorporating video into their Web sites in order to draw in younger, more “YouTube-oriented” readers. In June 2007, Simon & Schuster and Internet video company TurnHere Inc. unveiled the first wave of online videos showcasing Simon & Schuster authors and sneak previews of new book releases. The videos are featured on a Simon & Schusterbranded YouTube platform (www.YouTube.com/bookvideostv) and on www.BookVideos. tv, a social media video site dedicated to books and authors.
Naefe explains that Avon A is taking a similar route to reach its readers. “We recently developed a series of video blogs with best-selling author Meg Cabot for [her book] ‘Big Boned,’” she says. “Rather than subscribing to the ubiquitous (and precarious) book-trailer trend, we created a series of two-minute video blogs filming Meg just being Meg—riffing on celebrities, giving beauty tips, reinterpreting ‘Little Women’ and so on. Because of their authenticity, the videos really reached viral proportion— and online sales for ‘Big Boned’ nearly doubled the previous book in the series.”
Tart points out that consumers have always wanted to know about authors, “where their creative process comes from, why their characters do what they do,” and now they finally have the opportunity to break down that wall.
One initiative, HarperCollins’ Author Assistant program, does just that. “Because online campaigns work best when authors are involved, we’re always providing quick-and-easy training and how-to sheets for our authors. Now they can man their own pages and ‘micro-sites’ on the HarperCollins Web site,” says Naefe. “We [also] have a visual ‘Author Connections’ map that recommends other authors based on the preferences of fans of a particular [author].” She adds, “Fans can sign up for an author’s ‘Author Tracker’ to receive e-mail alerts of upcoming books and events online and/or offline.” (Read more about the marketing goals behind the “Author Tracker” and other HarperCollins initiatives on page 18.)
While the Internet offers many opportunities for community building, some publishers are taking a more in-person approach. “We are extremely aggressive about sending our authors on national tours, more so than other independent publishers,” says Temple, whose company focuses less on the Web than it does on face-to-face book signings and readings. “If you can do special, meaningful events, you can draw people in.”
Trends in 2008
As 2008 is a crucial year for presidential candidates, so it is for the publishers of their books. “Political nonfiction in any election year is always going to dominate the media and most likely the bestseller lists,” says Tart.
Schroeder of AAP predicts that not only will political figures’ own books be showing up on bookshelves, but that “in this political year, we’re going to see an awful lot of nonfiction with people trying to figure out what’s going on in the Middle East, the war, the economy.” In other words, writers will be hashing out these issues as they pertain to potential candidates. And while television is an easy political access point, “People may want to know more than that before they vote,” Schroeder says. “Everyone’s going to be out there reading about what’s going on.”
Politics aside, adult trade publishers are excited across the board for what’s yet to come in 2008. Akashic Books is continuing its city-based noir series, a “big marketing success,” according to Temple; Dutton’s Tart is embracing the “return of the big epic novel” with the sequel to Oprah Book Club pick “The Pillars of the Earth”; and Schroeder indicates that film and fiction are collaborating more than ever. “‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’—when I read that, I said, ‘There’s no way they can make a movie out of it’—and they’ve done it!” says Schroeder.
Another digital trend for 2008 and beyond is the digital repository, which, according to McCoyd, “contains digitized versions of thousands of frontlist print titles.” Random House and HarperCollins have already embraced this, allowing Web site users to perform keyword searches of the texts of thousands of books. “Right now those two databases [Random House and HarperCollins] are primarily focused on promotion of the printed editions, but Random House has announced plans to make the contents of the digital versions available for sale on a pay-perpage basis,” McCoyd explains.
According to Naefe of HarperCollins’ Avon A, “Readers can come to our Web site and ‘digitally flip through’ up to 20 percent of a certain book. They can read excerpts, look at pictures and actually experience the book online before they buy.”
HarperCollins also has recently announced a new initiative offering readers a digital preview of the entire contents of select books prior to their official launch.
Making readers feel close to their authors of choice through Internet connectivity is a win-win proposition for publishers. Tart says that while publishers previously were limited in terms of outreach (television ads, radio, print, etc.), the Web provides a whole new access point. “I think every commercial best-selling author should and does have a strong presence either on Web sites or blogs,” he says. “It’s just another way to expand your market and meet new readers. Publishers would be crazy not to try to maximize that.”
Carolyn Huckabay, arts editor for the Philadelphia City Paper, has copy edited publications including Where and Philadelphia magazines, and was a contributing book critic and copy editor for The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.