Bringing Life to Your Backlist
Springer Science + Business Media does not view Google Book Search as a detriment to its business, but rather as a valuable marketing tool for its popular science, technology and medical (STM) titles.
Paul Manning, vice president of book publishing for Springer, attributes much of the recent growth of the company’s back catalog of older titles to its participation with the controversial program. With more than 30,000 titles available in Google Book Search, the publisher saw more than 1 million views in a one-month period, and 20 percent of its “buy this book” clicks on the search were for titles older than 10 years old, he says. Manning, 42, talks about the advantages of using Book Search and viral marketing to boost future book sales.
Much of the coverage of Google Book Search has been pretty negative in the press. How has it been positive for Springer’s business?
Manning: When this program started … I initially had a feeling that since Springer was a scientific publisher, there was a lot of discrete information that people could look up. I was concerned people would go look for that information, take the information away and not purchase books.
But then we decided to give it a test. We had some successful tests, and we found that there were a lot of people looking at our books. Indeed, there were probably people that were looking at our books, taking information and going away. But there was an increased volume of people looking at our books and discovering things in our books—that’s the word I like to use, “discover.” Through that discovery, a certain percentage of those people are finding the information they needed and are buying the book. We’ve seen a lot more usage, and because of that we’ve seen a lot more sales leads.
… I wouldn’t tie our success last year only to Google Book Search. It was a strong variable, and it definitely contributed. We had an incredible sales year in the U.S. … [including] getting sales on the long-tail of our backlist. We have at this point 30,000 titles in Google Book Search and all that discovery and all those inquires on buying the book increased our sales, definitely [our] backlist [sales].
How did Springer convince itself and its partners that Google was going to help, not hinder business?
Manning: We’re also stewards of content for authors. After books reach a certain age, they’re not really appearing in book stores. You can only find them in online stores. [Book Search] is a way that brings life to backlists. That’s really good for our authors … they don’t want their books to disappear. … It’s good for readers [that] content [is] available and easy to find, and it’s good for a publisher because it stimulates sales.
Because of all the hits we had on backlist books—some of these books weren’t available in print—we’re aggressively going back and scanning our backlist. … From my perspective as a salesperson, it gives us a broader product portfolio. Authors will find it to be terrific because they have a book that is 15 years old that could sell a few copies a year, but it [wasn’t] available anymore. Now it is. That’s great for the relationship between the publisher and the author.
Ultimately, the statistics told the story … Most of the people in our community are pretty scientifically based. You give them a good scientific argument, and they respond to that.
How will these online sales methods coexist with more traditional methods of marketing books in the future?
Manning: I think they have to coexist. Everyone’s behavior is different. So there are people in the science community that are not using Google Book Search. [Their readers] find out about publications in other ways. I don’t think we can ignore those [readers]. At the same time, more people will be using this system and other systems like [it].
Would STM publishers benefit from the type of viral marketing some trade publishers now use allowing users to post samples from books on blogs and Web pages?
Manning: I think we’ll definitely benefit from something
like that. It’s been a marketing discussion that we’ve had for
years here. I think to a certain extent it applies to the science community more [than] it does [to] the general public. Science communities are very tight. They have societies, they have certain Web sites they go to. If someone finds the best computer book on an area, the best chemistry book on a certain area, the best engineering book, they tend to share it with their community.
… In the past, professionals would find out about a book or a journal from a college or from a professor or from a fellow student. There was a lot of that word-of-mouth marketing happening. This is just sort of a boost to that. It gives people more access so they can discover things and share it with their community.
What advice can you give other book publishing executives today about online book sales and book searches?
Manning: I would say … to approach it carefully, but approach it. Don’t shy away from it. Test it, and see what other people’s experiences are.
Start small. Look at your data. The nice thing about working with these programs is that if you do a test and are not satisfied, you can walk away. My feeling is if you do a test, you’ll find some reasons to go forward. BB