28 April 09 | Chad W. Post

That was the name of the panel that I moderated at this year’s London Book Fair, and which featured Abby Blachly of LibraryThing, Lance Fensterman of Reed Exhibitions (in particular, BookExpo America and New York Comic Con), Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and Mark Thwaite of ReadySteadyBook.com, the Book Depository, and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

By design, this panel was more about new methods and ideas about marketing, and about the evolving relationship between publishers and their readers, rather than about how to market a particular book. That said, a lot of the discussion—and the particular ideas presented—centered around more “niche” books and how to find a particular audience for these sorts of books via the internet, LibraryThing, etc.

Rather than recap the whole event (not that my memory of what happened last Monday is all that clear anyway), here are a few of the bigger points that came out of this:

  • Mark Thwaite emphasized the importance of publishers having a good website. Not one that’s a confusing mess like this. Or this. This seems super obvious, but the most successful publisher sites are clear, easy to navigate, have individual pages for each book (so that bloggers can link to them, right HMH?), and provide additional content about books and authors.
  • If you’re going to include a blog, publishers should keep a few things in mind: 1) you have to keep blogging on a regular basis, rather than just putting up a couple posts and forgetting about it; 2) linking to other blogs and having other blogs link to you, which ties into the even more crucial point 3) which is to not treat a blog like a place to make hard-sells. All of this can be summed up by thinking of a blog as part of a ongoing conversation—not a place for a publisher to make repeated hard sells.
  • Which was a sentiment echoed by Abby about publishers on LibraryThing. Publishers frequently open accounts on LT, add all of their own books to their library, and then give each one 5 stars. Not effective at all. Everyone can smell a self-promoter, and this sort of thing turns real participants off. That said, editors who have their personal libraries on LT and legitimately participate in conversations, forums, etc., are welcomed into the community, and end up naturally sharing information about their publishing house and its books. Readers outside of the industry think publishing is sexy and love to meet editors—just not editors who begin messages with: “Hi, it was great meeting you the other day. I have a new book I think you would like to purchase.” Read Buying In by Rob Walker for more info on this sort of “marketing.” It really is the new paradigm and anyone trying to use social networks for hard sells is going to run into problems.
  • The Early Reviewers program is f’ing effective at putting books into the hands of the right reader. LT uses a complicated algorithm to match books with people who might be interested in that particular title. For instance, if a publisher is offering up free copies of a book on the Berlin Wall, someone who only have romance titles in their library won’t win the drawing.
  • Although he considered it a bit of a failure (the women participating weren’t keen on the book), Bob Stein’s Golden Notebook Project did lead to some interesting findings. The Institute knew this going in, but one thing that I found really interesting is the finding that by putting the “comments” section right next to the post/original text (in contrast to putting comments at the bottom of the page, like below . . .) readers are much more likely to respond and the conversation develops rather quickly. Very curious how the physical layout so greatly impacts the overall conversation and experience.
  • Lance already wrote a long post about this, but in his opinion, trade shows are dead. He doesn’t mean that the LBF and BEA are about to vanish, but that the very idea of what constitutes “trade” needs to shift. Things are in a bad way when a book critic who writes a dozen reviews a year is allowed to attend the industry’s one and only trade show, but the top reviewer on Amazon, who writes more than 100 reviews a year, isn’t allowed access. The boundary between “trade” and “non-trade” is very blurry these days, and rather than try and restrict access to BookExpo, Lance believes (and I second this wholeheartedly) that the show needs to be opened up to include the enthusiasts who can be as effective in promoting literature as a traditional critic. For the publishing industry to really thrive, we need both of these groups coming to BEA and getting excited about future offerings. Forward-thinking publishers who realize that a passionate reader is your greatest ally no matter where she/he works already know this—it’s just the stodgy corporations who are strangling the show’s potential.

Overall, this was one of the best London Book Fair panels I’ve ever been on. Great presentations and wonderful questions from the audience. And hopefully we came up with some interesting ideas that are of some benefit to publishers large and small.


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