At #FutureBook16, a conference based in London, authors, agents, publishers, and others converged to discuss the future of the book. Or, really, the future of publishing.
Spoiler: the industry doesn’t think it’s that bright. In his keynote, Tim Healy Hutchinson Hachette UK said that the book market is in “secular decline.”
The entire industry is shaking, reeling, seizing up. I’ve talked about the failure of the book industry to adapt to digital marketing strategies.
One statistic that I saw passing through the Twittersphere really leapt out at me:
— Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) December 2, 2016
In online searches, 60% of all book searches are deliberate.
That’s from Michael Tamblyn, the CEO of Kobo. It’s probably harvested from Kobo’s data around 5 million eBooks, which is a pretty good sample size.
That means people know what they want, before they even get to it. This could be a simple matter of showrooming in bookstores. Or it’s because people heard about a book from a friend or family member.
Um… and that’s about it. Right? Because, still, somehow, books aren’t being marketed online at all.
Face, Meet Book
The lack of digital marketing budget or effort on the side of publishers is alarming to me. Book stores are going out of business around the country. Some, true, are seeing record sales. But those are far and few between – literally. So if someone can’t reach a bookstore anymore, they’re going to go online.
In many areas of the country, even the Bronx, for example, there is not a single bookstore. For reference, the Bronx has 1.4 million residents.
Without a bookstore, the easiest way to find books is going online. But how do consumers find books? What is their journey like? I guarantee no traditional publisher has that data. If they are, they aren’t talking.
So publishers, again and again, lose out.
Why don’t I see paid social ads that target people’s interests and demographics? I’ve never seen anything that promotes a book online. That seems to be an easy way to do it.
If you’re writing a book with dragons, target people who are interested in “fantasy” or “Game of Thrones.” Self-published authors are doing it. If a publisher with an actual budget creates a coherent digital campaign targeting the right reader group, you can build awareness and generate sales. (PS, if you have done this or know someone who does it, let me know! I’d love to talk to you about your experience!)
Targeting interests and demographics builds communities around the book. It connects influential people with the book. It creates niche interest, which can drive mainstream interest. None of this is happening.
Publishers stumbled when they didn’t create a better eCommerce experience than Amazon in the 90s. And again when they struggled to create a reason to even visit the website, despite untapped resources like famous authors, connections with famous agents and movie studios, and everything else.
There’s no way that Random Penguin shouldn’t be the People! of literary pop gossip.
Breaking Down the Monolith
Writers are partly to blame here. We believe that books are sacred monoliths. Instead, we have to look at them as modular monoliths.
Monoliths don’t travel well in a digital age. You need books that can easily be excerpted, serialized, and repurposed. Passages should highlight just how amazing this damn book is, then you can promote those passages.
By teaming up with a marketing agency, I believe that publishers and authors can create amazing digital marketing experiences that actually drive book sales. Especially if publishers keep honing eCommerce experiences that they themselves can own.
It’s a given that people are reading more than ever. Just look at text messages. Look at blog posts. Look at Facebook.
The problem is, still, a failure to adapt. Not a lack of demand. This is a problem of discoverability. That’s all. So as soon as publishers figure out how to help people discover great books, I’m positive the fear will be alleviated, at least somewhat. And, hopefully, there will be more sunshine when I read about #FutureBook17.